When the coronavirus stampeded through New York City in March, I was so grateful that our rental apartment had room for our two sons, both recent college grads. We could be our own pod, be devoid of contact with others, and cling together as if on a life raft as the virus swept across the nation.
And we were hardly alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2.7 million adults moved in with their parents or grandparents in March and April, the majority between 18 and 25 years old.
Granted, boomerang kids moving back home are nothing new, but COVID-19 has created a whole new breed: young adults who are not just living with their parents, but also in each others’ faces 24/7. And since no one knows how long this virus will last, there’s no end in sight.
And so, as we stretch into the seventh month of co-living, I’m wondering: Is this “pause” semipermanent? How long will my kids be home, anyway?
The new breed of boomerang kids
To be truthful, our family had already been doing some intergenerational co-habitation before the pandemic took hold. Our older kid, who was a couple of years out of university, had moved home while apartment hunting in our neighborhood. He was about to sign a lease on his own little place when the pandemic hit.
“What’s the point of having my own place,” he asked, “when I can’t even have friends over for a drink?”
He decided to wait out COVID-19 and then start combing apartment websites again.
Our younger one, with his freshly minted diploma, had moved back home after graduating and had been job hunting and apartment hunting with roommates simultaneously, assuming he’d have a steady paycheck and his own place with his pals soon. Those plans also got sidelined by the virus, as most of his friends also headed home to their parents.
At the time, the mandate in the city was to stay indoors and emerge only when absolutely necessary. We entered a strange land of sharing a home with two grown sons nonstop. No heading off to work in the morning, none of their weekends spent at their girlfriends’. Just full-time, full-tilt togetherness.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
Boomerang kids take up a lot more square footage than when they were little
Our family of four used to fit a lot differently in spaces than we do now. Having two “kids” over 6 feet tall means that square footage gets soaked up in new ways. Clustering around the coffee table for cheese and crackers? Tight. Having them pile in as my husband and I watch “Seinfeld” reruns in bed? No way.
I am now officially envious of those people who live in McMansions.
Your grown kids’ eating (and drinking) habits may shock you
Living together, combined with our open kitchen, has exposed my adult children’s eating habits. Since I spend most of my days working at the dining table, I register the flow of family members back and forth as they seek sustenance, and it’s been eye-opening to say the least. Who knew that my sons still eat like teenagers, but drink like men?
In and out they go, chomping on cookies, nuts, crackers, popcorn, and anything else they could get their mitts on. And come evening? Wow. The beer. The empties.
Adult kids embarrass their parents during Zoom meetings, too
Since my husband and I are both working remotely—and in regular Zoom calls—having my grown sons at home is not only a sight for me to behold daily, but quite an eyeful for my co-workers, too. They’ve seen one son saunter behind me, oblivious to my camera, in boxer shorts and nothing else. And since muting isn’t always an option, clients have also been treated to the near-constant machine gun fire of Call of Duty, electric guitar versions of Bob Dylan’s oeuvre, and even my sons bickering over who used up the toilet paper.
My co-workers’ cameos of toddlers showing off their Lego creations seem cute by comparison.
Their laundry/housekeeping skills are still less than stellar
All that nagging I did in the past about proper laundry technique (don’t let it pile up, separate whites and brights, fold items ASAP after drying)? Well, I should have found a better use for that time and energy, because clearly no one was listening.
I often revert to treating my adult sons like kids
Having our sons back home caused me to drift back to some old motherly habits that reigned supreme when they were young. For instance, I’ve developed a calendar of who loads/unloads the dishwasher. I’ve tried to stick my nose in my sons’ lives by casually inquiring about comments I’ve overheard them make during calls with friends. I’ve even taken to intervening if I hear my sons squabbling.
Yes, they are clearly old enough to run their own lives and fight their own battles. Still, that dishwasher duty does seem to need enforcement, which I’m happy to provide.
We argue less because there’s less to argue about
On the upside, the pandemic eliminates a lot of conflict because (aside from who’s on dishwashing duty) there’s so little to fight about. After all, no one is going anywhere or seeing anyone, which eliminates the potential for high school–style arguments about staying out too late. There are no Tinder dates and potentially awkward sleepovers happening when everyone is a potential virus vector.
Quarantine has helped us comfort them during this strange time
No matter how big your place, there’s no escaping the pervasive sadness of having a young adult live through this pandemic.
My younger son, the one who’s looking for work, says maybe he should head north, buy a few acres, and live off the land. His friends use the phrase “commune” and “off the grid” to describe their real estate dreams. It’s so different from when I was young, and longed for nothing more than to live it up in New York City.
But the good thing is, my husband and I have been close by, offering our grown sons what support we can. We tell our kids that nothing is forever, remind them of how their grandparents lived through wartime. If this pandemic hadn’t happened, squeezing us together, that sharing of feelings and support for one another may not have transpired.
I will miss that closeness whenever this pandemic ends—and it will.