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Failure To Launch, Or A Smarter Way Of Living For Everyone?

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By Craig and Marc Kielburger

A twenty-something slacker lounges in his parents' basement, beer in one hand and TV remote in the other. We've lost track of how many times we've seen this cliché character in television shows and movies.

The media loves to heap scorn on prodigal youth who return home to live with their parents. An avalanche of articles offer up tips for moms and dads dealing with the dreaded "failure to launch syndrome."

But where others see a problem, we see an opportunity: a multi-generational living trend that looks a bit different in each household but benefits everyone.

Take our own example. In his 20s, Marc couldn't wait to leave the nest. Fast forward more than a decade and Marc is raising a family of his own. He and his wife not-so-subtly hint that they would love to live with our parents--in Marc and Roxanne's house--so their daughters can have the same experience of living with their grandparents as we did growing up.

Some of our happiest childhood recollections come from when our grandfather lived with us. He'd greet us at the door after school; then it was PB&J sandwiches and chats around the kitchen table. You can't put a price on memories like that.

Multigenerational families living together like ours were very much the norm up until the baby boomers turned that trend on its head. Just three per cent of Canadian households now have family members from three or more generations living under one roof, according to the most recent Census of Canada. The majority of these households are immigrant and aboriginal families.

That's about to transform. Millennials are growing up and facing a world where well-paying jobs are fewer; even a starter house is beyond their means. So a bulk of this cohort is choosing to move back in with mom and dad. From 1981 to 2011, the number of young adults ages 20 to 29 living in their parents' homes rose to 42 per cent from 27 per cent.

Contrary to popular perception, these youth and their parents are savvy not stuck, says David Stillman, co-author of The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace (HarperBusiness, 2010) and an expert on generational relations. If young people pay a modest rent to their parents, it's still a smart way to live and mom and dad get a financial benefit that could allow them to travel, pay off the mortgage, go back to school, or retire earlier.

When young people "living at home" start having families of their own, the benefits multiply. Grandparents can help out with childcare at a time when daycare costs have soared and spots are scarce. And listening to stories about family history from their elders promotes a stronger sense of identity in children, leading to better overall mental health, says Andrea Breen, an associate professor in the University of Guelph's department of family relations.

Having been cared for by their grandparents, these children will be more likely to pay it forward and look after aging family members, adds Breen.

Housing companies and real estate agents are waking up to the multi-generational living trend, building and promoting homes with features like in-law suites that accommodate a variety of families while still offering some alone-time and independence for all family members.

Breen says Canada lags behind most other countries in supporting young people who are caregivers to elderly family. So a logical next step is for workplaces and governments to get behind multi-generational families by better accommodating their needs.

Let's ditch the stereotypes and ingrained ideas of what independence and having a home mean. Prodigal youth haven't failed to launch and their parents haven't failed to parent. They're both flying in a smarter direction.

Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day. Visit we.org for more information.