Parents--How to Avoid Stress When Your Adult Child Moves Home

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boomerang_childA recent cartoon in The New Yorker shows a dais with a number of people, all in caps and gowns, seated behind the lectern where the similarly clad speaker says: “My fellow graduates, today we leave behind the trappings of youth, step boldly onto the road of life, and move back in with our parents.”

Beyond the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance," through hugs and tears, dinners, gifts, diploma checking, parents of high school and higher education graduates wait for the days their seniors leave home; It’s a rite of passage – that anticipated move toward further independence - proof the years of diligent planning, skill-building, and preparation are successful.

Wait – who’s knocking at the door? Young adults, or "boomerangers," who left home for college, new job, or on a personal search for independence are moving back in with their parents!  Why? 1) Economics--the recession has made it financially difficult to live independently, 2) Life challenges--young adults are staying in college longer, marrying later, coming up against an ultra-competitive job market that leaves many jobless. 

When adult children move home, this can have a drastic effect on parents.  Family dynamics are stirred up.  Parents who have looked forward to having an empty nest and more discretionary spending suddenly find their nest full and their extra money going towards supporting their children.  This can have a negative effect on the children too, leading to feelings of dependency and failure.

Here are some concrete steps to take to avoid stress and uncomfortable confrontations with your children.

  • Initiate a serious discussion prior to the move and define why your child has decided to live at home
  • Set clear expectations, including a move out date
  • Charge rent (this is really never a bad thing; and if the parent feels really uncomfortable, they can put the money in an account to give to the child when s/he moves out)
  • Discuss paying a share of utilities and food
  • Help them restructure debts rather than simply bail them out
  • Decide on "house rules" (e.g., helping with chores, inviting overnight guests, using the family car)
  • Schedule periodic family meetings to talk about how things are working
  • DO NOT sacrifice your own financial future (Remember that your children have decades to build their financial security, while you may be only a few years away from retirement)

It is a loving gesture on a parent's part to allow an adult child to move home.  It must remain evident, however, that your adult child is working toward something. Progress toward independence is important, and, if not seen, the situation needs to be reevaluated.  Respect and love go a long way – and when those boomerang, it’s always good. 

--Charlene Gooch, Ph.D., MFT

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