Feathered nests

The kids are living at home longer than ever

It plays out like a scene from a family-friendly sitcom. "Avery, turn it down!" Allen Jones, 60, shouts repeatedly up the stairwell to his son. Avery, unaware of his father's requests, continues to play music in his room for another two or three minutes before the yelling finally registers. He appears a few moments later, slightly sheepish, sporting a Movember moustache and baseball cap. And so begins argument number 2.

"Avery, take your hat off," says Jones.

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Avery shrugs off the instruction. "It's not a big deal."

"It is a big deal," insists Jones. After a little more back and forth the hat stays, but both father and son are visibly annoyed.

It's pretty standard bickering for a parent and child, but technically Avery isn't a child anymore. At 20 years old, he is one of the many adults that is choosing to stay at home with the folks.

Statistic Canadas 2011 census shows that 59.3 per cent of 20-24 year olds were living at home in 2011, nearly the same as 59.5 per cent in 2006, but up more than 17 per cent from 1981. Amongst 25-29 year olds, 25.2 per cent were living at home in 2011, up from 24.7 per cent in 2006 and 11.3 per cent in 1981.

The national average of young adults living in the parental home is 42.3 per cent, but that number is even higher in Vancouver, where it is 46.7 per cent.

Avery's reasons for wanting to stick around are varied. For one thing, he loves living in Deep Cove, and the Jones' custom-built, 4,200-square-foot home isn't exactly the kind of place anyone would be eager to escape. But mostly, he just can't afford to move out.

"I don't think it's really reasonable for me to support myself while I'm going to school," says Avery, who is currently attending Capilano University and hoping to transfer to another school within a year or so.

He's working a shift a week (sometimes less) as a parking attendant on Grouse Mountain but even when he was working full time, earning $1,800 a month wasn't nearly enough to move out on, he says. The $23,000 ICBC debt he racked up after getting into a car accident while driving without a licence isn't helping.

"Why would I want to waste the money I have now on supporting myself when there's a place at home where I can live that's already available for free, and then I can save that money," he says.

It's an attitude that more and more young people are adopting and while it is often the smartest option, it can be less than ideal. Avery admits that he doesn't do a ton of chores around the house, although he sometimes cooks and walks the family's two dogs. Still, he feels his mom and dad get too worked up about minor things, like the cleanliness of his bedroom.

"At some points, it's like, my parents are just crazy," he says. "Problems will arise and their initial solution is just for me to move out."

Jones has a different take on it.

"The requests made are very reasonable, but I just think that the kids have a hard time because they're trying to be independent," he says. Avery isn't the only adult child Jones and his wife live with. Their 23-year-old daughter Ashley recently moved back home after earning a music degree from Scripps College in California.

About one-third of all those living at home have been dubbed "boomerang kids" because they've left and returned to the nest one time or more. Its not always a smooth transition.

"She comes into the house after having a taste of living alone and says, 'Well, you can't tell me to do this'," says Jones.

Despite the frustrations, and the fact that he and his wife would like to downsize their living quarters, Jones realizes that his kids need his support. Allowing them to live at home is the only way they'll be able to get a decent education, he says.

"Nowadays it's not like we used to do it," he says. "University is expensive, living is expensive, the whole process is, and it . . . makes it prohibitive for a kid to leave."

. . .

Barbara Mitchell, a sociology professor at Simon Fraser University, has been studying family relations since she was a grad student in the '80s. That's when she first noticed that young adults were not only living at home for longer, but that they were boomeranging back home after moving out.

In addition to financial benefits, Mitchell says living at home offers comfort and companionship, especially as the average marriage age has been pushed back to around 30.

"That kind of social support is more attractive to a lot of young people than having to live in a cheap apartment with a whole bunch of other young adults scrounging around for food."

Over the years, Mitchell has interviewed thousands of young adults living at home in the Metro Vancouver area as well as 500 parents for various research projects. She found that cultural factors play a big role - staying at home until marriage is common for those with more traditional backgrounds such as Asians and East Indians - and that the number of adults living at home is highest in major urban areas such as Vancouver and Toronto.

