A new frontier in parenting: How to cope when your millennial comes home

After tossing and turning since switching off the light at 10:30 p.m., you finally hear a key in the front door at 2 a.m. You listen to the quiet footsteps of your 25-year-old son as he heads upstairs and off to bed, then sigh and finally drift off.

And when you wake up you may well wonder, “Will this kid ever move out?”

According to a new analysis from the Pew Research Center, it might be awhile. Millennials are moving home — or staying there — in record numbers.

As of 2012, the most recent numbers available, 23.6 percent of young adults, ages 25 to 34, were living in a multigenerational household. That’s up from 18.7 percent in 2007.

A year ago, a separate Pew analysis of 2012 numbers found that 36 percent of young adults aged 18 to 31 were living in their parents’ homes. That was up from 32 percent in 2007.

The data come as no surprise to Dr. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, who has been studying a phenomenon he calls “emerging adulthood” for 20 years. The Clark University professor is the author, along with Elizabeth Fishel, of “Getting to 30: A Parent’s Guide to the 20-Something Years.”

Arnett’s research has found that several economic and social forces have converged to make “30 the new 20.”

The economy, he says, has shifted from manufacturing to information, technology and services, which require more education and training. The growth in the number of young people attending college to prepare for those jobs has increased the ages most marry and have children. And, the sexual revolution, women’s movement and youth movement of the 1960s and 1970s dramatically changed American’s values and social mores. As a result, Arnett writes, “young people are no longer jumping from adolescence in their teens to a settled entry to adulthood in their early 20s.”

Instead, they’re usually immersed in trying to figure out who they are, changing majors, jobs, perspectives, philosophies and romantic partners numerous times before reaching stability in their late 20s. And, often, their self-exploration finds them winging in and out of the nest, Arnett says.

Despite negative media attention on millennials’ apparent failure to launch, Arnett’s research reveals that many parents are happy having their kids back home.

More than 60 percent of parents surveyed by Clark University said the experience of having an 18- to 29-year-old living at home was “mostly positive,” and only 6 percent described it as “mostly negative.”

Nearly 67 percent said they feel closer to their children emotionally, 66 percent said they have more companionship with their children, and 62 percent said their children help with household responsibilities.

“Even I was surprised how positive the parents were,” Arnett said.

Dr. Joshua Coleman, a California psychologist and co-chairman of the Council on Contemporary Families, says such arrangements work best “if everyone is proactive from the beginning.”

He advises a candid conversation: “Not shaming or blaming; friendly and respectful.”

Returning offspring may find that “they have to work harder as a contributing family member than they did before” as they’re now technically adults, Coleman says. They may chafe a bit at the raised expectations, so he advises asking them first about their plans and expectations. How long do they foresee being there? Are they actively looking for work? Are they saving money to move out? Financial contributions for rent and groceries and their level of participation in ongoing chores such as shopping, laundry, cooking and cleaning should also be on the agenda.

Dr. Joe Taravella, a family therapist who practices in New York and New Jersey, says such conversations should happen regularly. Whether once a week or once a month, family talks prevent small issues from festering into long-standing resentments. And, he notes, the responsibility for helping set guidelines should be shared by dads and moms.

“Guys want to take a back seat and let it all work out,” he said. “But you can’t leave it to your wife.”

He also advises discussing house rules regarding use of drugs and alcohol, whether romantic partners can stay overnight, and the hours kids keep. To avoid nights of wakeful worry, for example, a parent should explain that losing sleep is disruptive to their work schedule and ask for a text with an ETA by 10 p.m.

At the same time, he suggests parents pick and choose their battles: “You can’t be nit-picking every little thing.”

For example, he says, if a parent sees their child is looking hard for a job but not scoring many interviews, focus on helping him or her with a resume and presentation skills rather than stressing over wet towels on the bathroom floor.

Also important is “spending time together as a family,” he says. “Do things you enjoy. A movie, a vacation — just good quality time together.”

And parents shouldn’t neglect each other, either, he adds.

“They should continue to make those plans for just the two of them,” he says. “Soon enough, the nest will be empty again.”

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