Why Your Twenty-Something Just Won't Leave The Damn House

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Parenting fail, or smart move?

Parenting is hard. You raise tiny humans from infancy, instill in them excellent morals, values and ethics, teach them to read, and ride bicycles, support them through their awkward middle school years and — miraculously — love them all throughout high school. No wonder it's conventional wisdom that empty nesters celebrate hard and heavy when their last child packs his bags and leaves.

But what about the kids who don't leave the nest? What about the kids who just won't leave the house?

Pew Research found that 36 percent of young adults ages 18-31 still live at home with their parents. This number is rising steadily, up from 32 percent in 2007 and 34 percent in 2009.

Why is this? The research suggests socio-economic factors, like a declining marriage rate and poor job growth, as well as an increase in college enrollment. This makes sense — if you can't find a job, you won't have cash flow. And with no cash flow, it's hard to fund your first apartment.

But what I'm really interested in are the deeper reasons so many kids stay home for so long. Finances are a factor, but are they everything?

First, a little background: I'm a twenty-something who's lived at home. A lot. I have my own place now, thankyouverymuch, but it certainly wasn't always that way.

Once, throughout my shaky trajectory, my mother wrapped her arms around my weepy shoulders and said, with sympathy, "I don't know why it's so hard for you and your sister. You're both just not normal." I believe she meant this in the most loving, supportive way possible.

I wonder if, despite all the social and cultural lamenting over parents' bad luck, they're the ones allowing this Peter Pan syndrome to continue.

Now, don't get me wrong. If that's the case I'm terribly glad mine did, and I also want to be expressly clear that my mother and father are exemplary, patient people who I hope I grow up to be just like. I don't think they made any irreversible or traumatic parenting mistakes, and in fact, I would love to emulate their style if and when I have children of my own.

The real issue here is that we stigmatize adult children who need a boost — be it financial or emotional — and seek it from the network closest to their hearts: their families.

I would have been in big trouble if I had nowhere to go after college, or culinary school, or breakup number 1 or 2 (or 9). I'm exceptionally lucky that my parents continually not only allowed but invited me back into their home to find my footing and figure out my direction. 

Families are made of a tight-knit fabric that is extraordinarily comforting to both parents and children alike.

Recreating the living situation you shared during an earlier, simpler time can remind everyone involved to slow down, appreciate the support system and move forward at a pace that feels comfortable.

And while kids my age may complain about living with their folks, most I know (myself included) actually love spending time with them. I consider mine my best friends — and not just because they're morally obligated to let me say that.

Are there financial considerations involved for most adult children who live at home? Of course, and there were for me, too. Because my parents took care of my "rent" issue for a considerable amount of time, I was able to pursue poorly paid ventures about which I cared deeply, writing being at the forefront of that list.

Is the economy really in such a state that millennials are forced into mom and dad's basement as they send out resume after resume? I find this irrelevant. There are jobs to be had — perhaps not our dream jobs, but jobs indeed — and lack of employment has never been my main reasoning for living with my parents.

As for that bit about folks my age increasingly checking the "single" box and using that as an excuse for a lack of footing? Well, yeah. Trust me. I'm working on that one.

Ultimately, I find this study intriguing for what it doesn't explore: the emotional, nostalgic reasons why young adults choose to live at home. It feels good, it's safe, and, at the end of the day (or year, or, God help us, decade), maybe it is just enough of a push for us baby birds to really spread our wings.


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