At 434 Henry Street, the four-story brownstone where the Eisenberg family has lived for 27 years, the street narrows until the opposing rows of 19th-century homes seem to lean out over the passing cars like full-grown elms. Allan and Rusti Eisenberg raised three daughters here—Jenny, 28, Annie, 25, and Lizzie, 22—and, since graduating from college, each has returned home to live for a few months or a few years at a time.
For the children of the Brownstone boomers, moving back in with the parents has become commonplace.
“I think you could walk door to door in this neighborhood and get the same story,” said Rusti Eisenberg, a history professor at Hofstra University. Her daughters call the Henry Street house in Carroll Gardens their Bermuda Triangle.
A few factors drive this phenomenon. The Brooklyn neighborhoods where these graduates grew up have become hip places to live, and rents there and throughout New York City have skyrocketed. “Another important thing, I think, is that the clash in values between parents and their grown children is not as extreme as it once was,” Rusti said.
The result is a generation of young graduates for whom returning home has become less a sign of defeat than a strategy on the path to adulthood.
Mom and Pop Eisenberg, both 63, finished college in 1967, the same year Dustin Hoffman moved home in The Graduate, but neither Rusti nor Allan considered living with their parents. “Are you kidding me?” said Allan, a psychotherapist, sweating lightly at his kitchen table after a Sunday morning jog. “I never would have dreamed of doing that.”
Annie, their middle daughter, lived at home for three years after college with her partner.
“I never felt there was anything I had to hide from my folks, and that was crucial,” Annie said. While Annie lived at home, Miguel would often spend the night. “We knew him pretty well by the time they came back from college,” Rusti said. “It was actually kind of fun to have them around.”
The transfer of values is a comfort in this situation, but there is an irony as well, one the Eisenbergs are well aware of. All three daughters have taken jobs in public interest law or at nonprofits that don’t pay much. “Many kids have imbibed their parents’ liberal, anticorporate values to the point where they can’t afford to do anything,” Rusty said. “It’s hilarious, but it’s also upsetting.”
The daughters have mixed feelings about living at home. Annie says she might consider renting from her parents in the future. Lizzie, who still lives at home, says she can’t afford to leave. Jenny, the oldest, demurs. “I love my parents, but I don’t know about moving back in with them again. They are so messy.”
Not all families are as comfortable sharing space as the Eisenbergs. When Caroline Parsons, 24, moved back home to her parents’ brownstone at 91 Sterling Place in Park Slope, she had just spent a year as an independent adult in Bushwick.
“I love living here and getting to know my parents on an adult level, but there were some specific things that I wanted,” Ms. Parsons said. “I cleaned my own room; I bought my own groceries. This seems trivial, but it was important to me, because once you start sharing those things, you lose the sense of independence.”
Her mother, Donna, 58, agrees: “Plus, middle-aged people like their things to be where they left them.”
“Otherwise they can’t find them,” said her husband Bill, 59.
The Parsons hold court in their kitchen, a lovingly crafted country-style room that reminds Donna and Bill of their roots in North Carolina. If the kitchen is communal turf, the two bathrooms mark a battle zone. After several squabbles with her mother, Caroline was forced to move her towel and toiletries downstairs to a separate bathroom. Things have improved since then. “Although I must say, there is a large towel missing,” Donna said.
“Oh, that’s because I spilled my hair mask on it, Mom,” Caroline said.
“Your what? What color is that?”
“It’s white. Well, pearlescent.”
“Well, how did it get spilled on the towel in the first place?” Donna asked. She paused a moment and laughed. “You see, it’s that sort of thing.”
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