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Tough Times Drive the Sandwich Generation Back Home With Their Parents

Moving in with family is becoming increasingly familiar to middle-aged adults.

After being diagnosed with debilitating arthritis and forced to retire on disability from her civilian job with the Army, Kim R. Love, 49, of Chesapeake, Va., didn’t think things could get worse. But then her husband, Grady, 58, lost his shipping job and later suffered a heart attack. Last February, without health insurance and no income, they moved into the five-bedroom house where Love grew up with her parents, now retired and in their 60s.

“I never thought I would be back at home in my own bedroom,” Love says.

With the ever-widening economic downturn impacting so many Americans, Love’s situation is becoming increasingly familiar to middle-aged adults. While no exact figures are available, experts say more and more boomers are returning to live in their parents’ homes—or even with their own kids. As with the Loves, the move is often prompted by financial hardships that result after a job loss, illness, divorce, foreclosure or business failure leading to bankruptcy.

Sunita Shamin, a certified financial planner with Ameriprise Financial in Matawan, N.J., says she has seen evidence of “boomerang boomers” among her clients. She advises parents to consider how best to give financial assistance without depleting their own retirement savings or credit. Some parents even consider working part time or taking their full Social Security benefits to compensate for the extra expense, she says.

Others make do with what they have. Love’s mother, Vernice Dale Rogers, says allowing her daughter and son-in-law to move in was an automatic decision. “You’ve got kids in hardship, and if they can’t go back home, they can’t go nowhere,” says Rogers, 64. “They had no sufficient income. I just shared what I have. It’s hard; all my bills went up. We are coping so far.”

Loretta Polish, a psychologist in Southfield, Mich., says although many parents are conflicted when they find their children in dire straits, welcoming them back home may benefit all parties. “What we might see is a reciprocal arrangement,” Polish says. “As parents are aging, the parent is helping the child and the child is helping the parent.”

But Polish cautions parents to negotiate the conditions for the arrangement. For example: How long will the children remain? What should they contribute financially to the household? How will chores be shared? How will they handle privacy? After ground rules are set, Polish says, the family should continue to review what is working and what isn’t.

Love says she has adjusted to her mother’s boundaries. “She loves to cook and I just back off. My mother cooks like she’s cooking Sunday dinner every day,” she says. In addition, Love says she and her husband contribute to the household chores and income as much as they can.

Also be prepared for inevitable conflict, Polish says. “People assume there is no conflict. When it comes up, everyone is angry and anxious. There is going to be a period of adjustment,” she says.

Still, Love is thankful that her parents are there for support during this difficult time. And she is hopeful that she and her husband can get back on their feet. “Even though you can go low, you can come back up,” she says.

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