When David and Linda Ellis sent their daughter Juliette, the youngest of their three children, off to college in 2019, they figured they had become empty-nesters for good. In short order, the couple downsized from their family home in Raleigh, North Carolina, to a much more manageable three-bedroom apartment rental nearby. Little did the Ellises know that, in under a year’s time, two of their three adult children would once again join them under the same roof.
After their school and work went remote in March 2020, Juliette Ellis and middle brother Gregory flew in from their respective posts in Vancouver and Brooklyn to wait out the uncertainty of Covid-19 with Mom and Dad. The eldest Ellis son, Justin, remained a short drive away in nearby Chapel Hill.
“It was a joy to have this time with our adult children,” says David, who looks back on the experience as one of the “silver linings” of an otherwise difficult time.
Throughout the pandemic, scores of young adults have boomeranged back to their parental homes. That trend was especially pronounced in the first half of last year, when the Ellises were among the nearly 3.5 million young adults to move in with their parents. By July 2020, a Pew survey estimated that 52% of Americans between age 18 and 29 were living with one or both parents – the largest group to do so since the Great Depression.
Some, like Gregory and Juliette, saw the family home as a more stable environment in which to ride out the storm of the unknown. Others used the opportunity of work-from-home mandates to leave their small (and expensive) urban apartments. Yet others were casualties of the early pandemic’s economic downturn, which cost many young workers their jobs.
At the time, speculation grew that the trend might have a generational ripple effect – that, just maybe, Americans were redefining the ideas of “family” and “home” to embrace a gentler and more fluid timeline of when young adults should strike out on their own. “Perhaps the pandemic is an occasion – an unwelcome one, sure – to reappraise a living arrangement that is often maligned,” wrote Joe Pinsker in the Atlantic last July.
But as the world reopened and young adults became able, once again, to cobble together some semblance of a normal social existence, many moved out of ther childhood homes for the second time. Others have imminent plans to do so, citing a desire to return to the “normal” life that has been ingrained in so many young Americans.
And some found it annoying to live and work in close quarters with multiple other adults – even if those adults happened to be their parents.
It was nice to be with my family, but living at home isn’t something I ever want to do again
Iva Balderacchi, 24, graduated from college in 2019 and was just beginning her professional life as an architect in New York City when the pandemic took hold. Instead of continuing to shell out for her exorbitant New York apartment, Balderacchi decided to move back to her parents’ home in nearby Tenafly, New Jersey, where she could work remotely and live rent-free. While she remains grateful for the ability to spend that time alone with her parents, she admits that it wasn’t long before everyone started to grate on one another’s nerves.
“It was frustrating when everybody was in a meeting,” Balderacchi says of trying to juggle schedules with her parents, both of whom were also working from home. “And we’d get crazy over stupid stuff, like who left the coffee out all day.”
Needing some time away, Balderacchi and her boyfriend opted to rent an Airbnb in Florida from January through March of this year before returning home to Tenafly. This month, she moved back to Manhattan. “It was nice to be with my family, but living at home isn’t something I ever want to do again,” she says with a laugh.
Like Balderacchi, 27-year-old Shannon Slater saw the pandemic as an opportunity to save on New York City rent. Slater, a business operations manager for a media streaming company, had been mulling a major move from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to the West Coast when Covid-19 halted her plans. She realized that if she transferred her apartment lease to a friend, she would have one less thing on her plate as she plotted her cross-country move. And so, last December, she returned to the Westchester county, New York, home she grew up in.
“I’ve been able to buy a car with the money I saved by not paying New York City rent,” Slater says.
While the transition to living in her childhood bedroom was initially a bit shocking, Slater soon fell into a comfortable routine with her parents. The trio enjoyed a regular evening cocktail hour and watched RuPaul’s Drag Race every Friday. The experience engendered a new kind of relationship with her parents, one held on more equal ground than the parent-daughter dynamic in which she was raised. As she prepares for her move to Los Angeles at the end of this month, she finds herself feeling a bit wistful about what she’s leaving behind.
[Moving home] offered me a beautiful and wholesome experience, despite all the bad stuff happening in the world
“I’m going to miss laughing with them,” Slater admits. “I’m going to miss walking down the hall to ask their advice. I’m going to miss the stuff we did together.”
Constance Falk, 29, had a similarly positive pandemic stint living with her parents in Kinston, North Carolina, despite some initial shame over the circumstances. In March 2020, Falk lost her job as a marketing executive in Chicago – the only person in her group of friends to be laid off due to the pandemic. “I was embarrassed,” she admits.
But as she plotted the path back to her life in Chicago, Falk learned to embrace new roles around the house: helping her mother in the garden, building a new grill for family cookouts, and even troubleshooting the home’s plumbing problems. Though she returned to Chicago in early 2021, Falk treasures these unexpected moments she shared with her family.
“I was able to learn characteristics about my parents that allowed me to further develop my relationship with my mom and dad,” Falk says. “Getting to know my family better was awesome.”
Falk’s final sentiment was echoed by every 20-something interviewed for this story. Each seemed to realize that the evolution of how they viewed their parents probably would not have occurred had they not moved back home during the pandemic.
Often, and especially throughout our childhoods and early adulthoods, many of us see our mothers and fathers as an entity: parents. But those who moved home over the course of the last 19 months were able to recalibrate how they saw their parents and redefine those relationships from a new, adult perspective – one that is more person-to-person than parent-to-child. It is striking that, because of Covid-19, a micro-generation of American adults happened to hit this formative milestone at the same moment.
Still, it would seem that most of them are returning to the shared normalcy of being out in the world and experiencing life as a young adult in America.
Eventually, even the Ellis kids would again leave the nest. Juliette returned to Vancouver during the winter. And, after renting a different apartment in the same building as his parents for several months, Gregory went back to Brooklyn in August.
Moving home “offered me a beautiful and wholesome experience, despite all the bad stuff happening in the world,” says Gregory. It was a meaningful chapter – “And one I never expect to have again.”