I was doing a little spring cleaning a few days ago, listening to NPR and dusting my apartment when I heard a jarring statistic: 85 percent of college graduates between 2006 and 2011 returned to their parents’ homes after graduation. I learned as I kept listening that the statistic turned out to be false, and a recent Pew study affirmed that number is actually around 30 percent, which still seemed high. I thought fondly back to two years ago, when I, too, fell into that category of “boomerangers” — the generation of kids who leave home for college only to come full circle and end up back at their parents’ house, jobless.
In the competitive world of undergraduates at Notre Dame, where not having a plan for life post-senior year seems unheard of, the prospect of moving back home after graduation felt akin to failure of the worst kind. More than disappointing anyone else, it would mean a personal disappointment, as the past four years would have seemed wasted. It would surely mean a return to curfews, financial dependence once again, our parents driving us insane.
Complete freedom — financial and emotional from those who reared us — certainly was an end goal of many like me growing up. We worked tirelessly as baristas and babysitters to have a couple bucks of our own, and negotiated and broke curfews, feeling suffocated by the iron fist of diligent parents. In high school we studied hard to get into colleges far from home, and then in college we networked and interviewed to get jobs in our dream cities, close to friends and far from home. The American dream for Notre Dame undergrads.
My American Studies-Spanish major did not exactly lend itself to a shoo-in job after college, however, and I found myself back in my old room in my parents’ house, despairing over my new sentiment as an adult-child failure. I wallowed and job-searched for about two months before doing some real self-evaluating and coming to a refreshing conclusion.
Having supportive parents and a place to go back to, as it turns out, is not the worst thing in the world. Besides rent-free living, wholesome home-cooked meals and nicer stuff than I could ever afford on an entry-level salary, living with my parents once again after four years of relative self-sufficiency proved to be both easy and enjoyable.
I lived (and worked for a bit) at home for almost six months before hightailing to Chicago, sans secure income, in pursuit of, well, life. Now having experienced about 18 months at an established ad agency, bills and rent of my own as well as the blissful feeling of no one telling me what to do, I find myself remembering fondly the days of 7 p.m. on-the-dot dinners, Scrabble nights with my parents and the lovable bickering with my little sister over the then-important arguments, like who put gas in the car last.
There’s a comfort to living with those who take care of you. Yes, my dear roommates also will offer care, but parents are different. I felt the pangs of needing to be taken care of when I was sick a few weeks ago and left work early. Back in the days of living on Summerlake Road, my mother would have taken my temperature, rubbed my back and made me warm tea. With the unforgiving Chicago wind beating at my window on that particular day, however, there was no way I would set foot outside to go to the pharmacy for myself.
Along with the nurturing our parents provide even post-college, a weird transition takes place: Our parents become almost cool. I am not referring to the fact that my parents have both Twitter and Facebook (a fact I find decidedly horrifying), but rather to the fact that I truly enjoy spending time with them now, much like I enjoy passing the time with my friends. Over glasses of Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc on the deck on warm Carolina evenings, my mother and I would talk about politics, books, life plans and everything in between. I looked forward to a Saturday morning run on the nature trail with my dad more than the evening I planned for the night before with friends. These relationships truly blossomed during my time at home post-college, and I look forward to any opportunity I can find now to make my way back home.
Moving back home for those few brief months after the whirlwind of senior year felt like someone had gifted me a pair of training wheels before I launched myself into the scary world of two-wheel big-kid bikes. I understood what it felt like to begin to manage my own finances and start paying cell phone bills, but I had the comfort of my parents guiding me as I took that first ride. I crossed the emotional hump of learning to live far away from the friends with whom I had grown so close during college, but I also had close by my commiserating parents, who had gone through the same thing a mere 30 years prior.
The challenge of growing up lies in a number of areas for those of my generation. Working 9-to-5 (or 6 or 7 or 8) and taking charge of personal finances are the simplest of challenges in light of the real ones we face — taking care of ourselves, finding comfort in the homes we create for ourselves as well as in the people we decide to surround ourselves with. Moving forward makes life easy when we have people helping us though what’s expected next. My interim step of life at home, while not a permanent one, eased that transition in a way I could not have imagined possible, and I am forever grateful for it.
Katie Peralta is a former Notre Dame Magazine intern who now lives and works in the Chicago area.
Photo by Matt MacGillivray.