It’s not news that in times of economic strife, grownup children often go back to live with their parents, if they’re desperate enough or shameless enough and the parents are kind enough to have them. And since this is a time of economic strife, it’s not surprising that some empty-nesters are seeing their fledglings return for a little R&R.
However, a few of the recent returnees are a little long in the tooth, to mix zoological metaphors. A new and startling phenomenon appears to be on the rise, according to reports from financial planners: the return of the 50-something “child” to the parental manse, this time for quite a bit longer than the usual few days’ obligatory visit.
If the offspring is now in his/her fifties, that means the parent or parents involved would be at least in their seventies and often eighties. Some of the parents feel a financial pinch, but others are in good economic and physical shape and happy for the company and the ability to be of service to children they’ve always loved.
There are those offspring who would rather live in the meanest of hovels than move in with parents as adults, and its not always because they don’t want to inflict a burden on said parents, either. Sometimes the psychological burden of feeling infantilized and having all those hair-trigger buttons pressed on a regular basis—not to mention the mortification of having to fess up to living with a parent when one is an adult oneself—is too much for the “child” to bear. But apparently there is a growing group of people who have a smooth enough relationship with parents to swallow whatever pride they might have in order to reap the perceived economic benefits.
There are some societies in which it’s normal for adult generations to live together, and even expected. Ours is most definitely not one of them. The exception is when a grown child invites an elderly parent to live with him/her because it’s the parent who needs the help and the care. This is considered fine, and even noble, although self-sacrificing and often stressful.
On the other hand, when middle-aged boomers return to live with their elderly parents it seems a reversal of the natural order of things. We place a premium on independence in adulthood, and I imagine it would be a source of deep shame to most people (myself included) to feel pressed enough to make the decision to regress to this earlier state.
It’s easy to condemn them as natural-born freeloaders and failures; lacking in initiative, drive, and pride; and no doubt that’s absolutely true of many. But others may be staying for just a while to get restored to financial health (or at least viability), and giving their parents some much-needed companionship in the process.
Most of us leave home as teenagers and never come back for more than a few days at a time. Most of us don’t want to, and it’s not because we don’t love our parents. If I had had to live for any significant amount of time with my parents after I’d left for college at the ripe old age of seventeen, I think all of us would have ended up tearing our hair[s] out. Luckily, I’ve never had to, and I want to keep it that way (although it’s moot, since there’s no parental home left).
Once we grow up, “home” is usually the home we create for ourselves as adults. That’s the way we want it, and that’s the way it is for most of us, fortunately.
And since Frost so often has something meaningful to say about almost everything, I’ll close with his ruminations on returning “home.” It’s from his poem “The Death of the Hired Man,” about a very different situation—a man who once worked on the farm of a younger married couple returns unexpectedly when elderly and ill, and they have to decide whether to take him in or not (it’s the husband and wife speaking here):
“Warren,” she said, “he has come home to die:
You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.”
“Home,” he mocked gently.
“Yes, what else but home?
It all depends on what you mean by home.
Of course he’s nothing to us, any more
Than was the hound that came a stranger to us
Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.”
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”
“I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”
[ADDENDUM: Dr. Helen weighs in on some of the more practical aspects of the same subject.]