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Young folks are moving in with their parents in record numbers. Meet 5 making it work

Monica Lee has 12 employees and runs her own cafe in St. Louis — but can't leave the house without being asked where she's going, who she's going with, and when she'll be home.

"It's kind of like I was back to being a teenager," says the 28-year-old, who moved in with her parents during the pandemic.

Lee is one of the quarter of Americans who live in multigenerational households. According to a 2021 Pew Research study, such arrangements (defined as two or more adult generations living together) have been on the rise for the past 50 years. The trend is growing fastest among those between ages 25 and 34.

Families with lower incomes, nonwhite families, and folks without high school degrees are more likely to live in multigenerational households, says Natasha Pilkauskas, associate professor of public policy at the University of Michigan. She says the growing popularity of multigenerational living won't end anytime soon.

"It's very surprising to me, in some senses, that it hasn't plateaued so far," Pilkauskas says.

NPR's Morning Edition spoke with five people between the ages of 25 and 34 who are experiencing the highs and lows of living with their parents.

Jennifer: Seeing family in a new light

Growing up in Houston, Jennifer Moreno and her dad often butted heads. He was always in survival mode, she says, and that clashed with her level-headed disposition. He'd get frustrated when she'd translate his Spanish for others, which she had to do frequently — when she was paying the renter's insurance, for instance, or handling her brother's Social Security paperwork.

Moreno's dad was afraid the language barrier would allow others to take advantage of him. "The 'everyone is out to get me mentality' is tiring to deal with," she says.

Moreno went away for college, but moved home after graduating. Then, her grandmother started staying with the family intermittently. Before Moreno's grandmother died, she told stories about her son, Moreno's dad, that he'd never shared.

"One of the good parts of the grieving process was hearing these childhood anecdotes that definitely throw into perspective who my dad is as a person," Moreno says. "He's not just my dad. He was also somebody's son. He's also somebody who grew up in rural Mexico and was just an outsider, and had all these random adventures that I didn't realize he had."

Living in multigenerational setups is higher among immigrant families like Moreno's, whose parents both came to the U.S. from Mexico.

Learning about her father's life has helped Moreno and her dad form a deeper relationship. And that's a big deal to her, because living with her parents is more than her housing situation: It's her full-time job.

Moreno, 30, cares for her mom and her brother, who was diagnosed with autism late in his childhood. She freelances as a writer and translator to help make ends meet; her family lives paycheck to paycheck.

After her mom had a fall at home, Moreno took over her duties as the head of household. She makes sure everyone is awake in the morning, cooks them dinner every night, and everything else in between.

Almost a quarter of people 25 to 34 living in multigenerational households say that caregiving is a major reason, according to Pew.

"At the end of the day, I took on the role because I felt like that's what I had to do," Moreno says. "I'm the only person my mom trusts with her care. And it seemed really mean to not be there for her."

Lauren: Caring for a parent while grieving them

Lauren Ahlgren, 34, is a writer and swim instructor in Healdsburg, Calif. She's also a full-time, live-in caregiver to her mom, who has Alzheimer's disease.

Moving home was not "what I had envisioned for myself," Ahlgren says. "I definitely didn't expect my mom to get ill so early on in her later years."

Before becoming a caregiver, Ahlgren traveled and went on weekly hikes. One day, she wants kids. But at this point, she doesn't have a partner — or time to date. She feels like a single mom.

"I really miss all the other aspects of my life," she says. "It's also really hard to grieve someone when they are alive. It's such a drawn-out process with Alzheimer's."

To stay grounded, she starts each day with the same ritual.

"I make a point of spending every morning waking up and then going into her room to cuddle her and the dog just so we can start the morning off on a good note and create these core memories," Ahlgren says.

She's making the most of the last few months with her mom before she sells the house and moves her mom into a facility that can give her the level of care she needs.

William: His parents helped him endure cancer

"I love my parents. I think they're great roommates," William Cummings says.

Cummings is 27 and lives with his dad and stepmom in the suburbs of Simpsonville, S.C.

He went to Vanderbilt University right out of high school, which didn't work out. He moved back home, started a retail job and was working towards buying a place of his own.

