They're Back: How To Navigate Adult Children Returning Home

They're Back: How To Navigate Adult Children Returning Home
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You've heard the adage that says if you hear something three times, it's something you need to pay attention to, right? Given that, I'm hereby announcing that if you hear something five times, it officially makes it a "thing."

The thing in question is the skyrocketing rate at which young adults return home to live with their parents, something at least five friends or clients have mentioned in just the last few weeks.

But it's not just happening to folks in my circle. Here's the skinny:

In the U.S., bastion of the rugged individualist, the Pew Research Center reports that living with parents is now "the most common arrangement for people ages 18-34." Why? One explanation is that although the U.S. unemployment rate is 4.9 overall, unemployment is almost double that for young adults.

Even in Europe, where it's long been traditional for children to live with their parents until they marry - at whatever age - it's now reported that 60% of Italian and approximately 80% Spanish 18-29-year-olds still live with their parents!

That makes it a safe bet that, at some point, one of your adult children will ask to move home.
Since "once a parent, always a parent," you're likely to pause and ask yourself, "Is this the right thing to do?"

As with most tough parenting questions, my best and most honest response is, "It depends."

What it depends on is open, honest and ongoing communication about the reason for the move, as well as frank discussions about money, boundaries, responsibilities and respect. Let's start with what I consider to be some good reasons to allow your adult child to move back home.

Transition after College / Grad School

•Finding even a good-enough first job isn't an overnight process
•Some grads may have a job, yet want to be strategic about where they're going to sign a lease

Unexpected Personal Crisis

•An adult child ends up in a situation with an unstable or unsafe roommate
•Your adult child and his/her live-in partner broke up unexpectedly and he/she needs to move out immediately
•Your adult child is diagnosed with a physical illness or depression

Economic Situations

•Unexpected or unplanned job loss
•Living costs that exceed income
•Adult kids with families who need temporary support due to economic hardship
•Desire to save for a strategic expense, such as a wedding or down payment on a house

Elderly Parents

•Sometimes, the situation is a win-win, as when an adult child needs a place to live and an aging or ill parent needs some in-home support or care

If you've decided it's okay for your adult child to move back home, you need to establish - and agree to - ground rules before the move. Here are some good questions to consider when establishing the rules.

To Pay or Not to Pay

These are basically need-and-capacity questions:

•Is there enough room in your home to accommodate your adult child and, perhaps, his or her family?
•Do you need your adult child to contribute to household expenses?

If Yes, does your adult child have the financial resources to contribute? Is it enough?
If No, are there non-monetary ways he or she can contribute?

•Do they need use of a family car and, if so, can they pay for their own gas and insurance?


Making sure everyone understands where the limits are reduces confusion and makes expectations crystal clear. Here are questions to guide your rule-making:

•Defined length of stay

Is the "ask" for a month...six year?

•Consider curfews

If we're talking about your gap-year kid who is spending the year at home, will you impose one?
With your older adult children, will you not?

•Friends' rules

Are girlfriends / boyfriends allowed to stay overnight?
How about close friends?
What about people you don't know?


Beyond being responsible for their own room and bathroom, laundry and dishes (please do not clean up after your adult child), do you expect help with general housecleaning, shopping, yard work and other routine household tasks?

Personal vs Parental Responsibilities

Does everyone understand that..."

You are not responsible for ensuring your adult kids get enough sleep, eat well and wake up on time for work and other responsibilities?
You have the right to set the household rules your adult children must abide by if they move back
You don't have the right to oversee (or weigh in on!) every aspect of your adult child's life or decisions... unless specifically asked for input?

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

•Agree to talk - on a regular timetable - about what's working and what's not

Every two weeks, especially in the beginning, is probably about right

•Agree to address unforeseen problems as they arise

Talk about uncomfortable issues immediately; don't wait for a scheduled check-in
Don't keep a tally of infractions; address the issues and then let them go
Don't presume your adult children will know what you're thinking or what you want

Just to cover all the bases, I'm going to weigh in briefly on situations where it's NOT a good idea for your adult child to move back home:

•If they've demonstrated that they can't follow your house rules/ expectations

Unlike the stock market, past performance is a good indication of future success

•If allowing them to move home means you'll be crossing the line between support... and enabling

Substance abuse issues
Irresponsibility about money

Here's the good news about kids who return to the nest as adults. If you raised them from 0-18 to be independent, capable and self-reliant members of society, you can be pretty sure that's who is moving back home. Continued discussions with them about how to approach the everyday problems of adult life is a powerful opportunity for them... one that can bear fruit for them with their future partners, colleagues, and friends. So put out the welcome mat!

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