“Children are a blessing from the Lord,” I muttered as I walked through the house, picking up errant socks, a cereal bowl glazed with a thin layer of sour milk, two used batteries from a gaming controller, and not one, but three, pairs of size 12 sneakers.

That would be adult size 12, not the adorable toddler size that parents used to preserve in bronze.

The shoes take up a lot of room, like the 6-foot body that wears them and had recently moved back home, along with his older sister, filling my once empty nest. 

I sobbed when they left for college and was initially ecstatic to have a full house again. But, like many other American parents with adult children living at home, there have been days when I questioned whether it’s good for any of us when a parent’s house functions as an extended-stay hotel.

Apparently, we’re going to find out.

In July of 2020, about 52 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 were living with one or both parents, according to Pew Research Center. The number had ticked up by 5 percentage points from February, just before Covid-19 started to spread. It was the highest share since the Great Depression, although the number has slowly but steadily risen since its lowest point in 1960, when 29 percent of young Americans lived with their parents.

And who can blame them? Post-Covid, few of us want to leave home anymore. And our young adult children look around at the housing market — overpriced and competitive — and rightly snort with disdain. 

Better to stay put in the cozy homes of their former guardians, where the fridge is always full and no one asks for the first and last months’ rent. They can move out when they’re dead, or rich, or conservative — whichever comes first.

There have been days when I questioned whether it’s good for any of us when a parent’s house functions as an extended-stay hotel.

There are, of course, many serious and valid reasons why America’s young adults are choosing to continue to live with their parents. There’s the pandemic, of course, and, before that, the Great Recession, and now there is a housing market that, while cooling slightly, has sent prices through the roof. Many young Americans can’t afford to buy or rent in a market where people are offering more than the asking price, and even if they can, they’re questioning whether that’s how they want to spend their money. Meanwhile, their old bedroom beckons, and it’s either cheap or free.

My own household welcomed back two young adults in March 2020 — a 20-year-old sent home by his university and a 26-year-old whose nomadic lifestyle depended on Airbnb and the couches of friends who suddenly were not as welcoming as they’d been in 2019. For a while, this was truly great. With so much unknown and frightening about Covid-19, we felt safe, and with everything shut down, we had time to enjoy each other. 

But there comes a time in every mother’s life when she looks out upon the piles of laundry (which weren’t quite so tall when half the family wore onesies) and at the grocery receipts and at what has been recently watched on Netflix—and thinks, wait, weren’t you guys supposed to move out? What about your independence? What about your privacy? What about my electric bill?

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Like every American mother, I’d long been told to fear and dread the empty nest. Twenty years ago, every older woman who’d stop me in the grocery store to gush over my young children would say wistfully, “Enjoy this time; they grow up fast.” The implication was clear: Your little birds will soon leave the nest, and you’ll be alone and miserable like me.

But lately, for many of us in America, where independence and mobility are prized, life with grown children knells with the question echoing: “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” 

It’s different in other countries.

In Italy, for example, about two-thirds of 18- to 34-year-olds still live in their parents’ home. Similar numbers are seen in Greece, where it’s common for young adults to live with their parents until they get married, and in Spain, where young men and women often don’t leave home until around the age of 30. In Portugal, the average age of leaving the nest is 33.

And even when adult children do leave their parents’ home for a while, they are likely to move back in at some point (or have their parents move in with them). In Pakistan and Afghanistan, for example, about 90 percent of people 65 and older live either with their children or other members of their family, according to the United Nations

Although this is most prevalent in Eastern Europe and Asia, Americans are similarly embracing multigenerational living, not just to save money, but for social benefits. 

About 60 million Americans live in multigenerational households, according to Pew Research Center. That number has quadrupled since 1971, in large part because of the number of young American men staying put. About 4 in 10 young men between the ages of 25 and 29 live with their parents, Pew reported earlier this year. (It’s lower for women, about 26 percent.)

But many are not doing so because of cultural norms, nor because they like hanging out with boomers, but because they simply can’t afford their own place. Forty percent of young adults cite financial reasons for multigenerational living arrangements, while one-third say it’s because they need help caring for their children, or are themselves caring for their parents.

Not surprisingly, adult children are more likely than their parents to say that co-dwelling improves their finances; nearly a third admit to not contributing to the rent or mortgage. 

And while many young adult females living with their parents do so because of a change in a relationship (like a breakup or divorce), most young men do so because they always have. 

Isaac Newton’s first law of motion helps to explain this: A body at rest remains at rest. Especially if it’s comfortable and cozy.

That plush pillow-top mattress on which your adult kid is sleeping? It’s go to go, replaced by the cheapest one you can find at Ikea.

There is, if we parents are being honest, a fundamental pleasure in having adult children stick around. With imagination, we can talk ourselves into believing, like Academy Award winner Sally Field, “You like me! You really, really like me!” when the reality is more like, “You’re broke! You’re really, really broke!” Also, we love them so desperately. 

But even in countries where it’s typical for young adults to live long and prosper with mom and dad, there is a kindling of concern that we’re doing our children no favors by allowing limitless, free tenancy. There’s a fine line between enjoying our children’s company for as long as we can, and not recognizing a troubling condition described by mental health professionals as “failure to launch syndrome.” 

Young adults who are truly not capable of moving out and functioning on their own may well need professional help. Young adults who just are too much enjoying their parents’ comfy cozy home may need other inducements. 

Last year, Spain’s prime minister floated a plan to offer young adults about $300 toward rent, a proposal described in some quarters as a “bribe” to get them to move out. A few years ago, a New York couple had to file a lawsuit to get their 30-year-old son to vacate their house. (They won, but there’s no word if the parents and son are still speaking.)

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As for me, I’m starting to think about the value of what’s been called hostile architecture — a controversial method in urban design that discourages loitering with the installation of walls, spikes, barriers, slanted benches and other uncomfortable designs that feign the appearance of welcoming refuge.

That plush pillow-top mattress on which your adult kid is sleeping? It’s got to go, replaced by the cheapest one you can find at Ikea. Maybe it’s time to unsubscribe from HBO Max. You may need to swap Starbucks with Maxwell House. If, after all this, your fledgling doesn’t fly out of the nest, you can always resort to drastic measures: first and last month’s rent. 

As for me, I’m not there yet. As Covid-19 began to subside, my darling nomad hit the road again, and mercifully the colleges took two others back in. But one recently returned home and announced his intention to stay at least until next spring. “Children are a blessing from the Lord” will be my mantra until then. And if things get dicey, well, my mom has a spare room.  

This story appears in the December issue of Deseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.

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