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When Adult Children Return Home


Recently, one of my friends faced a real dilemma. After being an empty nester for several years, Lynn's adult daughter, son-in-law and their three children asked if they could move back home into his basement. His son-in-law lost his job and decided to go back to school to get a master's degree to make himself more marketable. With the cost of school and housing, and without a reliable income, the only way they could afford to take on this new direction in their lives was if they could live with her parents for the two-year graduate school period.

The decision process of determining how and when parents allow adult children to move back in with them is one more and more fathers are facing. In the United States, over four million people between 25-34 live with their parents. In current literature, these people are known as "boomerang kids." So dads facing issues like the one my friend is facing are becoming more and more common.

Why Children Return Home

Adult children return home to live with their parents for many reasons. My friend's daughter and her family faced an economic challenge that left them with few options. Fortunately, they were able to get into school to better their situation over the long run, which is a pretty responsible approach, and the parents are very supportive.

But the reasons boomerang kids to return home are not always such a focused situation with defined direction and time frames. A family member many years ago was widowed and moved with her three young children back home with her parents for emotional and financial support. Sometimes, adult children are in crisis due to divorce, substance abuse, illness or unemployment.

The bottom line is that there are a variety of reasons for children to return home. Each situation is unique and requires a similarly unique approach. But there are some basic principles which will serve any father faced with this critical decision.

Basic Considerations for Fathers

The most important thing parents can do when their adult children want to return home is to clearly establish boundaries. Setting these limits is critical to striking the balance between the parents' desire to be supportive to their children and the need of the children to be as independent as possible. Making life too comfortable at home for these boomerang kids is to do them a disservice.

Set Up a Timeframe. Absent a specific commitment on the part of your children as to when they plan to be back on their own, adult children may find one excuse after another as to moving out. As you set the boundaries of this new relationship, specific time targets are among the most important. For example, if an adult child is unemployed, set a target time a few months out for their departure. Even in the case of a divorce or other similar tragedy, it is important to have a target and work toward it.

Determine Realistic Steps to Achieve Their Goals. In many cases, your boomerang kids may be at a loss as to next steps. For example, my relative that lost a husband at a young age with three little children found herself in a pretty emotional state after her husband's death. She needed some counseling and therapy, then needed to do some career planning, secure transportation, get admitted to college, and find a job. Setting some interim time targets linked to the plan will help keep everyone focused.

Negotiate Acceptable Behaviors. As the host of these adult guests in your home, you remain in control of the home environment. When adult children return home, they have to be willing to live by your rules and standards. Talk upfront and reach agreement about issues like:

  • Guests. Who can come to visit? How long can they stay? What about overnight?

  • Music. What types of music can you tolerate? How loud? How late?

  • Drugs and Alcohol. Are they allowed? If so, does their use have to be supervised by you?

  • Parties and Events. Are they allowed in your home? What about when you are away?

  • Language. What kind of language will you tolerate at home? What are the consequences of use of profanity?

  • Religion. If religion is important to you, do your adult children have to observe your practices while they live at home?

  • Pets. This can be a sticky issue if the adult children, as many young adults do, have a pet. Does it stay inside or outside? What about allergies?

  • Child Care. If the boomerang kids bring their own children with them, it's important that parents set some limits so that they avoid being free built-in child care.

  • Respect. Sometimes, adult children returning home feel like they are equals with their parents and may want to challenge authority or act disrespectfully. It is important for parents to be clear about expectations about how they are treated--as benevolent hosts.

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