This isn’t going to be a piece on the issues and ethics of intergenerational housing or what has been colloquially dubbed “boomerang children,”the phenomenon when a social fabric has become so tight and difficult to maneuver due to rising costs and vanishing opportunities, the children of parents who thought their kids had gone off to the world to find their fortunes instead wake to find those children at home with them again, in their hobby rooms, eating their food, and reverting to teenager’s behaviors, again, without a plan toward moving out, again.
If you need the news angle here’s an article for you. It’s from Europe, but I suspect it isn’t much different in the States. I, instead, with all the love I can muster will reveal what parents really want to say to their returning children but don’t because they value their sanity and recognize fighting with their grown children is just counter-productive (and doesn’t get them out the door any faster).
Having a bit of experience with this phenomenon, it seems the nature of boomerang children is one of them returning home with their tails between their legs and having been forced to return home, they want to take two positions, both of dubious merit:
The first: They have returned to their pre-responsibility selves; borrowing money, quitting jobs they don’t like, sleeping late, and appearing to be unconcerned about making money or contributing to the household. In their minds, things have returned to the status quo. You were, after all, maintaining the house before they returned there.
The second: They are angry and petulant about the unfairness of the world. Having lost their independence, they return home filled with bitterness and, rather than talk it out, they lash out at the parents who (especially if they don’t have any other kids at home) who are finally getting some much deserved rest after putting up with the teen years of moodiness, frustration with the demands of high school, the smells which waft out of a room which probably needed to be cleansed with fire once the kid left only to boomerang home, this time with a sense of entitlement.
“Why don’t you understand I’m an adult, now and you can’t boss me around,” they scream shrilly while eating the last bowl of YOUR favorite cereal, drinking the last giant glass of your favorite orange juice, after taking a two hour shower, draining the hot water tank before you have to go to work and are forced to take a freezing two-minute shower while they eat and go back to bed.
Stressful? You bet. Boomerang kids are the worst kind of stress imaginable unless you have money to burn. Now, if you’re well-to-do, got mad cash, lots of room in your house, then you probably don’t even notice them.
It’s likely no different than when they were teenagers. You paid for everything and just wanted them to get out of the house when it was convenient for them. Maybe when they went to college or whatever. You had a golf game or a bridge tournament to get to.
For the rest of us, who aren’t swimming in Dom Perignon and eating duck-fat roasted potatoes, a returning and angry mouth to feed, a recurring attitude, writ large by the vicissitudes of life, dealing with disappointments with an economy designed to exploit the young and ignore the old, a roommate who doesn’t understand their responsibility to find a job and keep it, pay their fair share, not to eat up their roomies favorite foods without replacing it, borrowing the car, playing music WAY too loud, inviting people over without even checking if it’s okay, is just a bit much.
Imagine walking out of your bedroom door, which you now have to keep closed because you don’t know who’s going to be greeting you when you get up in the morning. Even though you have established boundaries, your boomerang child doesn’t seem to remember those rules and you find strangers eating your favorite bacon, watching your utility bills skyrocket again, having them use the last role of toilet paper in the house without replacing it or informing you such was the need, and wondering if the housing costs or employment opportunities will ever go allow for your boomerang child to get out again, the stress can cause a parent to lose their shit.
If you are a boomerang kid, here’s a bit of advice:
Your parents love you, and they have done everything they could to get you out into the world. In other countries, it is known that often children may stay home well after their twenties but in America, it is customary for children to leave home after they get to college and establish a life away from their parents’ domicile.
Some parents, in no hurry to drive their kids into the cold, cruel world, will allow them to go to college and stay home, reducing their children’s stress and need for additional college debt which only enriches banks and collection agencies; an admirable sacrifice.
Understand this, Boomerang Kid, your parents want you to be on your own. Out in the world, making your way, paying your own bills, having your own success and failures. They had no intention of taking care of you for the rest of your life.
Yes, they still love you. Yes, they are still in your corner and there for you. They will still take your calls. They will talk you through difficulties—if you’ve finally gotten over your teen obsession with believing you know everything—and they may even help you out from time to time with solving problems or even bail money (if you didn’t do it).
Make no mistake, your life is your own. You are responsible for what happens to it after their obligatory eighteen years of stewardship. You must make the best of it and put your best foot forward in the world as we know it. Let’s assume the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, kinda like right now, and you are forced to return home. Good parents will let you back into the house, unless they had to put you out with a restraining order. They will welcome you home because you are their child.
But don’t push it.
Get a job. Keep it. Go to work. If you can’t get one, be doing something which can give the impression you understand this is your last step before wandering aimlessly on the streets of America. Treat it like a refuge you want to keep. Engage what I call the zero-footprint protocol.
The Zero-Footprint Protocol is simple: You leave as little negative trace of your passing whenever you do anything.
- Cook a meal, clean up after yourself. Leaving dishes, pots, and pans for someone else to clean is verboten. Don’t do it.
- Use the last of anything, buy some more. If you are working (and of course, you are) replace anything you use the last of, or know will be gone soon, because it’s the responsible thing to do.
- If you can’t buy more, make sure you report the last of it being used so it can be replaced.
- Stop drinking out of the cartons. No one wants your backwash.
- Clean up after you use the bathroom. A bathroom rug that soaking wet because you stand on it immediately after getting out of the shower is no one’s idea of a good time.
- Clean the tub when you’re done. Jurassic tub rings are gross. Hang your towels and remember to rotate them before they begin to have their own colonies of funky bacterial growth.
- For god’s sake keep your room from smelling like a zoo. Glade plug-ins are NOT the answer.
- Wash your laundry and replace the laundry soap as needed. Don’t expect your mother or father to clean up after you.
The Zero-Footprint Protocol is the very least you can do to show your appreciation for this shared and unfortunate turn of events.
Pitch in around the house, just because you live there. Take out the trash, wash dishes, provide support as needed, preferably without anyone having to ask you. See something that needs doing? Do it. Why? Because you could be sleeping in a box under a highway.
Unfair? Yes, it is unfair. But that’s the hand you have been dealt for the moment. Why force your parents to suffer through you being the worst roommate in the world because they don’t want you sleeping under a bridge?
Being a good roommate is hard. It requires you to share a house with someone in a responsible fashion; to be considerate of the needs of others and to worry about the well-being of a person not yourself. It’s like being a parent.
Your mission—and you have no choice but to accept it—is to find a way to participate in the world at large. If you can’t do that, then be an asset around your home, helping the people who are paying the bills to tolerate your mutually shared hell.
No, do better than that.
We get it. You don’t have much privacy. You aren’t feeling welcome. You don’t enjoy the current state of things. You want to be able to have your friends over. All completely understandable. Negotiate for those things. You negotiate for those things from a position of strength if you are exercising the Zero-Footprint Protocol at the very least. If you are doing the Best-Roommate-Ever Protocol, your parents will likely deny you nothing.
In an ideal world, your time at home is an opportunity to bond with your parents, talk about your struggles, plot and scheme on ways to fit into a rapidly-changing world and for you to be so amazing with your growth and awareness of your parents as people, instead of just being the people who raised you and you can’t wait to get them out of your business parents, that when you leave (for good, we hope) they miss you as an extraordinary individual who recognizing adversity, made the best of it and showed compassion and concern for someone other than themselves.
Make them sad to see you go. (They will be, anyway, but the goal is to be so amazing, they might consider asking you to stay.)
How does this benefit you? In the best way possible. You will understand what it takes to run a household and be better equipped when it’s your turn to become a parent and deal with those challenges.
This post was originally published on Medium and is republished here with the author’s permission.
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