Merriam-Webster defines a boomerang child as “a young adult who returns to live at his or her family home especially for financial reasons.” However, what happens if those adult children never leave their family home in the first place? I suppose this can be defined as a “failure to launch,” referring to their inability to leave home and become truly independent and self-sufficient. As Robin Marantz Henig observed in her article, “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” in The New York Times Magazine, Generation Y, those children born in the ’90s, have pushed back each of the five milestones of adulthood: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having children. Maybe we need to add a new term for those children who have decided to continue living at home in order to finish their post-secondary education: Fledglings.
My husband and I struggled throughout our college years, partially because we chose to have kids early. And let’s face it, raising a family while paying college expenses is difficult. It meant many student loans to help make those ends meet—student loans that we are both struggling to pay now on our teachers’ salaries. So we wanted something different for our own offspring. When our kids were 5 and 2, we started paying $400 each month for the next 13 years into the Texas Tomorrow Fund—a fund that would essentially pay for four years of our children’s college education. In hindsight, it was a wise investment, since our kids, now 24 and 21, haven’t had to take out student loans or worry about having to juggle working full-time while attending college.
Not only do they owe their college-debt-free living to our wise decision to invest in their future, but they also owe some of their success to the fact that they still live with us. Yes, our adult children have not flown the coop. When I tell people this little tidbit of information, I am also forced to defend why my husband and I have made this decision.
1. We have an agreement with our adult children.
Our agreement states that as long as they are making progress in school, they can continue to live with us. We will pay to support them—room, board, insurance, cell phone—but personal expenses—clothing, hygiene products, car expenses, “fun” money—are all on them. Of course, as life will have it, there have been a few detours, but that certainly does not mean we have abandoned our working blueprint. A poll for Sun Life Financial in Canada found 90 percent of people, ages 18 to 24, reported feeling excessive stress because of economic instability and underemployment. My husband and I feel that if we continue to support them, they will be able to concentrate 100 percent on finishing school and not have the stress of worrying about paying bills, too.
2. Other cultures do it.
In fact, according to Marcia Carteret, M. Ed, in collectivist cultures such as American Indian, Asian, Hispanic, African and Middle Eastern, individuals rely heavily on an extended network of reciprocal relationships with parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and many others. It is very common for families in collectivist cultures to establish multigenerational households where at least three generations live together. Although my household only includes two generations, I feel that our family is heading toward a more collectivist ideal since we maintain a close relationship with our parents as well. The grandparents are very active in all our family gatherings and only live a mile away. My husband and I believe that our family is stronger and richer for this close relationship. In this day and age of family dysfunction, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
3. It is not financially feasible for our children to live on their own.
Let us do the math: A college student working 30 hours a week who makes $9 per hour will gross $1,080 a month. Most apartments in my area are at least $550 a month, assuming they will share the expenses with at least one friend. This does not include other necessities such as cable, Internet, electricity, food. And let’s face it, 30 hours is a lot of time to work while carrying a full load of college classes, which does not leave a lot of time for, say, studying. That leaves just a few alternatives to living with mom and dad: 1) they can take out student loans to help cover the cost; 2) mom and dad can supplement them and support a separate household; or 3) they can work more hours to help cover expenses and cut back on college hours. For our family, those options come at too great a cost, both literally and figuratively, and negate all those years of sacrifice we made to ensure they were debt-free.
4. We love our children and want them to have all the advantages we didn’t have, including being college-debt-free.
My husband and I feel that anything we can do now to give them a leg-up will benefit them for the rest of their lives. They will be able to start their new careers debt-free. This isn’t easy when the outlook is so grim. For example, according to Mohamed A. El-Erian, for the first time in nearly a century in most Western countries, our children’s generation may end up worse off than that of their parents. And it doesn’t end there. Cliff Zukin, a Rutgers University professor, asserts, “This generation will be permanently depressed and will be on a lower path of income for probably all of their life—and at least the next 10 years.” According to Ray Williams, no group in America has been hit harder during recent tough economic times than young adults. Millions of them are graduating from college with virtually no money, lots of debt and very dim employment prospects. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national rate of unemployment for Americans 25 and younger is 14.3 percent. Those statistics are alarming for our Gen-Y children. Consequently, my husband and I feel that if we can sacrifice for them now—by allowing them to live at home—for their benefit later, we will.
I can hear the rhetoric now: We are enabling our children by allowing them still to live at home and stifling their independence. I have to rebut. Both of our children are independent, headstrong adults who happen to call our address home. Of course, we have the advantage in our home because the upstairs contains their independent living space complete with bedrooms, a bathroom and a separate living area, all of which is their sole responsibility to maintain. The kids come and go as they please without asking permission. Even at dinnertime, we rarely see them. In many ways, my husband and I consider ourselves empty nesters. I’m not suggesting that this arrangement will work for everybody, but for us it does. Maybe all of those collectivist cultures have the right idea. And maybe my husband and I aren’t the crazy ones.