The Case for Letting Grown Children Move Back Home

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It may be time to cut those “boomerang kids” some slack. Despite the negative stereotypes of lazy millennials and their helicopter parents, it turns out that having grown children move back home isn’t such a bad thing. A new study suggests it may actually be a normal, albeit modern, rite of passage — one that ultimately helps kids grow up.

“Today, the road to adulthood is much longer and more arduous than it was thirty years ago,” said study author Teresa Swartz in a statement describing the study, which appeared in the Journal of Marriage and Family. (More from Why the Recession May Trigger More Depression Among Men)

The researchers used survey data from 712 adults ages 24 to 32 from the Youth Development Study to understand what drove children to move back home instead of simply relying on mom and dad for financial support. Although almost half of the respondents received financial or housing help in their mid-20s, only 10% to 15% received such assistance in their early 30s. The likelihood of receiving support declined by at least 15% each year, suggesting that these adult dependents do eventually become independent.

“Parental aid serves as ‘scaffolding’ to help young people who are working towards financial self-sufficiency and as ‘safety nets’ for those who have experienced serious difficulties,” Swartz said.

Looked at that way, the study counters the impression that parents who allow their kids to move back in as adults are indulgent and merely prolonging their children’s dependence on them. Instead, Mom and Dad may be acting in an adaptive and responsive way, providing much-needed support when their struggling offspring need it most — especially during hard economic times when jobs are scarce and incomes tend to shrink. (More from Kid Crazy: Why We Exaggerate the Joys of Parenthood)

Young adults, after all, do historically bear the brunt of economic downturns. More than 70% of singles in their 20s, for instance, lived with a parent in the 1940s, according to Stanford University social demographer Michael Rosenfeld. As he told USA Today, the boomerang idea “flatters our parental sense that our adult children need us more than they think. They think they’re going to be independent, but we know they’ll come back to the front doorstep and need us again.”

Further, millennials, who were born between 1980 and 2000, were already entrenched in this capricious life-stage even before the Great Recession of 2009 hit. Our TIME colleague Lev Grossman explored this in-between period in a 2005 cover story:

Social scientists are starting to realize that a permanent shift has taken place in the way we live our lives. In the past, people moved from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood, but today there is a new, intermediate phase along the way. The years from 18 until 25 and even beyond have become a distinct and separate life stage, a strange, transitional never-never land between adolescence and adulthood in which people stall for a few extra years, putting off the iron cage of adult responsibility that constantly threatens to crash down on them. They’re betwixt and between.

Bottom line: The next time you hear of a twentysomething returning to his childhood home, don’t be quick to judge either him or his parents. As this study suggests, he won’t be there for too long. His parents are making sure of it.

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