Before he clocked 30, Nelson Mandela had married his first wife Evelyn Ntoko, had two children, became the first national Secretary of the African National Congress (ANC) youth league and was a force to reckon with in anti-colonial politics.
Celebrated Kenyan trade unionist, educator, author, and statesman Tom Mboya who many regard as one of the nation’s founding fathers, turned 32 in 1962. By then, he was married, was elected Conference Chairman at the All-African Peoples’ Conference, and had, helped build the Trade Union Movement in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and across Africa. He had also served as the Africa Representative to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and had formed the first All-Africa ICFTU labour organisation. Before 30, Mboya had already worked with both John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. to create educational opportunities for African students, benefiting the iconic Wangari Maathai and Barack Obama Sr.
By 30, Mboya had already been featured on Time Magazine’s front cover, making him the first Kenyan to achieve the feat. Mandela and Mboya are just a representation of how society looked in the earlier days. In the past decades, many people had long relinquished parental support by the time they hit their 20s. The reality has since shifted, Dr Gladys Ngao, a sociologist and lecturer at Kenyatta University, says.
“By the time one finished highschool, employment opportunities were already knocking on their door,” she says. “With these opportunities, one could sustain a family, study in the university if they so wished, and build a proper career while living away from their parents’ homes,” she says.
“Right now, one can’t help but notice the struggle the youth must endure in the face of technological, societal and economical changes.”
Emma Muchoki, a clinical psychologist, says young adults increasingly find themselves unable to sustain a life away from parental cover.
Lynn*, for example, had a tough decision to make in 2019. She was 28, and her housemate had just married and moved out. “I didn’t want to live with just any other person,” she says. “I’m a teacher and it’s just not possible for me to rent a decent apartment by myself.”
Her solution? Moving back in with her parents. “They live less than 10 kilometres from where I work,” Lynn says. “It just made sense.”
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It is a temporary arrangement, Lynn insists. She hopes to move out once she gets a suitable housemate and a decent but affordable place to stay near her workplace. “Or when I get married,” she jokes. It’s been four years since the move back home, and things “seem” to be going well. “We manage,” Lynn says. “It’s comfortable, except for the constant awareness that I’m an adult who must live under someone else’s authority to some extent.”
At the moment, Lynn and her parents split the food and electricity bills. She doesn’t contribute to rent, but her mother tells her this will change once she stays for one more year. Mike*, 32, didn’t land a job immediately after he finished university. It was initially easy living with friends as they did in college, fundraising for meals and sharing necessities. But then, one by one, his friends started getting jobs and moving away from Rongai, where they lived as they schooled.
“Some moved away, others started cohabiting with girlfriends, some went back to their villages and life changed for me,” he explains.
With no means to survive, Mike had to go back home. He searched for jobs to no avail, and eventually, his mother set up a movie business for him. “Even before the business started selling, Kanjos were already asking for bribes but I persevered. Then less than two years in, Netflix and other streaming apps rendered my business obsolete,” he says.
“It’s not easy living with my parents at my age. The pressure is mounting. I would wish to be the one taking care of them, but the little I get from gigs here and there is not enough. My parents still provide for me in a way,” says Mike.
Lynn and Mike are a few of a growing number of millennials labelled the ‘Boomerang Generation’, a generation of young people (18 - 34-year-olds) who move back in with their parents. Even though statistics for Kenya aren’t readily available, this trend is booming globally, including in Europe and other Western societies. A Guardian article indicates that over a quarter of young adults in the United Kingdom live with their parents.
“I often come across young people between the age of 25-30 who still stay with their parents. In the previous generation, many in this age-gap were married and living on their own, only visiting parents once in a while,” says Emma.
“The dynamics have changed. With economic hardships, many young people prefer to stay in the nest a little longer as they find a footing in the world,” she explains.
Luna Odawa, a clinical psychologist from Nairobi, says adults choosing to occupy their childhood bedrooms a little longer is an emerging reason for consultations because “it causes psychological discomfort and triggers conflict in relationships.”
“Understandably, financial constraints cause many young people to move back in with their parents. Employment is no longer easy to come by, many companies are retrenching and employing on short term contracts. So many young people face massive financial instability,” she says.
However, the psychologist warns that while the move is informed by seemingly sound reasons, on a larger scale of things, it could be a symptom of dependence which could be unhealthy. She says it can cause stress to parents.
In some instances, Luna says, the young adult might be scared to face independence and responsibilities. “Living with parents limits one to the familiar, or the comfort zone. Moving out encourages growth, and economic creativity,” she says.
She also notes that parents can hinder their young from independence. “Some parents really struggled with poverty growing up, so as a trauma response, they may provide all necessities for their kids,” says Emma.
“Instead of releasing their children slowly but surely to build their own life, they project their fears of the world onto them, and delay their independence,” Emma explains.
“I’ve had instances where parents knowingly and unknowingly induce guilt whenever their young adult attempts to become more independent,” she says.
But whether it’s the young adult crippled by fear of moving out or the parent discouraging the process, Emma says the developmental process of self-realisation and determination can be affected by depending on others for far too long.
She says living too long with your parents can hinder the psychological process of individuation.
“Individuality is about establishing secure personal perspectives, emotions, and beliefs, separate from those of friends or family,” she says. “It is about understanding what you believe in or why you believe and behave as you do, and being secure and accountable for those choices.”
Emma adds individuation is a necessary step in the self-analysis and discovery process. When the process is delayed, mental health issues and difficulties in personal life may arise.
“Moving out gives an individual a chance to set and manage realistic expectations. Beginning life from scratch allows you to encounter the world realistically and not from your parent’s perspective,” she says.
“Young adults who fail to achieve these developmental goals present with problems such as low self-esteem, depression, substance dependence, anxiety and relationship difficulties,” Luna says.
Emma, however, says it is important to be aware of your unique situation and logically weigh the pros and cons before moving out of home or back in.
“If you are barely surviving month after month on your own as an independent adult, insisting on staying on your own will weigh heavily on your mental and physical health,” Emma says. “It is important to understand your unique situation, but setting timelines and goals can help when living with your parents.”