Mom, Dad, I'm Home!

The dismal job market has forced many un- or under-employed twenty-somethings to move back in with their parents. And that may not be so bad. The secret upside to a down economy.

by Lindsy Van Gelder
Photograph: Photo by Phil Toledano.

Even when dating is not an issue, renegotiating the child-parent ­relationship creates big questions about what constitutes appropriately supportive parenting. Two of Phyllis Lombardi Siclari’s adult children live with her and her husband in West Haven, Connecticut. She makes dinner for all every night, frequently does her son’s laundry and doesn’t expect the kids to pay rent, although they are theoret­ically responsible for their credit card charges, cell phone bills and car-­insurance payments. “But they are always short,” she says. “It never fails: We have to front them.” The kids eventually pay her back, but she worries that she shouldn’t bail them out. “I don’t want to cripple them, as do so many parents who let their kids walk all over them,” she explains. But it’s not easy to find the right balance between being supportive and letting adults be adults. And many people can’t provide help without putting themselves in financial jeopardy—a problem pervasive enough that the British have coined a term: KIPPERS, or kids in parents’ pockets eroding retirement savings.

There are also conflicting emotions about where to place blame for the situation. “You’re in a constant back-and-forth,” says Jane, a film editor who asked that her name be changed to spare her 25-year-old son’s feelings. “Is his joblessness somehow my fault? His fault? Or is the world just screwing with him?” She feels frustrated that her connections have not helped him land a spot, despite his Ivy League degree, and that the lessons of her work experience seem meaningless in this economy. When prospective employers behave thoughtlessly toward her son, “I start to feel the way I haven’t felt since he was little and someone was picking on him in the playground—almost a desire to hurt people,” she says. Her son has had an array of internships, jobs that ultimately didn’t go where he needed them to go and a year in New York subsidized by his parents. Jane describes him as “terrific,” with a great work ethic, “and I look at him and I think, Where is society now that it has no use for someone like this?” Then at bad moments, “my head starts to spin, and I think there must be something wrong with him that I just don’t see.”

Unlike teenagers, people in their twenties have a reasonable expectation that their adult lives are their own (even when they’re still reaping the benefits of living at home). And that can also be hard on their parents. “Emotionally, it’s a bit of a roller coaster,” says Irene, a therapist who also asked to use another name for this story. She’s losing sleep over her 25-year-old daughter’s social life: “When Serena was in California, if she was out until 4 am clubbing and driving with a few drinks in her, at least I didn’t know.” Now Irene lies in bed, unable to do more than doze until her daughter is safely in the driveway. Serena has been home for a year after an unpaid audio-technology internship and a part-time job—neither of which paid off in the ways she’d hoped—followed by the promise of an opportunity in Florida, which failed to materialize. She’s now back in school, but when she first went home, “she basically did nothing from December to May,” says Irene. “She wasn’t earning a penny. She slept a lot and surfed the Web and turned down most of our suggestions about getting work.”

First Published February 14, 2011

Share Your Thoughts!


To YOU ARE SPOT ON! I'm 42 yrs. old and remember the way it used to be. We are breeding generations of people who "feel" entitled! Guess what? ...Time to get back to realistic living and stop all the wasteful government spending!

Kate Leiner02.13.2011

Yes, there are many twenty-somethings out of work but how can you talk about how under-employed they are? Today's workplace moves at lightspeed and requires a significant committment of time, energy and experience to be successful. These kids are not under-employed because they have no experience. Graduating from college demonstrates the fact that you have a good memory and enough discipline to do the work but it doesn't qualify as experience. These kids are short on track record and expertise but long on entitlement and that is the problem. And the parents aren't offering a solution.
Most older adults have seen their 401K's decimated by recent events so why are they making regular handouts to their kids? Why are the kids taking them? I'm a single 46 year old professional woman who earns a comfortable living but I remember being an inexperienced twenty-something. I worked retail until I found a "real job" and lived in a $163 month studio apartment that barely qualified as decent. I didn't own a car because I couldn't afford one and when I did buy a car it was old, used and cheap to repair. The used cars got nicer over the years but I never bought a luxury car (and never will) and didn't buy my first brand new car until I paid cash for my Honda Accord three years ago.
These kids need to learn to live within their means and pay their dues in the workforce. If they can't afford a smart phone they shouldn't buy one. Same goes for cable. They can't waste time on Twitter and Facebook when they could spend that time doing an internship or helping out in a non-profit in their area of professional interest. Those activities would give these kids the type of marketable skills they need to find a job because once again, the books they read in college do NOT count as experience.
Also, twenty-somethings need to realize that there is something else at play here. No one can talk about it but in the back of every hiring manager's mind is age. People in their twenties are known for partying, dating, living free and doing as they please. It's great to be in your twentys but for an employer...younger people are riskier.
I'd pay a little more for someone older who is experienced, mature and settled rather than hire some young person who may call out when they're hungover or crawl in the morning after doing the walk of shame. I'll take the person who worries about their role as caretaker of their elderly parent over the person who will spend half the day trying to figure out why the guy of the moment didn't call. Is that fair? Probably not but it's realistic. Employers want productivity and proven performance and twenty somethings are simply too high risk.
These parents need to understand this and stop enabling their kids because in the long run they aren't helping them. American companies hired 1M people last year in this country while they sent 1.4M jobs overseas and our Government is doing nothing to stop it. The market will only become more competitive and these kids needs to develop their skillset, live on a tight budget and learn to roll with the punches because unless the Government steps up it is only going to get harder.

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