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When the Nest Doesn’t Empty

For lots of us baby boomer parents, it’s a surprise. Having done our best to move out of our own parents’ homes as soon as we could to assert our independence and get on with adult life, we never expected that our own children would return home after high school or college graduation. We thought the kids would be off the payroll and that just maybe there’d be a little extra money to go out to dinner, indulge in a movie, or even take a trip or two. We didn’t think we’d still be buying milk by the gallon and “family size” packs of hamburger. Yes, we love our children to death. Yes, we do want to help them out. But when does the nest finally “empty”?

They’re called the “boomerang generation”, young people who come back to the family home after being out (usually to university, the military, or a post high school service program). An additional group is made up of those who stay home following high school and commute to a local college or trade school or work to save money in order to eventually support an apartment and a car. Why is this happening?’

Largely, it’s economic. The average college graduate has school loans of $18 – 20,000 that start coming due soon after graduation. With the downturn of American economy, with college degrees no longer a guarantee of a well-paying job, with expenses for housing, transportation, and health insurance so high, it’s simply too hard to make ends meet on the salary of many entry level jobs. Contrary to the idea that kids who live at home just want to be able to buy a better sound system or a higher priced car, most would gladly trade some of those luxuries for more independence and the ability to have a more adult to adult relationship with their parents.

Baby boomer parents recognize the economic realities and want to be supportive. Having assumed that their kids would have an easier time of it starting out than we did, we are dismayed to find that the only place their kid can afford on what they make is one room in a wet basement in an unsafe part of town. Yes, we want to stop active parenting. But we also want tour children to be safe and to have an opportunity to get on their feet. Parental feelings can become quite a complicated mix of being glad to help, weary of accommodating, happy to be in a position to lend a hand, resentful for feeling like they have to do so, guilty for feeling resentful.

Because almost 50% of young people ages 18 – 25 now live at home for periods of time, there is less of a stigma for doing so. But the kids too may find that the feelings surrounding it are a complicated mix. Sometimes they do feel like “losers” for needing or wanting to return home for awhile. Usually they are grateful for the chance to get a jump on student loans and to save up for their own apartment or a more reliable car. Sometimes they feel guilty for needing it and then resentful that they feel guilty.

Put all these complicated feelings into one family household and some confusion and tension is inevitable. When the kids boomerang, the most important, over-arching goal in the situation is to preserve the relationships. Sometimes the best way for young people to do that is to move on by moving out – even if it means severely reduced circumstances. But sometimes, everyone can manage a multi-generation household (at least for short periods of time) and still end up liking each other. Only the people involved can decide.

When the Nest Doesn’t Empty

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2020). When the Nest Doesn’t Empty. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.