by Camerin Courtney
A growing number of adult children are returning home to Mom and Dad’s. Here’s how to do what’s best for them and you.
“It definitely wasn’t what we were expecting,” Naomi says with a wry smile. “In my generation, most people got married in college or right after. Then the couple got an apartment and worked to save money for a down payment on a starter house.”
Kendra, in stark contrast, had no marriage plans and seemed in no rush to find full-time employment. Naomi enjoyed having her daughter home, but she was baffled by this departure from her own experience and expectations.
Moving back home as an adult seems unusual for someone of Naomi’s generation, but for her 25-year-old daughter and her peers it’s becoming increasingly more common. So common that it’s earned its own term: boomerang kids.
The fastest- growing segment of multi-generational families in the U.S. is young adults ages 25 to 34, according to a 2010 Pew Research survey.
The numbers showcase the need for the definition. According to a 2010 poll by Twentysomething Inc., 85 percent of college seniors planned to move back home with their parents after graduation. The fastest-growing segment of multi-generational families in the U.S. is young adults ages 25 to 34, according to a 2010 Pew Research survey. In 2009, Pew found that more than one in five young adults (ages 25 to 34) live in multi-generational households.
For Naomi, and the growing number of surprised parents, two questions arise: Is it really wise to allow your adult child to move back home? And if you do, how do you navigate this new family dynamic?
REASONS TO RETURN
There are many reasons for the boomerang phenomenon: high unemployment (nearly 15 percent for those ages 20 to 24); underemployment; rising average ages for first-time marriage (currently age 27 for men and 25 for women), divorce rates, and housing costs. Money, or rather the lack of it, is the underlying cause for nearly all these dynamics.
Liz, 27, moved back in with her parents about a year ago when her roommate landed a new job out of state. Liz works at a local school, a job she loves, but the pay is too low to allow her to live on her own in pricey Chicago. She’s currently saving for a down payment on a condo.
Edwin and Myra, parents of three in their 30s, opened their home to their son Cory and his family after he was downsized out of his job and they lost their house. It was familiar territory; their daughter Paige, her husband, three kids, and two dogs moved in temporarily after a job transfer.
Linda and Doug’s son Brad moved in four years ago after his marriage fell apart and he started drinking heavily. “We thought it would be for a short time, but he wound up divorced and hasn’t been able to afford his own place.” Now 38, Brad is also joined by his 5-year-old son every weekend. Their household expanded when Linda and Doug’s other son Sam, now 40, moved in two years ago after getting a DUI and losing his job.
FAILURE TO LAUNCH?
While it would be easy to point to finances as the reason for Kendra’s return home, her mom knows that’s not the entire story. “She simply wasn’t ready to go to work, and that was difficult for me,” Naomi admits. “You spend all that time and money in school and then just sit around? That drove me crazy.” Although Kendra, now 25, recently secured a full-time job and is planning to move out, Naomi had started to wrestle with some bigger questions: “Does boomeranging delay the process of having to pay that electric bill and grow up — which is a bigger concept of ‘Has my generation done that to our kids?’”
Licensed professional counselor Cheryl Baird wonders how much of this boomerang effect is due to the economy and how much is really about parenting issues. “One of the negative reasons some parents allow kids to stay at home is that they feel responsible for their adult children,” she says.
Before allowing adult kids to move back home, Cheryl suggests parents ask themselves some pointed questions — what are the alternatives and why are we doing this? — then honestly list the reasons. “How much is about you and your fear of releasing your kids into the real world? Enabling is one of the trickiest things to figure out. But you have to ask yourself if you’re helping your kids prepare for the next step or if you are actually preventing them from taking it.”
TIME AND MONEY
Setting a timetable can help adult children focus on an exit strategy. Whenever one of Edwin and Myra’s children returned home, “We said, ‘You’re welcome to stay here as long as you want … up to a year,’” Edwin recalls with a laugh. “‘If you can’t figure it out by then, you need to go somewhere else and figure it out.’ As a parent, you don’t want to enable. As children, you don’t [hang on to] your mother and father; you establish your own household.”
That should be the ultimate goal — helping children achieve independence. And some may need a little pressure. “Urgency often leads to productivity for kids,” Cheryl says. “If there’s a sense of, ‘I’m not going to have a place to live on October 1,’ all of a sudden the job hunt becomes real.” She points out that it’s easy for new graduates to expect to earn what their parents now earn in their 50s and to try to hold out for that. But with a deadline, they’re more likely to accept a realistic starting salary so they don’t have to crash on a friend’s couch.
