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The Return of the Waltons

By helaineo |

Do you live with mom or dad? Or do mom and dad live with you? A trio of articles over the past day has taken on the old-fashioned multi-generation household – which, it turns out, isn’t so old-fashioned after all.

According to Liz Weston, personal finance columnist at MSN Money, a record-breaking number of Americans are living in family units that consist of at least two adult generations of family members. While immigrants from Asian or Latin American nations have been on the leading edge of this trend for decades, the economic recession of the past two years has caused the numbers to soar, with a more than five percent increase in these family units between 2007-2008 alone.

Driving the movement home are nasty on-the-ground economics for the Millennial generation. Weston quotes research showing that more than one-third of folks aged 18-29 were not in the workforce, something that can be attributed to both economic conditions and the need for ever-more higher education to get ahead. As Lisa Belkin reports on the Motherlode blog, reporting from a study entitled “What’s Going on With Young People Today? The Long and Twisting Path to Adulthood,” released this week in the research journal Transition to Adulthood, “They are living at home longer, are financially insecure and are making lower wages.”

Moreover, according to yet another article in today’s New York Times, this one entitled “The Hand-Me-Down Home” many experts believe these multi-generation Waltons-like arrangements will become more, not less common in the coming years as Baby Boomers enter their golden years, and realize they need daily help with everything from finances to daily living, and invite their middle-aged kids to move in with them.

I confess I read these articles with mixed feelings. When I imagine my parents moving in with me, my stomach drops as I imagine the new childcare regime –sugared treats doled out on demand, daily trips to the toy store, all electronics all the time – and my mother and I getting into some ridiculously prolonged squabble over whether Asian Spice or Moroccan Grill spice makes a better marinades for chicken and just how long that chicken needs to be cooked anyway. (Let me just pause here for a moment to say, I love you mom and dad. Really.)

However, I can’t think of anything I would rather have than my children move back in with me as adults for a time, where I imagine I would enjoy all the benefits of their wonderfully charming company with none of the current downsides, such as arguing with them about doing their homework and their seeming inability to get a glass of water by themselves. And, needless to say, I am imagining they will love and miss my company so much that they will want to live with me, not because we are all forced to get along due to financial need.

Of course, I could be fooling myself. As the New York Times article points out, we could end up bickering over redecorating the house, as adult children seek to make their mark on their childhood home. So dear boys, here are the rules if you ever decide to move back home as an adult: The kitchen desperately needs updating but the bookshelves in my study are non-negotiable. They stay. Remember that.

But if you need a glass of water … I’m here.

Photo: Creative Commons, Trailnet

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About helaineo



Helaine Olen's writing has been published by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal,, and, where she is an associate editor. Her first book, Office Mate: The Guide to Finding True Love on the Job will be published this fall. She lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

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0 thoughts on “The Return of the Waltons

  1. Andrea says:

    My husband, my son and I live with my parents and my maternal grand-mother (for those counting- that’s 4 generations). While it’s a huge house that’s really 2 houses (separate kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms etc) under one roof, we still eat dinner together most days and function largely as one family. There are arguments sometimes, but for the most part it’s great. We have not moved there for financial reasons- I’m an attorney and my husband runs a successful company- but for family reasons. We both work long hours and did not want our son to be in daycare 10 hours of the day. I was an only child and my parents dote on our son while not spoiling him like most grandparents because they see him all the time and can see the effects of any lack of discipline they may feel tempted to encourage. Our son gets to be surrounded by adults who love him and when I’m at work, I can focus without worrying too much about the type of care he’s getting. In fact, my mother is a retired primary school teacher who loves children- he’s probably getting more stimulation with her than he would with me. We enjoy my parents and grandmother’s company and there’s a real sense of the family working together. Our family is from the Caribbean originally, and there’s much more acceptance of this type of arrangement. It’s expected that grand-parents will be heavily involved in their grandchildren’s lives and that family will want to stay as close to each other as possible. When we lived on our own, I often felt overwhelmed- now I feel supported and embraced.

  2. MsFortune says:

    We are considering buying a house with my MIL – possibly a house with a granny flat or guest house. We have a toddler and another on the way. My MIL takes care of the kid while my husband and I work, and she is at our house most days. We function as one larger supportive family and I think it’s great. The slight intrusion of my MIL’s constant presence is more than made up for by the help with the kid, the feeling of family and the support that we have for one another. Plus we live in a very expensive city, and buying a house together gives us much greater buying power. I know it is not for everyone, but intergenerational living has a lot of benefits.

  3. [...] While as a die-hard Gen X slacker myself, I fervently admire the Children of the Bull’s refusal to buckle down and serve The Man, any casual survey of economic data circa 2010 tells you that their burst of self-confidence is probably fueled not by their unique resilience but by the monetary energy received from one last desperate hit from the parental financial tit.  Job offers for recent college graduates have, after all, fallen by half since 2007, while the number of adult children moving back home is soaring. [...]

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