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The ‘boomerang kids’: How millennials are retaining their independence

happy middle aged mother hugging her daughter at graduation cere

Studies show that the closer parental relationship millennials develop while living at home does not affect their sense of independence or future ambitions. | Courtesy of Bigstock

For Andy Lu, living at home and working for his parents isn’t a matter of convenience – it’s a necessity.

“Because we’re a first generation of immigrants, they’re dependent on me, so I have to help them live,” Lu said. “Without me, they can’t do the bills, they can’t read the mail, they can’t operate their business.”

After experiencing on-campus life during his freshman year and relocating to a rented house for his sophomore year, the 22-year-old  marketing junior decided to move back home to help his parents run the Chinese restaurant they purchased in 2012. Lu described his relationship with his parents as mutually beneficial.

“My parents do pay for utilities and everything,” Lu said. “But then in return, I have to manage the restaurant they own, manage the house, all the car stuff. I do pretty much all the chores, and they pay for all the things. So it’s like an equal trade, and right now for me and my parents, I see it as a kind of codependent (relationship).”

Despite the fact that his parents support him financially, Lu said living at home has not affected his sense of independence.

“They are more dependent on me, because if I leave, I mean…I have a high school diploma, I’m in college. I could get a job. I could live by myself. But they can’t,” Lu said.

Lu’s situation highlights the financial necessity of living at home that many millennials — those born after 1980 and before 2000 — are facing today as young adults. According to the Pew Research Center, 56 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are living at home. Considering that 39 percent of millennials within this age group are enrolled in college and that college students are more likely to live at home than those not enrolled at college, it’s clear that pursuing higher education has urged many ambitious young people to stay or return to the nest.

This trend has caused many experts to label millennials as “boomerang kids,” a category that can be split into two different groups: those who are content living at home and contribute nothing to the household, and those who have an “exit strategy,” according to CNN.  Lu acknowledged the difference that productivity makes when living in a house owned by one’s parents, even if one calls it “home.”

“I don’t see a problem with living at home. You can help your parents, they can help you — why not?” Lu said. “If you’re leeching off your parents, it’s not a good thing, because you’re just going to grow lazier and lazier, get comfortable with it. And then if you have younger siblings…they’ll be like, ‘My older brother lives at home, (so) why can’t I do it? Why do I have to get a job?’”

Jeffrey Arnett, a research professor at Clark University, said in an interview with NPR that many parents of millennials are so willing to provide financial support to their children because they “invented the idea of striving for a career you really want.” The discomfort some parents feel, then, could be a product of the expectations they grew up with.

“I don’t see a problem with living at home. You can help your parents, they can help you — why not?”

Andy Lu, marketing junior

“Even though we have this new norm, we don’t feel entirely comfortable because we still have this old value that they should kind of be doing this themselves,” Arnett said.

Despite common perceptions of millennials as being lazy and lacking ambition, recent studies are showing that the closer parental relationship millennials have developed while living at home is beneficial in the long-term and doesn’t conflict with young adults’ sense of independence.

In 2012, The New York Times reported that young adults who received support from their parents, whether financially, practically or emotionally, said they had clearer life goals and higher satisfaction than those who did not receive as much parental support.

Millennials are now consulting their parents for advice, unlike the young people of 25 years ago, who instead turned to their peers. Experts suggest that the closer parental relationship young people are embracing today is breeding a group of emerging adults who are utilizing the experience of their middle-aged parents, who are able to draw from their greater life experiences and material resources to forge successful lives for themselves, according to the Times.

In addition to the rising cost of higher education and a slowly recovering economy, the trend of delayed marriage is also providing incentive for millennials to stay home. Today, the median age of marriage for men is 29; for women, 26, according to the United States Census Bureau. Because young people are waiting so long to get hitched, usually until after they’ve received their first college degree, parents become crucial sources of support during this dynamic period of life.

Political science junior Sahar Sadoughi has lived with her parents for her entire undergraduate career at UH. She said that in her culture a close parental relationship is expected, considered important, and one doesn’t usually move out until married or unless it’s absolutely necessary. She also emphasized the practicality of her living arrangements.

“So far I have saved more than $25,000 by living at home. It’s also definitely a plus for me that I…don’t live too far away from campus,” Sadoughi said.

Sadoughi said that while her parents expect her to make time for them and be an active member of the family, they respect her educational goals and growing independence as a 20-year-old woman.

“It hasn’t been until recently…that my mom will let me come home later so that I can study and…get my work done. My mom gives me a lot of space to allow me to work as hard as I can without sacrificing her relationship to me, and I really appreciate that,” Sadoughi said.

Like Lu, Sadoughi described her living situation in terms of earning her keep. She said she still does chores, helping to clean the house and washing her own clothes while assisting her mother in any way she can.

Even in instances where the support is mutual, surveys done by The New York Times have shown that parents have reported uneasiness arising from the closeness of their relationship. The fear of 20-year-olds developing an inhibiting dependency on their parents from living at home could arise from images of the disheveled college (or high school) graduate crashing on the couch, playing video games before their shift at Kroger and ignoring their parent’s call to come do the dishes. The general sense of entitlement observed among millennials contributes to this image.

Susan Ende, author of “How to Raise Your Adult Children,” says this sense of entitlement leads to a lack of shame about receiving support from one’s parents. This is where the distinction between the two groups of “boomerang kids” comes in. Having an exit strategy and being an active contributor to the household is what sets a wide group of millennials apart from their “perma-child” peers, enabling them to call themselves independent while maintaining residence in their parents’ home.

For her senior year, Sadoughi plans to move into a dormitory on campus or an apartment near campus with one of her close friends, whom her parents are familiar with.

“That’s the only way my parents would be OK with it, although granted it’s still in the mini stages. I haven’t fully persuaded them yet,” Sadoughi said. “When I graduate, I know that I am definitely not going to stay in Houston, so I need to prepare myself for that future.

“I think, and my parents somewhat understand, that living out of the home but still in the same city is an adjusting step to what and where I hope to be after I graduate.”

Lu’s exit strategy is to graduate and save money until he can move to Austin and start a business of his own, which he has been planning for years. When his parents sell their restaurant and reach a point of stability without him, he said he will make the transition.

Lu said he is grateful for the opportunities living at home has provided him and for the support his parents have shown him in pursuing his academic studies.

“For a college student, (living on your own) is almost impossible because you have to focus on school, and if you get a 40-hour job to pay for housing, food and utilities, you’re not going to be able to hold up your grades like that,” said Lu, whose parents gave him two weeks off from the restaurant to focus on his finals.

The negativity some still harbor toward millennials living at home is understandable, Lu said.

“It’s because people don’t see what the kids are doing.”

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