The family connection has nothing to do with boomerangs

4th July, 2018

There was an interesting piece in the Guardian last weekend about research by the London School of Economics (LSE) that had found evidence for the positive effects upon family relationships of adult children returning to live at home . The study wasn’t huge; only 54 parent and graduate adult children participants and it certainly wasn’t representative of the general population but nevertheless it caught my attention as it had some positive things to say on a subject that is usually given a bad press. The common use of the term ‘Boomerang Generation’ is derisory, suggesting that one’s children are thrown out only to bounce back as though the whole process of raising children is a bit of a game and a wearisome one at that.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there has been a rise of 7% in children aged 18 to 34 years living in the family home since 1999, i. e. 21% in 1999 to 26% in 2017. Intriguingly, for every two young women returning to the family home there are three young men.

All four of my adult children have returned home for periods of a few months to several years and I know from my own lived experience and my clinical experience that along with the challenges and adjustments that must be made there can be many practical, economic, emotional and social benefits. I’m in the middle of writing another title for the ’Introducing’ series by Icon Press. The first was about child psychology and this one is about the psychology of parenting teenagers. As I write this I am reminded of how very complex the task of becoming an independent, functional adult in today’s modern world is for young people.

I have a hypothesis that today’s teenagers have so many developmental challenges, what with new technology, reconstituted families, dissolving social institutions such as the church and a more relaxed, open and inclusive society that they use all their social and emotional energies up just staying afloat, i.e. keeping well, forming their own identity and learning about the world, that as teenagers they become somewhat disconnected from their families of origin. This may well explain what seems like backtracking and the return to home as young adults but which can be viewed much more positively as a re-connecting and a strengthening of core relationships.

I don’t accept the view that economic factors are the only influence in this social phenomenon so LSE’s research makes perfect sense. Perhaps what we’re seeing now is a way of replacing the connections that the extended family played at a time when people tended to stay in the place that they were born? Maybe that core human need to belong is taking precedence over the achievement and control agendas, all three of which, according to humanist theory, are the key drivers behind any human behaviour?

I would love to see a large-scale study across the UK that takes into account a wider range of social demographics and which uses qualitative methods to explore the complex individual detail. Maybe then we could put the boomerang generation metaphor in the bin and find a better, less simplistic more positive term that reflects the sentiment of this quotation:

“The way you help heal the world is you start with your own family.”

Mother Teresa

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