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.

The emotional challenges are further complicated by the huge logistical issues that loom when the empty nest refills—like how to provide adult children with health insurance. One of Siclari’s three kids doesn’t have it, although she’s painfully aware of the devastation that poor health can wreak: In 2005 her youngest child was a pas­senger in a car that was hit by a mo­torcycle traveling 100 miles per hour. “She broke both femurs, both knees, her right foot was severed, and her head was smashed like a pumpkin,” says Siclari. Her daughter recovered, but only after spending months in the hospital. At the time, she was covered by her parents’ insurance, but since then, she has had patches where she was without any coverage. Just recently, she went back to school and now has insurance that way, but Siclari’s son, who also lives at home, is still uninsured. “Most of the jobs out there don’t offer benefits,” says Siclari. And she and her husband—he is a CPA, she is the volunteer president of a charitable organization—can’t afford the thousands of dollars a year it would take to buy a policy for their son or add him to theirs. 

Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of stress out there. Jane, who does buy health coverage for her son, at a cost to her own savings, found herself snapping when he borrowed his father’s favorite coffee thermos and left it in his room, forcing her husband to tear the kitchen apart searching for it. “Sometimes a thermos isn’t just a thermos,” she says. “When kids are younger, there are no boundaries; they eat off their parents’ plates. But that’s supposed to end at a certain point.” Her son’s forgetting to bring back the thermos was a reminder of their continuing inability to achieve a kind of separation. “He’s trying to be a grownup, and he really wants to work,” says Jane, but the return of the unthinkingly self-centered child is also unquestionably part of her new reality. There are times, she admits, when she wants to tell him, “You’re eating all the food! Leave some for everyone else!”

Despite the difficulty of having to negotiate a new relationship with their children and renavigate their fi­nancial landscape, many women report that they like having their kids around. Twenty-somethings are usually better at carrying heavy boxes, tweaking the router, driving at night and finding the best new music than their parents are, and the bumpy process of generations learning to coexist can have surprising payoffs. For starters, parents get a ringside seat to the maturation process. “Some of it is little things,” says Lori Bezahler, a nonprofit executive from Brooklyn whose 22-year-old stepdaughter is working long hours without steady pay to try to break into film and TV production. Bezahler’s husband is a labor activist, and she respects the way her stepdaughter can now assert herself in discussions about her lifestyle. “She stands up to him about her hours, as an adult who has decided, not as a kid who has to justify herself,” says Bezahler. “I really admire little things like that . . . which are actually huge.”

Mills says that when her daughter moved back home after four years of teaching in Africa, “we each had our own ways of doing things, and we were used to having our own space.” The daughter made it clear that she expected Mills to make some changes: using cloth napkins at dinner, for instance, and passing up any product containing high-fructose corn syrup. “At first I thought, Oh my gosh, give me a break,” Mills says. But she decided she needed to be “more empathetic” with her daughter’s beliefs. That didn’t mean letting her daughter win every point as much as it meant cultivating an open attitude and finding common ground—in their case, quite literally: The two tended a garden together, and Mills’s daughter has taken over some of the cooking. “It has been a good experience,” says Mills.

First Published February 14, 2011

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To kkl224@yahoo.com 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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