Tips for Parents

Bouncing Your Boomerang Grad Back into Action

By Jason Shueh

To understate it, not every student will receive the job of their dreams along with their college diploma. That, added to the fact that many students are taking on large amounts of student loans, means some of your students may be repopulating the nest to save money. Boomerang graduates have always existed, but perhaps now more than ever there is a greater awareness of them, perhaps because of the greater numbers. Their baby boomer parents can see the startling realities confronted by this new Millennial Generation: a recovering economy, delayed starts for home purchases, planning new families, and of course there’s a job market plump with part-time work — paying only “part” of the bills.

If your student is home you may be wondering how best to navigate this time. Should you draw a hard line in the sand: “find a job or else”? Or perhaps avoid the J-O-B word entirely? Boomerang families wonder what the new rules are now that roles have changed.

A National Homecoming

The number crunchers estimate that nationally between 65-85 percent of graduates have headed back to the family nest. Reasons include a shortage of alternative (affordable) living arrangements, paltry job opportunities, and a variety of other economic constraints. Another equally notable driver, home is the go-to place for comfort and emotional support.

These were some of the findings reported at the Association of Higher Education Parent/Family Program Professionals Conference in 2012 by Chelsea Petree, a Ph.D. student and the Parent Program Assistant Director at the University of Minnesota who are both researching the trend.

In her study of boomerang families, Petree surveyed more than 920 parents of undergraduate students and roughly 3,100 alumni to discover concerns and expectations of families.

Graduates are concerned by a loss of independence and privacy, feeling less of an adult, and a significant decline in their social and dating lives.

Parents point to challenges of boundaries too, but also to the challenge of recognizing their graduate’s new adult status. They wonder how to encourage a job search, how to balance additional costs, how to renegotiate family relationships while at the same time provide the support and motivation to get their son or daughter on the road to independence.

And there is no firm timeline to the job hunt, Petree explains.

“They can definitely support their child in the job search whether their child can actually find a job is another matter,” Petree said.

Of parents surveyed, Petree reported 21 percent saying their children were likely or certain to be heading home while 35.1 percent said somewhat likely. Only 36.7 percent said “rather unlikely,” and then in the extreme and tiny minority 4 percent said “Not a chance,” (2.6 percent said they hadn’t considered the possibility).

Of recent alumni, 29.9 percent said they stayed home longer than a year; 41.9 percent said 6 months or less, while 38.3 percent reported never having to move back.

The Door is That Way: Real advice to get them through it.

Clarify Expectations

Parents and students should have an open discussion early on, Petree said. She recommended that both talk about the new expectations and roles during the senior year or soon after graduation.

“It would be better to talk about that now than when the student comes home,” Petree said.

Talking points include household chores, communication needs, utility and food contributions, rent payments, use of family vehicles, and whether a curfew is going to be set.

According to Petree’s parent study, 81.9 percent of parents expected household chores to be done, 59.4 percent of parents expected their children to report their whereabouts, 27 percent expected a contribution to food and utility bills, 23.5 percent charged rent, and 12.1 percent placed a curfew to their adult graduates.

Meaningful Work
Waiting can be a hard thing too. As your grad waits for that ideal job they might be pushing grocery carts, doing odd jobs, manual labor, working in public places such as malls and fast food restaurants, likely alongside high school kids and where they’re easily seen by friends. It can be deeply humbling. And though no job is beneath them, it is important they do something, even if voluntarily, that promotes their self-confidence and that makes them feel that they’re actively working toward their career or life goals. This can be an internship, a service project, taking a class at the local community college, or volunteering their time in the service of others. As a frame of reference, the study reported that only 30.2 percent of the alumni surveyed were working full time in the field of their choice.

Encouraging the Job Search
If you’d like to encourage your graduate in their job search it’s important to stress tangible expectations. Instead of placing a timeline on them when they need to have a job, a better path would be to expect a certain number of job applications each week. Instead of asking why they don’t pursue job leads, offer to help them research potential job openings.

Remember the Big Picture, Focus on the Positives
A job is important. Independence is important. But so is your relationship with your son or daughter. Petree said even with all of the challenges, the benefits a boomerang family can offer to both parents and graduates far outweighs the negatives.

Graduates are able to save money and pay back student loans all while having the company and support of family. At the same time for parents, this is likely the last time they’ll be living with their children before they have lives and families of their own. It’s a time to know them as an adult, renew family relationships, and spend time together.

“My biggest point,” Petree said. “Is that the move itself isn’t likely to hurt their relationship.”

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