Are You Your Millennial Child’s New Spouse?
More young adults live with parents than in the last 70 years. Learn why.
Posted Jul 18, 2016
Fewer millennials are electing to marry than previous generations of young adults. And, for the first time in over seven decades, they’re also more likely to share living space with mom and dad than a partner.
In two new reports, The Pew Research Center found that more young adults in the United States, Canada and in Europe as well as in Japan and Australia are living with their parents, and for longer stretches of time. “Across the European Union’s 28 member nations, nearly half (48.1%) of 18- to 34-year-olds were living with their parents in 2014…” Pew also discovered more of these young adults are living with their parents than with a spouse or romantic partner in a home of their own.
Putting Off Marriage and Returning to the Nest
The trend is “not solely” a product of the Great Recession. Researchers note that fewer Americans aged 18 to 34 are “choosing to settle down romantically.” This is not the first time America has seen high numbers of young adults living with their parents (the peak was around 1940). The decline of romantic coupling has moved going home to the top of the list of possible living arrangements.
More young men than young women ages 18-34 are returning to the nest. Among men in 2014, 35 percent of them lived with a parent. Only 28 percent of women moved in with a parent or parents, however, they are moving in the direction of men, according to Pew.
On top of fewer romantic commitments, making the childhood home the adult children’s residence of choice is appealing for several reasons: young adults can repay hefty education loans, look for jobs in a tough market and circumvent sky-high rents that many millennials can’t afford.
In short, a generation ago, twenty-somethings were more likely to be married or living on their own with a partner or friend. Today, those same couples likely have children returning to the nest who are the same age as they were when they married or lived with someone other than a parent. What does this mean for families? Increasingly, parents are becoming their millennial child’s new “spouse.”
6 Ways to Live Happily Under One Roof
Young adults returning home pose new challenges for both parents and children. The adjustment can be hard on everyone. Here are some suggestions to smooth tensions for parents and adult children alike:
1. Accept you are all different people: Just as adult children are not the same people who left at 17 or 18—he or she may unexpectedly be a political activist, or a fitness fiend—parents may also be entering a new phase of retirement. They could be starting a new job or traveling more extensively. Anticipate changes in your relationship, and in how your household functions, too. Those who are motivated to build their adult parent-child relationship accept that they don’t always have to be right about every detail or incident—that relating well and getting along are far more important. Sometimes this is easier if you lower your expectations.
2. Proceed with caution…and openly: Coexisting happily requires shying away from the small things that destroy relationships. Whether it’s in the job hunt, relationships, or money-handling, parents can be an enormous help in putting a floundering child on a better course, but only if they proceed with caution. Parents should listen carefully for children’s ideas on which to build.
On their part, parents will want to let young adults know that they are available to talk about financial obligations, a fallout with a friend, a sizable purchase, going back to school, or a job issue. In all matters, both parties should decide what’s important to press for and what to let go. The obsessive parent or adult child, for example, should overlook sloppiness or a forgotten errand. Rita, a research subject for my book Under One Roof Again, used a no-conflict approach with good reason: “Exploding is not worth it,” she said in reference to her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren who were all living with her.
3. Avoid reverting to old patterns: Parents may see signs of maturity and responsibility that weren’t there before, but also note some of the same-old, same-old behavior that brings out the parenting behavior that was standard when children were much younger. Parents want to resist habits like helicopter parenting or making demands—instead of asks—that might have been normal when the child was a teen but can lead to disputes now.
Returning young adults should be cautious about re-adopting adolescent habits of sloppiness, sulking, or acting out. As Nina, who moved home after college and again after a year living in her own apartment, warns, “It’s so easy to slip back. I was neat and anal about my things in my apartment. When I moved home, my stuff was everywhere again.”
4. Recognize that you are collaborating: Each family member should be realistic about what to expect and how each can help. Understand that living together is a give-and-take situation. Be helpful and try to anticipate what others might need. No one is a mind reader…if you want something taken care of, ask or suggest, but don’t make pronouncements.
5. Steer clear of sensitive topics: Don’t focus on petty behaviors or perceived shortcomings you once found grating. Both parties should take care to not rehash past negatives. Move on.
6. Make time together congenial: Living together under one roof again can turn into precious time as a family. Respect each other and observe common courtesies; be sensitive to problems faced by your “housemates." Appreciate the time you have together and focus on all the good things you share. The willingness to bend when necessary, to pitch in when needed (and to back off when not) turns family relationships into enduring friendships.
In most families, new ways of living together—and ultimately, valuing each other—are necessary for keeping the peace and making everyone happy.
Has your adult child returned to the nest? Share your experiences in the comments below.
Desilver, Drew. “In the U.S. and abroad, more young adults are living with their parents.” Pew Research Center. 24 May 2016.
Fry, Richard. “For First Time in Modern Era, Living With Parents Edges Out Other Living Arrangements for 18- to 34-Year-Olds.” Pew Research Center. 24 May 2016.
Newman, Susan. Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)Learning to Live Together Happily. New York: Lyons Press, 2010