What to Do When Adult Children Want to Move Back In

3 min read

Maybe you heard about the 30-year-old New York man whose parents, tired of politely and repeatedly asking their unemployed son to move out of their home, took him to court in May to legally evict him -- and won.

That case was extreme. But according to recent Pew Center research, millennial adults (also called "boomerangs" for their increasing habit of moving back to their childhood homes well into their 20s and 30s) are the first generation in more than 130 years to show a larger subset living with parents than with a spouse or partner. As of 2017, that figure was 32.1%, compared with 31.6%, respectively.

Susan Newman, PhD, a social psychologist and the author of the book Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)Learning to Live Happily Together, says rising student debt and putting off marriage are just two things that cause millennial adults to return to the family nest.

What's needed when they do? Emotional, social, and financial guidance -- especially for parents, who should lead the transition, says Newman.

"Come up with an exit plan right away," she says. "Ultimately, the idea is for the adult child to leave again. Ask about goals, job aspirations, life direction. Revisit it every 6 months. And be realistic: Consider what is truly achievable in that time frame."

She also suggests that house rules be set from the get-go. "Your child is not a guest. But don't allow dollars to dictate your relationship. If they can't afford to help pay for the utility bills, maybe they can mow the lawn or help in other ways," she says. "For best results, let them choose their own chores -- they're more likely to get done that way."

Same goes for parental boundaries. "It is your house," Newman says. "So, if your child smokes (or vapes) and you don't like it, you have every right to set limits. If they stay out late, you can ask for, and expect, a phone call or text so you don't worry. If you don't want your adult son having sleepovers with his girlfriend, say so."

But parents must remember their kids are no longer children, she stresses. "They're adults, so you must cede control. They may have different attitudes, needs, and eating, sleeping, or partying habits than they did when they were younger. Accept those differences. And don't fall back into mommy mode," she says. "They can do their own laundry and clean their own rooms. And do respect their privacy."

Empty nesters? Not so fast! A new London School of Economics study reveals parents lost a degree of "control, autonomy, pleasure, and self-realization" when their adult kids returned home. How can they maintain happiness as boomerangs unpack?

  1. Adjust your attitude."You didn't fail as a parent, and your kids didn't fail, either," says Newman. "Some of your friends may actually be jealous" about the time you're spending with your adult children.
  2. Maintain your schedule. "Don't give up your social life to accommodate an adult child," she warns. You don’t have to rush home at 6 p.m. to cook for them, for instance.
  3. Enjoy future insurance. "The silver lining? Down the road, adult children are more likely to care for parents who helped them during tough times," she says.
  4. Enforce the exit. Newman's verdict? "If after 2 years your adult child is showing no progress," she says, "it's OK to nudge them" out of the nest once again.

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