Apparently you can go home again

Increasing number of adults return to nest

Danielle Webber wasn’t eager to move back home. A 23-year-old university student in the spring of 2011 Webber had left her parents’ house while still in high school and hadn’t planned on returning. But if they hadn’t opened their door she says now she’d have had to either crash on a friend’s couch or stay in a crumbling marriage. Living with her parents again wasn’t exactly desirable but it was a better option than either of those.

“It really was a last resort” she says. “It wasn’t something that I didn’t want to do because I am close with my parents but there was no way that I was going to make it on my own.”

While individual circumstances vary Webber’s experience is hardly unique. Statistics Canada data shows 51 per cent of Canadians aged 20 to 29 were living with their parents in 2010 a proportion that’s grown steadily throughout North America in recent years with no signs of decreasing. The trend’s attracted plenty of media attention over the past decade including Dr. Phil episodes with titles such as “Kick ‘em Out!” and a slew of advice online on “how to evict your adult child.”

Globe and Mail columnist Rob Carrick captures the irony of such coverage however with his aptly titled new book How Not to Move Back in With Your Parents . Increased demand for higher education soaring housing prices and economic troubles have indeed caused many young adults to delay leaving home or to leave and then return (hence the term “Boomerang Generation”). But do most of them really want to do this?

Carrick — who moved back home in the early ’80s when a post-university job fell through — doesn’t think so.

“Here’s my view on moving back in with your parents: I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with it” he says. “I think when you’re in trouble and you need help what’s your family for? But thinking back to my experience I know that when you’re a young adult and you’ve spent a year or several years on your own you don’t really want to move back. It seems a step back in life not a step forward.”

Some “family freeloaders” do exist but Simon Fraser University sociologist Barbara Mitchell has found that young adults living with their parents isn’t as negative as it is often portrayed. Returning to the nest might not be young adults’ first choice but she says they appreciate the chance to save money and often like the social aspects of living at home as well. Most parents in turn don’t want their children to live there permanently but they don’t mind lending a temporary hand.

“Generally if it’s seen as something that is positively assisting the young adult to transition to adulthood so they can become independent and establish careers and adult roles and statuses and that kind of thing a lot of parents feel that’s sort of their job as a parent to help their kids” says Mitchell.

Mitchell acknowledges there’s probably a “positive selection” factor at work in her extensive research on the subject. Most parents and children she’s studied may say they’re content living under one roof but young adults who didn’t get along with their parents would be less likely to live with them in the first place. A minority of families however did report considerable conflict and tension which Mitchell says was often due to poor communication.

“The problems seem to really set in when one party has certain expectations and they’re violated or they never really talk about time limits — ‘how long should Johnny be back at home?’ And he has no idea so he just continues to stay there.”

But good communication Mitchell says can avert many of the potential pitfalls. Webber’s parents made clear she could stay with them for as long as she needed but she didn’t need that long — in August 2011 she moved back out. It was an easy choice — given her parents’ tiny house she’d realized early on that her stay there had an inherent time limit. But she didn’t doubt it was the right place at a tough time.

“I don’t have any regrets” she says. “It was completely 100 per cent necessary and very helpful. And I tell them that all the time and they know that too. I’m indebted to my parents.”