Regardless of the duration of a home stay, expecting that all members of the household contribute in some manner will instill a sense of responsibility, accountability, and ownership in the success of the home.
“Parents need to require that adult kids add to the home and not subtract from it,” Cheryl says.
Although Edwin and Myra didn’t charge their children rent, utility payments were accepted. “The kids felt like they were contributing, and we felt it was important to take them up on that,” Myra says. Likewise, Linda and Doug’s sons weren’t able to help financially, but they took pride in fixing things around the house.
It’s also vital that parents help adult kids grasp the pride of earning something, the joy of contributing their gifts, and the
KIDS WITH KIDS
If your boomerang kids bring home their own children, there are new blessings and boundaries involved. “Nothing pulls at people’s hearts more than their grandbabies,” licensed professional counselor Cheryl Baird says, adding this can be both good and bad in a boomerang household. Here are a few things Cheryl suggests keeping in mind:
- Remember you’re the grandparent, not the parent. Let the parents set the tone of discipline, schedule, and eating habits. Your job is to help reinforce those guidelines.
- Let the family have time as a unit. It’s important for your son or daughter’s family to keep their unique family dynamic intact. Occasionally, give them time and space to be on their own.
- Ask your child for guidance. Let your son or daughter tell you helpful ways you can participate in your grandkids’ lives, such as driving them to soccer practice or helping them with homework.
“We want our kids to have the bigger picture of what it’s like to use the gifts God has given them rather than just having things handed to them.”
knowledge that they should be grateful for those things they’re given. “We want our kids to have the bigger picture of what it’s like to use the gifts God has given them rather than just having things handed to them,” Cheryl says. “It’s our job as parents to teach them how to utilize those gifts for God’s glory.”
Despite the difficult circumstances that often precipitate an adult child moving home, it can be a rich time. “I’ve learned a lot,” Liz admits. “I’ve seen my parents push into hard stuff and wrestle with God, and I feel like that’s invited me to work on the hard stuff in my own life. I’ve met God in different ways than I would have if I wasn’t living here.”
Though Linda and Doug had to set hard boundaries — such as absolutely no alcohol in the house — and back up their threats, both sons are now sober and doing quite well. “I feel so grateful that we were able to offer them stability and accountability when they needed it,” Linda says.
“The bottom line is that if you have a good relationship with your kid, like my husband and I have with our daughter, it’s nice to have her around,” Naomi says. She admits that it will feel strange when Kendra moves out, but she’s eager to see her daughter blossom in this new chapter of her life.
Though Edwin and Myra recognized the challenge of having four adults speaking into the lives of their grandkids, which was especially difficult for the teenagers, the couple cherished the time with family. “It was such a blessing to have them under our roof, sharing conversations and day-to-day activities,” Myra says. “It was wonderful to see the grandkids in the morning and to kiss them good night. We joked that we were like the Waltons.”
“God’s grace was definitely there,” Edwin adds. “What we did spoke volumes to our kids and grandkids. They saw our family being there for each other. We hope that impacts them and carries on for future generations.”
*SOME NAMES CHANGED FOR PRIVACY
ADVICE FOR PARENTS:
- Get it in writing. Create a contract that spells out rules, expectations, and the time frame for the living arrangement (find sample contracts at boomerangkidshelp.com and adultchildrenlivingathome.com). Periodically re-evaluate the agreement.
- Speak your needs. Be honest about what helps your house be healthy, including things like quiet hours and a smoke-free environment.
- Set kitchen hours. Establish which meals during the week you will eat together and who will shop for groceries, cook, and clean up.
- Allow space. Everyone needs a few moments alone. Consider establishing a sign — a note on a door or a retreat to a quiet corner of the basement — that lets others know you need some personal space.
ADVICE FOR ADULT KIDS:
- Keep it clean. Set up who is doing what chore when. If it becomes a big issue, especially if you all work full time or have differing levels of cleanliness, consider pooling money for a cleaning service.
- Share your schedule. Let your parents know when you expect to be home.
- Pay on time. Whatever you agree to contribute financially, consider setting up an automatic withdrawal from your account to theirs so they don’t have to remind you about payment.
Camerin Courtney is a freelance writer who, during an extended time of unemployment a few years ago, was grateful to have her parents’ home as a fallback — and was even more grateful she never had to use it. Read more at CamerinCourtney.com.