Millennials moving back in with their parents. It’s a well-worn trope; an exhausted punchline meant to illustrate an entire generation’s dependence on mom and dad. We’ve heard more and more examples of it lately: a photographer son packs up his dark room in Brooklyn, straps his mattress to the top of his hybrid Honda CRV, and “gives up” to the rolling hills of his parents’ New Hampshire home for a few months. A young entrepreneurial daughter’s party supply startup hits the skids when parties go dark, and she dumps her remaining paper plate inventory in the recycling bin on the way out of her building, on the way back to New Jersey, on the way towards her childhood bedroom with its equestrian trophies and high school yearbooks.
There’s certainly a stigma about the whole thing. Yet according to a Pew research study, 52% of 18-29-year-olds have moved back in with their parents—the highest percentage since the great depression, and possibly the highest percentage in our nation’s history. Buzzfeed recently published a piece about how millennials are trying to change the perception of moving back in with their folks. If you google “moving back in with parents,” there are a ton of recent articles on the subject.
But what exactly qualifies as “moving back in with your parents”?
I don’t mean to get technical here, but what does it mean if you move back to your parents’ guest cottage, or pool house? For that matter, are you moving back in with your parents if you take over the ski cabin, or lake house, or summer home in Provence, or the investment property in Detroit? Is it moving back in if you parcel out two acres of their sprawling 14-acre property, clear trees to create a water view, and build your own home using the same architect because we trust him?
The way I see it, as long as you’re not under the same roof as your parents, you haven’t moved back in with them. I recognize that most families can’t afford separate quarters for their middle-aged children, and my heart breaks for those poor people. Every night I thank my lucky stars that I’m not among the millions of hapless souls who are now sleeping down the hall from their parents. Or, worse yet, forced to share a bathroom with them? Yuck. I love my parents but the sight of their nightguards drying in a cup would have me demanding that they buy a separate home for me immediately.
It all comes down to having separate space. If you’re staying in the apartment above the garage, you’re in a grey area. But as long as it’s tastefully appointed, with a working kitchen and a shower with good water pressure, I think you’re still in the clear. You’re visiting! And that visit can stretch as long as you want. What are your parents going to do, kick you out in the middle of a pandemic? For sure not.
Let’s say that Robert and Annie, mom and dad’s biography-writing friends from Sausalito, come to visit for a week and stay in the guest cottage. You’d hardly say that they had “moved in” with your parents, right? Because it’s the cottage. They’re guests, visitors, temporary residents. They’re not freeloading, unmotivated squatters who play upon the guilt of your parents for sanctuary. They’re just there to take a beat, to gather their thoughts while they get back on their feet.
Why is it any different for me? I’m their son. If anything, I have more of a right to that cottage. That cottage is for me—their flesh and blood, their crown jewel. Tell Bob and Annie to stay at that creaky bed and breakfast in town, and make sure they know they’re paying for it themselves.
In sum, it’s only sad if you move back in to the same home where your parents are staying. If it’s any one of their other properties, it’s a smart life decision.