Interview with Phyllis Goldberg & Rosemary Lichtman

Whose Couch Is It Anyway? Moving Your Millennial, Fuze’s first foray into the self-help genre, explores the impact on five different families after an adult child moves back home. These so-called “boomerang kids” are becoming increasingly common in the United States, and millions of families are affected by this changing dynamic.

Authors Dr. Phyllis Goldberg and Dr. Rosemary Lichtman address questions about their timely new book below.

As family coaches, what are the most common issues you help families with?

We provide helpful information and support for families in flux, with children growing up, parents in decline, and changes in intimate relationships. Women may be tested by several challenges at once—teens pushing the limits, a son off to college, a parent in decline, a divorced daughter moving home, a partner out of work. Families grow and a mom may become a stepmother, mother-in-law, or grandmother, adding other relationships to the family mix. The changes in these relationships can lead to stress, conflict, feelings of vulnerability, and negative emotions.

Are there one or two events you can describe that inspired you to write on this particular topic?

We both had rich experiences—some personally, others involving friends or clients—that motivated us to address the boomerang family.

Rosemary: I had two friends whose kids returned home, for distinct reasons, and who handled the situation very differently. I saw how, in one family, the preparation—setting ground rules, expectations, goals—helped create a better environment for communication and everyone’s growth. The other family didn’t experience the same positive outcome and I wanted to help others like them with boomerang kids set the stage for constructive movement.

Phyllis: Working with women over the years, it was stories about family that often defined them. And circumstances with grown children moving back again impacted the family equilibrium and their own identity. Our daughter and her family lived with us while building their home, giving me new insight and perspective. And when volunteering in developing countries, I saw the daily sacrifices moms made for their children. I’ve been inspired by the courage of all these women. Writing about the emotional underpinnings—both the stressors and the joys—seemed like a natural consequence of my experiences.

How did you come up with the title of the book, and what is its significance?

The title evolved in one of our brainstorming sessions as the perfect metaphor for what we were seeing all around us. Kids and parents coming together on the family couch—sometimes for conversation, other times in conflict. Our focus became families with boomerang kids, and our book helps these Millennials move forward. With our psychological backgrounds, the therapeutic couch readily comes to mind as well.

Since the book is about the “boomerang” generation, how common is it for young adults to come back home after college? Why are we seeing this trend?

Today more than 20 million Millennials aged 18-34 are living with their parents, an all-time high. Many of them are home because of continuing economic forces: the lingering effects of the recession, high costs of college and student loans, unemployment and underemployment among Millennials. Parenting styles may also play a role, as helicoptering leads to the development of kidults who are slower to individuate and move out on their own. In addition, technological advances in the Internet and social media can encourage peer-entingwith its blurred boundaries and tighter connections between parents and their adultolescentkids.

Can you describe your educational backgrounds?

Continuing our education after college, we both have master’s and doctoral degrees. Phyllis’s PhD is in counseling psychology from Professional School of Psychological Studies, and her master’s is in guidance and counseling from California State University, Northridge. Rosemary’s PhD is in social psychology from U.C.L.A., and her master’s is in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.

How did the two of you meet and decide to work together?

We knew each other as colleagues but really connected 35 years ago on the bleachers while cheering for our sons’ basketball team, coached by our husbands. Fast forward to 2000 when all our children had walked down the aisle and we were each facing an empty nest. We decided to work together, reaching out to other women in transition, and created HerMentorCenter.com. From the foundation of our website with a focus on family dynamics, we branched out—becoming bloggers, publishing a newsletter, writing online essays.

Describe the way the two of you collaborate. How long did it take to write the book? What was the greatest challenge you faced?

We always talk a lot, bouncing around different thoughts. It’s like a marriage—sometimes we agree and other times we compromise or one of us gives in. Parts of the book we wrote together and the rest we wrote serially, one of us starting a section and then the other filling in the details. It helped that, as a team, we were built-in critics for each other’s work.
We’d been germinating ideas about complicated family dynamics over the past ten years, but it took us about one year to actually write Whose Couch Is It Anyway? It was fun to work together, and we valued each other’s support. We had some tensions but lots of laughs. Through this process both our relationship and each of us personally have grown immensely.

What is your personal routine for handling stress? Do you have any especially effective relaxation techniques?

We both live in the area around Venice, California, where the beach and ocean can be calming and help put things in perspective. Tensions dissolve slightly with each wave hitting the shore.

Phyllis: To manage stress, I try to do something physical every day, like aerobics or stretching, even for just 15 minutes. My husband and I share a passion for walking on the beach at low tide—my favorite and most relaxing activity. And I feel totally centered when practicing yoga or connecting with clients. I love precious time with my daughter, son, and their families. You can often find me at a baseball or soccer field, cheering for one of my five grandsons.

Rosemary: My secret stress reduction activity is joyously spending time with my family—my husband of close to 50 years, my sons and their families, our five grandchildren, and our two great-grandchildren. I’m grateful that life has been good to me, and I love sharing my gifts. Exercise is also a great stress reliever for me—especially swimming—and watching the sunset over the ocean in Marina del Rey gives me peace of mind and a spiritual connection.

How did you create your online presence, HerMentorCenter.com?

The process has been organic and we grew it little by little. In 2001, when we developed our website, www.HerMentorCenter.com, we felt like pioneers in the Wild West. Soon we were publishing Stepping Stones, a monthly newsletter with stories about other women in transition. Writing articles for Internet distribution evolved into regular blog posts. We gradually dipped our toes into social media and now, even our grandsons are amazed by the number of followers we have on Twitter.

What’s the biggest challenge for women in the so-called “sandwich generation” who find themselves responsible for taking care of children and aging parents at the same time?

There are so many significant challenges in parenting children at the same time you’re caring for aging parents. The fluctuating stock market and high rate of unemployment can be frustrating and scary. With their savings in jeopardy, women are worried about how to pay for their kids’ college tuition, help their parents on a fixed income, and be able to set aside enough in retirement funds. Perhaps the most difficult but important challenges for women are finding the time, energy, and finances to take care of themselves. We often tell our clients, “you can learn to nourish your family without starving yourself.”

What’s next for you?

We both enjoy stretching ourselves, so now we’re learning about how to introduce our book—the “baby” we’ve been incubating—to the world. It’s been a fascinating process, and we’re doing something different each day to connect with families who can use our book to help them navigate the turbulent waters created by a boomerang kid.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

We want our readers to know that they’re not alone in this transition. From the stories of the five families in the book, we hope they gain insight into the positives and negatives of having an adult child move back home. Whose Couch Is It Anyway? can help them feel more in control, learn effective communication strategies, and develop practical solutions to move forward.