She's also found that in many situations, this living arrangement is a positive experience for both parents and kids.

"You're already starting off with fairly close-knit families . . . because if families don't get along that well, they're not likely to live together," she explains.

Nicole-Ann Poitras can certainly vouch for making it work. The 31-year-old Burnaby resident lives with her mom and grandmother and recently started her own marketing and event-planning business. While Poitras doesn't pay rent at her home, she does contribute to food costs, other bills and helps out her grandmother with running errands.

"It's not that I couldn't live on my own, but I choose not to," she says. "It allows me to do a lot of things that I wouldn't be able to do if I did live on my own and have expenses and all of that."

As for the stigma that those who live at home have failed to launch, Poitras hasn't encountered much of it. On the contrary, she finds that more and more people are taking this route and that those who haven't tell her they wish they had. But when asked if she would date a man who still lived with his parents, she hesitates momentarily.

"If he lived at home because he didn't have anything and didn't have any ambition, then no. But if it was something similar to my situation I would have no problem."

. . .

At 14.1 per cent, the youth unemployment rate in Canada is at an all-time high.

As the cost of tuition continues to rise, young people are graduating from post-secondary institutions with massive student loan and credit card debts, compounded by the fact that their degrees are only landing them entrylevel jobs that don't facilitate independent living very well.

Tammy Tsang, CEO of My Loud Speaker, a Vancouverbased marketing agency that works with a staff all under the age of 30, has organized several events to address the issues faced by youth entering the workforce.

In her discussions with employers, Tsang has found that young people are sometimes overlooked because of their high expectations and a sense of entitlement.

"There are some perspectives that feel that immigrant workers are much more reliable and grateful for their positions and tend to stay longer . . . and the younger generation tends to demand more even though they have less experience," she says.

Those demands include anything from a raise after six months or flexibility within their positions to simply expecting a higher paying job than what's actually available.

Mitchell agrees that this stereotype exists but says many of the students she's spoken with are realistic.

"A lot of young people put years into their education and they do expect that that investment is going to pay off," she says.

"But I think a lot of them know it's not going to be this instant."

"They will end up doing a lot better in terms of wages and salary down the road, it just may take a little bit longer than their parents' generation took."

. . .

Christina Newberry has a tip for grads seeking meaningful employment: get a job any job.

Newberry is somewhat of an expert in the adult-children-livingat-home phenomenon. She boomeranged back home twice, once after university and again after a relationship break-up, and has since started a blog - The Hands-on Guide to Surviving Adult Children Living at Home - and written a book on the topic. She also started her career in communications by working at a White Rock bookstore for $8 an hour.

"The reality is that big companies or small companies aren't going to hire someone who has an arts degree, or probably any degree, but no job experience," says Newberry.

"But if you take a job that you're overqualified for . . . that's often where the opportunities arise to develop skills that you need to get that real job."

Newberry believes the biggest challenges faced by parents and grown children who still live together comes from a lack of communication between the two parties.

She recommends the following tips for successful cohabitation:

- Have a thorough conversation. Address everything from how long the child is going to stay at home, the purpose of the stay (if they're boomeranging) and what chores they'll take on.

- Discuss finances. "A lot of (adult children) don't realize why they should pay anything because there's the perception . . . that it's just free for their parents to let them live at home," explains Newberry. "But that's just not true." She suggests doing a budget that takes into account what the costs of having the child live at home are including food, electricity and insurance.

- Decide on a regular contribution. Newberry feels that this step is important because it helps the parents feel less like they're being taken advantage of and it's good for the adult child's self-esteem. If this isn't possible due to a lack of income, Newberry says there should still be a monthly responsibility that can be worked off by doing manual labour around the house.

- Put it in writing. Making up a contract will limit the misunderstandings between the parents and their adult children.

Hashing out the details can have a big pay-off, adds Newberry. "If everybody is happy in the situation, that can create memories and experiences that are really valuable for the rest of everybody's lives."

For more of Newberry's advice go to www.adultchildrenlivingathome.com.

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