Returning to roost in the empty nest

January 29, 1995|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

They flock back to empty nests. They crowd second honeymoons. Parents love them, but often can't wait until they're gone. They're "boomerang kids" -- adult children who have moved away only to return home.

Take Columbia resident Laura Madachy, a 1991 University of Maryland graduate who never imagined living with her parents at age 25. "After living at school for four years, you don't want to move back with your parents," she says.

But sharing a Columbia townhouse with three friends quickly lost its allure. The rent was right, but the bathrooms too few. The travel agency sales assistant moved back home in 1993 to save money so that she can buy her own place. Her brother Paul, 22, an editorial assistant in a medical publications firm, soon followed.

Her parents never figured on this. "Two years ago, nobody was at home," says their father, James Madachy. "It was like a second honeymoon."

Adds their mother, Phyllis Madachy: "I was one of those parents who said, 'Graduate from college and don't come back.' But it's more complicated than that."

Among the complications: the national trend toward later marriages and the high cost of housing -- particularly a factor in Howard County, where many one-bedroom apartments require annual incomes of $25,000.

Across the nation, 18 million adult children ages 18 to 34 are living with their parents, according to 1993 national census studies -- up from about 13 million in 1970. In the Baltimore area, that translates to a quarter of all families having at least one adult child 18 or older living at home.

In Howard County, only about one in five families is in that situation -- a lower percentage in spite of the county's high housing costs, perhaps because of the county's high college-attendance rate, one of the primary reasons young people leave home.

Apart from later marriages and high housing costs, some experts say more adult children of the middle-class may be at home because some may be too spoiled to struggle as their parents may have done at the start of their adult lives.

"The difficulty of young people to have the lifestyle they are accustomed to is leading them to stay at home," says Stephen Rollings, a family demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau. "I think all of it boils down to the affordability of housing."

Affordable housing is scarce in Howard County. The average sale price of local homes last month was more than $13,000 higher than the average sale price of homes in Baltimore's other suburban counties. One-bedroom apartments start at more than a month; most run more than $600.

"I've had young people come in, and it's a pretty hopeless situation," says Natalie Lobe, of the Coldwell Banker Grempler Real Estate Assistance Team, which helps low-income people find housing. "They want to leave home and rent, but there's really nothing for them."

That leaves them and their parents facing the challenge of living together as adults.

And it's a challenge that often turns sour after a short while, says Richard Melheim, author of "101 Ways to Get Your Adult Children to Move Out (And Make Them Think It Was Their Idea)," a humorous look at this serious subject.

"It's tough to make it these days," Mr. Melheim says. "Parents feel guilty about that, but guilt turns to resentment because they feel taken advantage of. That's when tempers fly."

Brian Carmel -- a 25-year-old who lives and works in his parents' Columbia home -- says he deals with the situation by leaving his parents their own space and keeping to his own.

That's not so easy because his office for his sunglasses manufacturing business is right next to his parents' basement workout equipment.

"I don't see them during the day at all," Mr. Carmel says. "When my parents come to work out, I always clear out of here. I don't want to have to listen to them grunt."

Still, he realizes, living at home is enabling him to try to start his own business -- and ultimately achieve independence.

Frances and Calvin Goldscheider, researchers at Rhode Island's Brown University and authors of a 1994 study, "Leaving and Returning home in 20th Century America," say Mr. Carmel's parents are performing a traditional function.

"The family is a safety net," Ms. Goldscheider says. "It's been tough for this entire generation. . . . This is really a depression for young adults."

The Goldscheiders' study found that the average age for children leaving home for the first time nowadays is 19.5 -- up from 18 a generation ago.

This is in line with rising marriage ages. According to the last census, the median age for marriage among men is 26.5 and 24.4 for women -- about four years later for both men and women than in 1960.

Loren Wilson, a 24-year-old Columbia resident, fits that profile. She plans to stay in her parents' home until she marries, which she thinks will happen soon.

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