Twenty-somethings who move back in with their parents after college are often lamented as "boomerangs." But that term may need expanding now to include increasing numbers of seniors and baby boomers—you can call them "baby boomerangs"—who are taking up residence with their adult children and even grandchildren.
More than 3.6 million parents lived with their adult children in 2007, according to recently released Census Bureau data, up 67 percent from 2000. "It's a return to much closer intergenerational ties than we saw through much of the 20th century," says Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College and the author of The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms With America's Changing Families. Factors fueling the trend include tight family finances, the convenience of sharing household chores among several adults, and the increasing number of immigrants who commonly live in extended families, according to Nicolas Retsinas, director of Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Sharing a house almost always cuts the living expenses of all involved. The dismal economy is changing people's attitudes toward living in an extended family, Retsinas says: "One of the first places people usually turn when they are in trouble is their family."
Make a deal. Allegra Hinkle, a 55-year-old retired media technician, was hard-pressed to afford housing in Olympia, Wash., while her husband, David Stein, worked abroad as a photographer in Amsterdam. Hinkle's son, Dustin Hinkle-Anderson, 28, a chef, was also facing high housing costs for himself, girlfriend Courtney Norman, and their two daughters, Adaline, 2, and Haeden Norman-Hinkle, an infant.
The extended family of five moved into a house that Hinkle had previously rented to college students last year. The mortgage is $850 a month plus $200 for taxes and insurance. Dustin and Courtney pay $700 and Allegra the balance, which is less than they would have to pay for separate accommodations. When Hinkle, who is currently in Amsterdam, leaves the house for a time to see her husband abroad, Dustin and Courtney pay $800, and Allegra kicks in the rest to hold her spot.
"We will probably see more of parents moving in with their children to combine households to cut down costs," says Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author of Nobody's Baby Now: Reinventing Your Adult Relationship With Your Mother and Father. "If you have a positive relationship with your parents and your spouse and children get along with your parents, economically it seems like it would make good sense."
Live-in grandparents sometimes share caring for the little ones, which slashes day-care costs. "When you have highly stressed parents raising kids, there is a sort of win-win situation when you have a parent that you are close to helping with child care or housing costs," Coontz says. When she is in Olympia, Hinkle spends her mornings caring for granddaughter Adaline. "I get her up and feed her, and then . . . [her mother] Courtney takes over—no day care needed." Of course, there's also the potential for squabbles over parenting strategies. "Be very respectful of your child's parenting style, even if it differs radically from yours," cautions Joshua Coleman, a psychologist and author of When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along. "Unless advice is requested, try to not intervene."
Caregiving responsibilities often evolve over time. Carolyn Nutt, 64, a retired special-education preschool teacher, has lived with her mother, now 93, for the past 18 years and her mother-in-law, 85, for three years, along with her husband and her son, 24. The family shares a 3,500-square-foot home in North Tustin, Calif. When son Daniel was a child, Nutt's mother, Augusta Morse, helped out with child care. But now that she has broken both hips, Morse is receiving care from her daughter. "If we needed to go away for a weekend or just to get away for a couple of days, she was always ready to baby-sit for us," Nutt says. "The least we can do is give it back to her."