New Castle News

March 29, 2006

Failure to Launch: With Generation Yo-Yo, kids are grown, not gone

By Alison Roberts

Forget Generation X and Y; the spotlight is trained now on Generation Yo-Yo, young adults in their 20s and 30s who live with their parents.

They may be moving up in the world; they’re just not moving out.

You can find evidence on screens large and small as art imitates demographics — in the new romantic comedy film “Failure To Launch” and in the new Fox sitcom “Free Ride.” You also can track the trend on bookshelves, with titles such as “Boomerang Nation: How To Survive Living With Your Parents ... the Second Time Around” and “Mom, Can I Move Back In With You? A Survival Guide for Parents of Twentysomethings.”

In “Failure To Launch,” Sarah Jessica Parker’s character has made a career out of being hired by desperate parents to coax adult sons to move out of the family home. She meets her match when she is hired to light a fire under a 35-year-old hunk played by Matthew McConaughey.

In “Free Ride,” Nate Stahlings plays a new college graduate who moves back in with the folks (who had turned his bedroom into a home gym). He tells a friend: “They take care of me, do the dishes, cook me food. It’s like having servants.”

The jokes rely on audience recognition of the increasingly commonplace reality of adult children, especially men, living with their parents.

More than 18 million American adults from 18 to 34 live in their parents’ homes.

Their parents weren’t as likely to do so. In 2004, 56.5 percent of American men and 46.5 percent of women ages 18 to 24 were living in parents’ homes (this includes students living in dorms at college), according to the Census Bureau. That is up 2.2 percentage points for men and 15.2 percentage points for women since 1970.

For those ages 25 to 34, 13.9 percent of men and 8 percent of women were still at home, compared to 9.5 percent of men and 6.6 percent of women in 1970.

Whatever the reasons behind the trend, plenty of families are living it. We caught up with a few of them who talked about the ups and downs of their domestic arrangement and the pleasure of seeing the lights of a U-Haul at the end of the tunnel.

Christine Moellenberndt moved in with her mom in Rancho Cordova, Calif. “for a few weeks” when she was 21.

“That was eight years ago and here I am,” Moellenberndt says.

She hasn’t been idle; she works and she moved out for a couple of years to finish a bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Between school loans of about $18,000 and about $3,000 in credit card debt, Moellenberndt figured being at home was the best way to get on her feet financially so that she can go to graduate school in cultural anthropology. This spring, she’s waiting to hear if she has been accepted. When she is, she’ll move out.

Her mother, Vanessa Nelson, 56, says that when she left home at 18 and went to college she was able to pay her way working part time in retail.

“When I first went out on my own, the salary wasn’t great, but you could live on it; you can’t work part time anymore and live on your own,” Nelson says. “I feel like I’m doing what parents should do, which is helping their kids.”

This mother and daughter clearly enjoy each other’s company and usually eat dinner together. But it isn’t always easy.

Moellenberndt looks forward to having her own place where friends will want to hang out: “They’re more uptight than me about the mom-in-the-house thing.”

Nelson looks forward to having more time to see her father and for volunteer work.

When she goes, Nelson will miss her daughter’s help with all things digital. (“She’s my computer consultant.”) Moellenberndt will miss home-cooked meals.

“She’s the mom; she cooks,” she says, and then laughs.

“If you’re 29 and living at home with your parents, you’re in trouble,” says Colin Jeppesen, who is 20 and living with his mother in Rancho Cordova, Calif., while going to Cosumnes River College.

“I want to be on my own by the time I’m 21,” he says. “But I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it at 18.”

His mother agrees.

“He’s matured a lot in the past year,” says Georgette Jeppesen, 54. “I think he’s ready to live on his own now, just not financially ready.”

Colin has become a more considerate roommate and no longer stays out late without calling home.

“Now, I’m like, ‘She’ll worry about me,’ so I call,” he says.

Elina Furman has been there, done that and even written a book about it, “Boomerang Nation: How To Survive Living With Your Parents ... the Second Time Around.”

She moved out of her mother’s home in Manhattan when she was 29. She’s 32 now.

It was leaving home that got Furman thinking about writing a book.

“My mom majorly had this empty nest syndrome and I was doing research to help her,” Furman says. “I stumbled across this term ‘boomerang kids’ and I thought I should write this book; these are my people.”

But do you want Furman’s people to be your kids?

Some parents do, according to Dr. Charles Sophy, a psychiatrist who has a private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif. Families with grown kids at home show up regularly in his office.

“Usually it’s the child that comes in; sometimes they’re depressed and it ends up being tied back to the fact that they’re still living at home,” he says. The difficulty in moving out is often not theirs.

“Oftentimes, parents can’t let kids go,” Sophy says. “It can really entrap a child. It takes a really independent child to be able to say, ‘I love you and I need to leave.’ ”

He advises parents who want to help adult kids move out to come up with a transition plan for independence.

“The worst thing to say is, ‘You can always come home.’ You’re sabotaging them,” Sophy says.

Tom Dey, the director of “Failure To Launch,” has not lived his movie’s screenplay himself, as child or parent. He’s 40 and expecting his first child, and he left home at 17 for good.

“I think it was programmed in me, not by my parents but I think by society, that if I were to move back in with my parents that it would somehow be a step backward or a defeat,” he says.

He realized this was a peculiarly American notion after living in Europe, where many families live multigenerationally.

“It’s accepted as a way of life there,” Dey says. “I don’t know if this movie will make any sense to Europeans.”

But he knows it’s an issue Americans can relate to.

“I like the fact that it is so universal,” he says. “Everyone knows someone or has a friend of a friend who is living at home too late.”