"It tends to be young adults who either stop their education at high school, high school dropouts, or those who maybe attended college but did not finish at least a bachelor's degree" who live at home, says Richard Fry, a senior researcher at Pew.

Then, in the summer of 202, he was diagnosed with leukemia.

"My oncologist told me that most people who survive the treatment and stem cell transplant usually don't work for about two years afterward," Cummings says.

He was in the hospital for about a month. After being discharged, he needed 24-7 care.

"My parents were gracious enough to, without question, let me stay with them and take care of me while I was unable to take care of myself," Cummings says.

While in the hospital, he decided he'd go back to school, since everything was remote.

He got his associate's degree from a local community college online. Now, he's working on a bachelor's in geology at Clemson University.

His immune system is now able to handle the grocery store and a college campus, so he's eager to take on more responsibilities at home.

Even though he's two years past his most intensive cancer procedure, Cummings says he feels more like his parents' guest than their roommate.

"I really feel like I don't allow myself to socialize. I wouldn't feel comfortable having people over very frequently either ... I feel like I need to respect their space, their routine as much as I can."

Although his parents and friends are supportive, he puts a lot of pressure on himself.

"I think there's an internalized stigma that at my age I should be living on my own or living with a partner," he says. And it's hard not to compare his life to others when his twin brother is moved out, married, and a parent.

Eric: His date met Mom and Dad — accidentally

Eric Salazar is 28 and into small punk rock concerts and drag shows in Denver, Colo.

He was doing all right until he broke up with his girlfriend of three years. He moved into his parents' basement and became part of the quarter of 25- to 34-year-olds living in multigenerational family households.

"One of the things that causes people to move in together often is some sort of crisis," says Pilkauskas, the public policy professor.

Returning to the dating pool proved difficult, at first.

"I had this expectation that I must be a real loser to be back in my parents house. I was embarrassed to, you know, bring someone over. Because it's like a mark of failure."

Now, he's back on the dating scene, and says deleting dating apps has improved his love life. He's started meeting people through friends, and has found his dates to be more understanding of his living situation.

"Dating apps are like, the worst thing for you. For me personally, it commodifies your self-worth in a very dangerous way," Salazar says. "When you have a sense of community and a sense of people that you enjoy being around, you're much more likely to find successful relationships and partners."

Meeting the parents is usually something that happens later in relationships, but when your parents are your roommates, it may be sooner. One time, he forgot to tell his parents a date was spending the night. In the morning, while he was in the bathroom and she was sitting alone in the kitchen, his parents stumbled in — which made for an awkward introduction.

Despite the uncomfortable moments, he says living with his parents is mostly positive. They don't charge him rent, and they pay the bills. He plans to replace some of their old kitchen appliances as a Christmas gift this year.

Monica: Trading independence for her dream job

Before the pandemic, Monica Lee had a corporate PR job in China with long hours and good pay. Now, she lives at home with her sister, parents and 97-year-old grandmother in St. Louis, where she runs the small dessert cafe she opened earlier this year.

Many Gen Zers and millennials were living on their own before the pandemic, but almost a third of them moved back home after COVID struck, according to a 2022 LendingTree survey. Two-thirds of those who moved home are still there, and many are still trying to strike a balance between child and roommate.

Lee makes less money, and has had to adjust to living without the independence and privacy she once enjoyed. Many of her employees are also young people who live with their parents.

"My employees are just coming in to hang out in their free time," Lee says. "And I would remind them that they're not getting paid for the time they're there. And they they say, 'Yeah, we know, we just can't stay at home.'"

For her, the lack of privacy is a trade-off she's willing to make.

"The money I'm saving is incredible, especially with how expensive things are," Lee says. "And I do feel like living at home is a buffer against falling into poverty. And I certainly couldn't have started a new business without this situation that I'm in."

Outside the pandemic trend, multigenerational living is nothing new for many.

"I'm Korean-American, and for a lot of Koreans living at home up until you get married is super-common and it's not necessarily frowned upon," Lee says. "But I was born and raised in St. Louis. And Americans, we tend to be a lot more independent. And myself personally, I am very independent because, you know, I moved across the world."

The radio versions of these stories were edited by Reena Advani and Jacob Conrad and produced by Claire Murashima. The digital article was edited by Holly J. Morris. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.