"But That's Where I Live, Too!"
Lots of young adults feel uprooted when parents decide to sell the family home.
For Caitlin Gold, the news that her parents were selling her childhood home was hard to take. “They said, ‘We’re thinking about moving,’ ” she recalls. “Then I started screaming, ‘No! You can’t!’ They did anyway.”
Gold, 21, a senior at New York University, in New York City, is one of many college students who feel betrayed when they find themselves without a home —and even a hometown—after their parents pack up while their children are away at school.
Such a move can make “kids…feel like they’re not that important,” says Arthur Kovacs, Ph. D., a psychologist in San Diego, CA. When parents put their children’s belongings into storage or get rid of things they remember from childhood, young people can feel like they’ve been “easily wiped away,” he says.
But despite the potential for emotional upheaval, many parents decide that, once the nest is empty, it’s time to sell the house. Real estate agents say it’s an economic decision for some: They need to cash out of their primary investment in order to pay for their child’s education. For others, a family home feels too big and empty without children around. Still others just want a change at a new stage of life.
In the Golds’ case, it was the fact that Caitlin’s father, Robert Gold, had grown weary of commuting in traffic from the family home in Arlington, VA, to his job as dean of the College of Health and Human Performance at the University of Maryland in College Park.
Their daughter’s feelings played a role in the Golds’ decision. “Just as gently as we could, we explained all of the reasons for the move,” says Barbara Gold, Caitlin’s mother. “On an intellectual level she knew, but emotionally it was extremely difficult for her.” Still, more practical considerations won out: “The house was very large, and the market was hot for sellers,” Mrs. Gold says.
For Garrett Greer, 21, moving had been a way of life. His father worked as an accountant for Chevron-Texaco, so he had spent his childhood in different cities around the world. When his parents sold the most recent family home in Singapore and moved to Danville, CA, during his sophomore year of college, Greer didn’t expect to care. At first, “I thought all it was going to mean for me was a shorter flight home at the holidays,” he says. But he was surprised by his own reaction: “Suddenly, going home meant not knowing anyone there other than my family, having a bedroom I’d never seen before, and feeling completely uprooted,” he says.
The feeling of being uprooted is a common complaint, according to Richard Eichler, Ph.D., director of counseling and psychological services at Columbia University, in New York City. “Returning home…is ordinarily a time of reunion, and, ideally, renewal,” he says. “As much as things change when students go off to college—new friends, a new town—most people are also sustained by a connection to the past.”
Along with losing this connection when their parents move, students often lose ties to friends, extended family, and familiar surroundings, “all of which might otherwise provide a reassuring sense of…continuity,” Eichler says.
Compounding the problem is the fact that students may have been planning on moving back home after graduation. A recent study by Collegegrad.com, an entry-level job-hunting website, found that 66 percent of 2006 graduates have since moved back in with their parents. “When parents … downsize, it can leave the graduate without a room in the new house,” says Brian Krueger, president of Collegegrad.com. “Or even if there is an extra room or two, they often are not set up as a bedroom, but as an office or a guest room.”
While parents may consider this, other factors often prevail. Geri Sonkin, a real estate agent in Merrick, NY, points out that many couples need to cut costs once their children are in school. “If kids move out, the parents find that they no longer need the four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home that they’ve always had,” Sonkin says. She also cites the “astronomical” taxes that some families pay on large homes as incentive to downsize.
Whatever the reasons, psychologists say that parents can ease the trauma by being a sensitive to their children’s feelings. Dr. Eichler suggests that if “parents stay involved, and welcome their children into their new house … they can help make [the new house] a home.”
Still, they should expect that the transition will be difficult. “I don’t know anyone [in my parents’ new neighborhood] and I’m not going to get to know anyone,” says Rebecca Stahl, 18, whose parents moved from Montclair, NJ, to a neighboring suburb two months after she enrolled at New York University. “I’m always away at school, so it’s not like I’m going to make new friends there. It’s never going to be home.”