The mystery of the boomerang generation

At least to me, anyway

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty typical kid. As a little girl, I didn’t like wearing dresses, but I liked playing with dolls — I even made clothes for them — as well as hopscotch, jump rope, marble games, and an imaginary game called “House” with the neighborhood boys. (You can guess how that game goes). I could be a little bratty sometimes, with temper tantrums, but for the most part, I wanted to please my parents. So, I went to church diligently and did all the things that other little girls do — respect the elders, prayed to God, did well in school, and hoped for a bright future.

It’s no surprise then that as I grew older, I thought I would go to college, graduate, get a good job, and live on my own. The thought of a departure couldn’t be more bittersweet, so off to college I went and into dorm life, where I had roommates but was also on my own for almost a year. Then I transferred schools and moved back to Portland, lived with my mom during this “transition period,” which only lasted for a few months before moving in with my then-boyfriend-now-husband. I thought that was what you were supposed to do. Before the word “adulting” became normalized in American culture, I was doing what I thought everyone else from my generation was doing — growing up and spreading my wings.

Little did I know that many years later, what I’ve been doing is not so common anymore. It wasn’t until several years ago (or perhaps last year) that I began to see evidence of people from my generation (millennials) moving back in with their parents after college. I ran into an old friend of mine from high school who was doing just that. I also found out that two of my cousins still live at home, even with their own children. The majority of my husband’s friends did the same thing, and I thought, “How strange.” I mean, isn’t the point of spreading your wings mean living on your own, figuring out your own finances and making your own decisions?

The idea of moving back home with one’s parents after college has become so normal that the Pew Research Center did surveys on it, and it only served to confirm the phenomenon, and now that phenomenon has a name — boomerang generation. Whatever happened to simply “millennials”?

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Courtesy of The New Yorker

To be honest, I’ve never heard of the name ‘boomerang generation’ until today, when I read this article from the New York Times. The article angered me so much that I could feel myself boiling inside, for it profiled two very well-educated, affluent individuals who moved back in with their parents after college in San Francisco. When I say “well-educated” I mean they both came from parents who were savvy enough to save for their children’s education, thus prestigious offspring they became, one of them — the daughter — attended Smith College (Smith College!) and is now getting her master’s degree at Columbia (Columbia!). Both she and her brother had the privilege of graduating college debt-free, something that thousands of us are unable to do nowadays.

I thought, why oh why does the New York Times keep profiling people like these?!? Why can’t they profile actual poor millennials who are actually struggling, like my friend Jane* who, despite her best efforts and a degree in Spanish, was unable to find a job for almost a decade after college? She has a job now but it’s nowhere near enough for her to be able to live on her own, so she still lives at home with her parents. I feel for people like that, ones who have been, against their control, placed in unfortunate situations such as medical issues, a disability, an aging parent, and so forth. I certainly do not want to hear about someone who will never experience the pain of paying back student loans, who goes onto another prestigious university simply because their parents are affluent and financially savvy.

Do I sound a little bit bitter? Yes, I do. Because not only are we hearing about the privileged, but also about a phenomenon that takes a little bit of time to wrap my head around. For me personally, the idea of living with my parents as an adult is simply unfathomable. For various reasons, the main one being compatibility, I haven’t really done it since I was 18 and moved away for college after my dad passed away.

Well, that’s a lie — sort of. As mentioned above, I lived with my mom for a while during my junior year of college when I moved back home to be closer to family, but that didn’t work out. So for many more years, my mom and I lived separately, and that was fine with us. Then, when I had my first child, she moved in with me (not the other way around) to help us with childcare. We lived together for a little over a year, and ever since then, I have no desire to ever do it again.

But wait — you’re probably saying, “Don’t you want to save money?” People move back in for economic reasons, I know — the Pew Research Center’s data proves that — but for me, I feel much more alive when I’m not living with a parent. I remember being a teenager and thinking, “I can’t wait to go to college, to move out!” And that’s exactly what I did. Call me independent or whatever, but it’s how I’ve always been.

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Courtesy of Pew Research Center

Then you probably don’t understand the millennial generation then. We graduate with huge debts and practically no decent paying jobs, you’re probably thinking by now. And if you are, then you’re totally right. We millennials somehow got the short end of the stick, in my opinion, and I am no different. I graduated pleasantly in the middle of the Great Recession of 2008–2009, and it has changed me. I’ve never been the same since. During that particularly hard time for everyone, my husband and I reached out to our parents for help but unfortunately did not receive them. So we stayed put where we were and made it work.

I don’t want to sound pretentious here, but I do want to give you a glimpse of my story — that I am in many ways a typical millennial but in other ways not so typical. And what really riles me up is hearing stories about people who could’ve made it work had they tried a little bit, but unfortunately their parents were there to save them. It adds to the belief that the world is an unfair place and we’re all just trying to survive here, but some of us are better off than others. What I did like about the NYT article was the mention of parents’ roles in all of this — how perhaps they might’ve enabled their children to move back. Take, for example, this quote,

The point being that these parents are and have always been either helicopter parents or snowplow parents who simply can’t bear to let go. Luckily, or perhaps not so luckily, I do not have those kind of parents, and neither does my husband. My mom didn’t stop me from going off to college, and when my husband announced that he was moving out at age 19, his dad didn’t stop him either. Now, in retrospect, I realized that it might’ve been a blessing in disguise, for if our parents had actually allowed us to continue living at home or move back in after college, we might never leave. Thus begins the journey of three generations underneath one roof.

I’m not saying there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, but I do think that except under extreme circumstances such as medical issues, dying parents, divorce, or disabilities, we millennials are more than capable of making it on our own.

*name changed for privacy

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Drinks too much coffee and writes about business, culture, parenting and personal finance. More writing here

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