Women in their 30s and 40s dish on the pros—and cons—of living with mom and dad.

By Brienne Walsh
August 12, 2020
A record number of adults are now living with their parents.
| Credit: Courtesy of Paige Skinner

In February, when 30-year-old Paige Skinner broke up with her then-live-in boyfriend, she flew home to stay with her parents in Garland, Texas, figuring it would only be for a few weeks until she found a new apartment. Then, the pandemic hit. Skinner, who is a freelance journalist, began losing work as publications cut their budgets, and quickly realized that, even with unemployment, she couldn’t afford rent on her own apartment in Los Angeles. So she decided to stay with mom and dad for the foreseeable future. “I guess I sort of got stuck here,” she says.

Though she struggles with the idea of living with her parents—“sometimes I’m just like, ‘what the hell am I doing?’” she says—she has no immediate plans to move out. With no more rent, utility or car payments, Skinner says: “I’m saving a butt ton of money.” And her parents, who are both retired, are eager for projects and love doting on their daughter. “The other day, my mom cross-stitched me a pillow with Taylor Swift lyrics,” she says.

Though the pandemic has accelerated the number of adults living with their parents—by the end of April, a record number of adults were living with their parents or grandparents, according to Zillow—in truth, the number of multi-generational households in the United States has been increasing steadily. Fully 20% of households—a record as of 2016, when the data was collected—was a household with two or more adult generations living in it. This is up from 17% immediately following the Great Recession and just 15% in the early 2000s, according to the Pew Research Center.

There are many reasons beyond the pandemic that more adults are now living with their parents, explains Richard Fry, a senior researcher at Pew. Two major drivers of the trend: 1) Non-college educated white millennials, whose earnings have been steadily falling, are staying at home with their parents because they can’t afford to live alone; and 2) Asian and Hispanic Americans are more likely than white Americans to live in multigenerational households, research shows, so as the country becomes more diverse, more households become multigenerational.

Whatever the reasons, one thing is clear: “The pandemic has definitely accelerated the trend towards multigenerational households,” says Fry. Indeed, some of these temporary moves may well become permanent, even for white-collar workers. One big reason: Jobs. The decrease in employment over the first three months of the pandemic was double the decrease caused by the Great Recession over the course of two years, and 6% of workers with a college degree lost their jobs. Some experts say that it could take 10 to 12 years for U.S. employment to return to pre-pandemic levels.

But it’s not all about work. “I don’t think I’m a city girl anymore,” says Leslie, 38, who recently moved from her apartment in Manhattan to her parents’ house in Westchester County, New York. She moved less for financial reasons—the law firm where she works as a paralegal initially cut overtime pay, but has since restored it—than to assuage loneliness after a month of quarantining alone in her apartment. Leslie’s two adult siblings also moved home during the pandemic. “We keep on thinking of this as time that we never would otherwise have gotten together,” she says.

Leslie is still paying for her rent in the city—she’s waiting for her lease to end, and doesn’t plan to return to the apartment when it does—but all her other expenses have disappeared, including the bill for her cable, which she cancelled. Formerly, she was spending $300 to $400 a week on food and entertainment. Now, her mom buys her groceries, does her laundry and cleans up after her. “It’s like living in a hotel for free,” she laughs.

Though moving in with parents can be a big boon for your bottom line, for some it has an emotional cost. “The numbers might look great, but the family dynamic might not be feasible,” says Kevin Mahoney, the founder and CEO of Illumint.

That’s the case for Theresa, 40, who moved back in with her parents in the suburbs of Boston for a host of reasons. Early in the pandemic, she found out she was pregnant with twins. In Brooklyn, her family, which includes a husband and a 4-year-old son, lived in a fourth floor walk-up. Two adults working from home with a rowdy toddler was virtually impossible in their 1.5 bedroom apartment. Theresa received a 20% reduction in pay, which made a dent in the couple’s already tight budget.

In her parents’ house, Theresa doesn’t have to walk up stairs all day, but she does have to deal with quite a bit of drama. “There’s a lot of fighting around things like politics and economy,” she says. “My parents think that we got what we deserved for spending recklessly in the city.” And there are many other differences in opinion—for example, Theresa’s mother doesn’t believe in air conditioning, which lead to a lengthy fight when the couple bought one for their bedroom.

Theresa’s parents help pay for food, but she and her husband have started paying for an outdoor camp for their toddler just so that he can get a break from the tension in the house, negating any savings they might have been able to put away. The couple is paying a reduced fee—$1,800 a month—for their apartment in Brooklyn, but they have no intention of returning to live there, especially not with twins on the way, and uncertainty around if in-person public school will open in the fall. Instead, they’re looking at houses in upstate New York in the $200,000-$300,000 range, and hope that they can get approved for a mortgage soon.

“We don’t even want to be in the same state as them anymore,” Theresa says of her parents. “We don’t know how we can ever repair our relationship after this.”  

If you find yourself in a tough spot like this, Mahoney suggests having a very open—and admittedly difficult—conversation with your parents. “Try to specify what you’ll contribute, and ask them directly what they expect from you,” he notes. Doing this will eliminate surprises, and help temper any resentment.

But even careful plans might not work out. Theresa is doing the best she can to cope in the short term. Her husband stops working at 4pm every day, and mixes cocktails for her parents. Every weekend, they try to spend an hour or two with her parents doing something outdoors, so that they can release some endorphins together.

“We don’t really have a choice right now,” Theresa says. “We can’t stay, but we can’t go back.”