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Ashlei Williams/MEDILL

"It's not just that we stay under the same roof, we live together," said Sharon Strickland about interacting with her son, Sterling Williams, who moved back home after college.

Responsibilities shift as some boomerang kids extend stay at home

by Ashlei Williams
Oct 26, 2011

She provides the car. He offers the lift to work and gas in the tank. Sterling Williams took on a new level of maturity when he returned to his mother’s Chicago home after college.


Other boomerang children, young adults who move back in with family after living independently, may be experiencing similar changes as they extend their stays at home.

During the 2008 economic recession, 1 in 5 young adults, ages 25-34, said after living on their own they returned home, according to a Pew Research Center study last year.

Williams, a 2009 graduate of Northwestern University, moved back home after facing three months of unemployment before finding work at MetLife Insurance. After being home two years, he is thinking about staying two more years to work and return to graduate school.

“At this point, I think I help out more than I take away,” Williams said. “It’s not a matter of her trying to push me out.”

On top of that, he said he is able to save more than if he were on his own.

Another Northwestern University alumna, Kathleen Murphy, who graduated in 2010, returned to her parents’ Chicago home after living in an apartment in college. Her stipend from a post-graduate teaching fellowship was not enough to continue paying rent.

“It was pretty much was assumed I would be moving back home, it just made economic sense,” said Murphy, who now works as a nanny while studying for the law school entry exam.

Staying at home during graduate studies may be a new trend among the boomerang generation.


There is less stigma associated with living with parents at a later age than in previous years, said Martin Zelder, a senior lecturer at Northwestern University who focuses on economics of the family.
“It wasn’t a problem for Sterling to come home,” said Sharon Strickland, Williams’ mother. “I was happy to have him live here to tell the truth.”
Murphy said her parents understood her return home because of the economic struggles they faced as young adults trying to pay rent and bills. Some parents are relying on their own experiences to teach their children financial literacy.
Strickland said that at an early age her son learned the importance of money by watching her go to work every day.
“He was a very grown little boy,” Strickland said about Williams. “He knew work related to money and money related to what’s available.”
Williams recommended that more parents teach financial literacy to their young children.
“Not in a formal, sit-down kind of way where the kid is antsy and wants to move on but just in a general conversation talk about things that affect the household financially,” Williams said. “Talk about those things when they’re young so they can have an appreciation for that when they’re older.”
Williams said it’s important to elevate financial discussions as children age.

He said he and Strickland now have in-depth conversations about savings accounts, investing and bills so that he is prepared when he moves out again.
“Offer them some guidance, but they are adults now and you can’t make every decision for them,” Murphy said. “In a way, it’s being more like a roommate than a parent.”
Strickland commented on the roommate dynamic between parent and child, saying it simply is a matter of uniting value systems.
“Under ideal situations, parents become the landlord instead of the roommate,” Strickland said. “Either way, there should be guidelines as to responsibilities.”
Some parents require that their adult children pay them rent to teach them independence, while some boomerang children contribute to the household out of respect and don’t need parameters to learn financial responsibility.
“I actually cook dinner for my family once a week and I’ll buy the food for that,” Murphy said. “Any chores that my mom or dad need me to help with, I wouldn’t think twice, of course, because that’s what life is like at home. You just do it to help each other.”
Young adults returning home may be changing some parent-to-child dynamics.

“I don’t know that it’s shifting,” Zelder said. “I think certainly for a relationship like that to work, the kid would have to be contributing something so that the parent feels happy with the arrangement and so that the kid feels like it’s a comfortable thing for them, too.”