In fact, the generational separation of the 1960s and '70s was a blip on history's radar screen, not a universal cultural norm, Fingerman points out. "Most cultures have maintained closeness between parents and children," she says. "In America, the middle 20th century was an anomaly — in some way the baby boomers are the odd ones."
Putting Family First
Our increasingly multicultural country may play a role in the shifting — or shifting back — of relationships between generations. Carlos Berrios, 55, grew up in Swedesboro, New Jersey, but never bought in to the leave-home-at-all-costs edict of his youth. "Everything revolves around my family," says the tuxedo-rental-store owner, whose heritage is Puerto Rican.
Carlos' daughter, Jenna, 21, went away to college on Maryland's Eastern Shore but soon transferred schools and moved back into the family home. At the time, her great-grandmother — Carlos' grandmother Ricarda — was living nearby, and Jenna's move allowed her to help care for the family matriarch during the last two years of her life. Jenna, now a senior, will get her own place when her career is on track, but she's in no hurry, she says.
Of course, not every boomerang family is at peace with the situation. Many parents struggle to support dependent adult kids. But the more I look around, the more I see young adults who are close to their parents and yet are independent — even if they still live at home. If this seems like a contradiction, it's not: As Fingerman's data bear out, good parenting fosters both affection and autonomy. Tighter bonds allow our kids to bloom fully in an ever more complicated world.
My son Sam, a college graduate, works as a teacher's aide. He thinks I should stop worrying so much about whether his generation is growing up fast enough. He's saving his money so he can get a place of his own.
And now I'm fighting the urge to tell him: What's the hurry, Sam? Take your time.
Robert Huber is a freelance writer living with his wife and (for now at least) two sons in Philadelphia.