Early in the pandemic, lots of young adults returned home to live with their parents. However, my story is a little different. I returned home at age 45, and I’ve been here for six and a half years.
Before the move, I was living in my own home in another state, a two-day drive away, when my 19-year relationship ended. While I had a social network, I lived in a small town that suddenly felt very lonely. I had moved there to be with him, and now it felt as though I was in the wrong place.
Grief also has a way of clarifying what’s important, and I had nephews who were growing quickly and parents who weren’t getting any younger. So, I made the decision to sell my house and furniture and move back in with Mom and Dad.
The situation was intended to be short-term, just until I found a job and another place to live. But I ended up adjunct teaching part time and my short-term solution grew into a long-term gift.
My younger sister also moved home two and a half years ago when she was 45 because she wanted to be closer to Mom and Dad. Her plan was also to move out eventually, but then the pandemic happened and she stayed as well. So right now, my mom, dad, sister, myself, four dogs and one cat are choosing to stick together, and it works.
My parents are kind, generous and funny people, but living with them again in midlife has been an exercise in patience and humor. For example, my father can listen to an audiobook with his headphones on and listen to a television program at an ear-splitting volume at the same time until someone tells him that THE WINDOWS ARE SHAKING and CAN YOU POSSIBLY TURN THAT DOWN? If I’m going to cook dinner for the family, I better start at 3:30 pm, because Mom likes to eat dinner before many people get off work.
They’ve got their oddities, but I have mine, too. My diet changed completely and is no longer what I grew up on. I leave windows open for fresh air while others have seasonal allergies. My sister and I record a podcast about sumo wrestling in my parent’s closet because it’s the quietest room in the house. But if we all have compassion for each other, we thrive. It may be a bit chaotic, but we function well together, help, inspire, and celebrate each other.
Some suggest that only unsuccessful people move back home with their parents. There’s even a name for it — boomerang kids ― offspring thought to be unable to provide for themselves who end up back home eating Pop-Tarts and playing video games on the couch.
The truth is more complex, though.
According to a new study by the Pew Research Center, 31% of young adults ages 25-29 live in multigenerational homes. For people ages 40 and older, women are more likely to do so. A study from Generations United shows that the share of Americans living in a multigenerational household has nearly quadrupled over the last 10 years, from 7% to 26%. And, among those living in a multigenerational household, about 7 in 10 plan to continue doing so long-term.
In the AARP and CulturIntel’s study of multigenerational living, the recent drive to live in multigenerational homes happened most often to “offset a difficult situation,” such as COVID-19, loss of a job or other life changes. But there are real benefits that come along with pooling resources — financial, social and emotional. Having a variety of people at home, each doing what they can to support the whole, makes pet care, travel to appointments, child care, etc. a lot easier. Why go it alone when living with family makes life easier?
One lovely side effect of living with my parents is that I help them and they dole out praise like they did when I was 8 and starring as the tree in my school Christmas play.
As an example, when something needs to be fixed in our home, I am the handyman. Me — a 50-year-old lady. “Look! Our daughter installed that Insinkerator all by herself!” my parents say to their friends. “And look at how she magically fixed that jammed door!”
No advanced carpentry skills are required to earn high praise from parents who are thankful to never replace a light bulb, climb a ladder, or step into the attic ever again. I’m also a technology expert in our house, even if any 14-year-old with an iPhone would roll his eyes at my tech skills.
Living with my parents makes me feel safe, appreciated and cherished, and after living on my own for decades, there’s something so comforting about not having to do everything myself. I drive them to doctor’s appointments, remove snow from the driveway or read the small print aloud for them. They feed my dog when I’m at work, introduced me to “Escape From the Chateau,” and teach me about politics. I will never be without toilet paper, dish soap or laundry detergent for all the Costco trips my parents love to make.
“Having a variety of people at home, each doing what they can to support the whole, makes pet care, travel to appointments, child care, etc. a lot easier. Why go it alone when living with family makes life easier?”
There are definitely parts of my life that feel like they are on hold while I’m living here. I don’t invite people over for dinner as much as I did before because it simply affects more people in the house. Dating? Obviously more complicated, due to the lack of privacy.
My sister used to go on late-night “coffee dates with friends.” We all put two and two together, figured she was dating somebody new and didn’t ask too many questions. We give each other space.
I like the idea of taking the slower lane and getting to know potential partners better before introducing them to the entire crew that lives under a single roof. My sister’s new boyfriend actually thought her living situation was one of the coolest things about her.
As far as how others respond to our situation, most younger adults are shocked to find that I live with my parents, while older adults usually find it delightful. All are curious about how this could possibly work.
Fifty-seven percent of people who live in multigenerational homes report that their situation is positive or somewhat positive, and my family is certainly lucky to not have any long-standing conflicts that bubble to the surface.
There are, of course, moments that make me react inside just like I did when I was a teenager. But now, rather than yelling “MOOOOOOoooom!!” I have more communication tools. There are moments I experience differently as an adult. Being able to laugh at the day-to-day oddities of life with my family is a real blessing.
When I was a teenager, my parents used to wait for me each night, not going to bed until I got home. Of course, back then, it annoyed the hell out of me. I felt confined and never once thought about how difficult it must have been to stay up late for a sullen teen when you needed to get up early and go to work the next day.
Today, I notice that my father is again waiting for me to get home each night. As a 50-year-old woman, it strikes me in a new way. Knowing that my parents can’t sleep until they know I am safe in the house is a sweet, slightly exasperating sign of love ― one I appreciate.
Who knows if we’ll live this way forever. There are plenty of benefits — the freedom to explore more artistic ventures, the chance to live without the pressure of paying for a home all by myself, plenty of time to make memories with people I love.
If I find a future romantic partner, I might make a different choice. But for now, I’ll stay, because the chance to be so present in the daily lives of those I love is much better than going it alone.