Approximately one in every three young adults moves back home at some point, so either you have a so-called boomerang kid living at home or you know another parent who does.
According to the Pew Research Center, 32 percent of adults aged 18-34 have moved back home with their parents (not including college students living in dorms), giving rise to the newly-coined term boomerang generation. For the first time in recent history, that’s more than the number of young adults who are living in their own household with a spouse or roommates.
You might expect a young adult to move back home directly after college while they look for a job or save up for a home. Or, you might expect them to return home if they have a setback, such as a divorce or a tragedy, and need help.
What you probably don’t expect is for your own emotional and financial health to be severely impacted by an adult child (or children) who is wholly dependent on you. Such reliance can place tremendous strain on your relationship.
But, by trying to understand your child’s reasons for returning home and working with them to develop an exit strategy, you’ll not only provide the support they need, but hopefully, you’ll also give them the courage and the framework they need to leave home.
Understand Why Your Child Is Back Home
Many experts agree that the Great Recession accounts for the emergence of the boomerang generation.
But a decline in the marriage rate has also been a factor. The Census Bureau reports that the percentage of adults 18-34 who have never married rose to over 60 percent between 2009-2013, compared to 40 percent in 1980. Marriage tends to drive young adults to establish their own households, and the added income contributed by their spouse makes that independence affordable.
But, when young adults remain unmarried, many of them also remain at home as they wait for their future spouse to appear, partly because they can’t afford to live on their own and partly because they have no desire to do so.
Jane Adams, a social psychologist, post-parent coach and author of many books on parenting adult children suggests that there is another unacknowledged factor contributing to the rise in so-called boomerang kids.
“Many parents and their adult kids are simply choosing this relationship until [the kids] marry or get the job they want because it makes sense financially and because young adult kids still want emotional support from their parents and their parents enjoy their grown kids’ company,” says Adams.
Family finance expert Ellie Kay adds, “Boomerang kids are more prevalent due to their amount of student loan debt and [in]ability to find a job that pays the bills. At the same time, they don’t want to compromise their standard of living so they may have trouble with financial independence from their parents.”
No matter why your adult child has returned home (even if it’s a substance abuse problem or a tragedy), there are some basic guidelines for helping them without enabling them to become dependent or putting your finances in jeopardy.
Put Your Oxygen Mask on First
Although many parents are happy to help out a child in need, most have not planned for it. In fact, nearly 90 percent of parents over age 50 have not factored helping boomerang kids into their long-term financial planning. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that parents age 65 and older who financially support adult kids are much less likely to be retired than parents with children out on their own.
“When kids are adults, you need to put on your own oxygen mask first by safeguarding your own financial security,” says Adams because adult children have plenty of time to establish themselves financially, but you don’t have as much time to earn back your retirement savings.
And Kay adds that if you are thinking about co-signing loans or tapping into your home equity or retirement savings to help your adult child, then consider that a red flag signaling that your assets are in jeopardy. “Regardless of the reason, depending [on] how long you are totally financially supporting them, adult kids can burn through all of their parents’ wealth, savings and assets quicker than you realize,” Kay warns.
Set Boundaries for Your Child
If your financial security isn’t in danger and your adult child is attempting to handle their responsibilities despite setbacks, then allowing your child to live at home can be a mutually satisfying relationship, advises Adams. However, it can also lead to some tense situations, as you assert your house rules and they assert their independence.
And note that the definition of being “independent” has changed. “Back in the 60’s and 70’s, the goal was to be living on their own, financially independent,” says Adams. “Now, independence is more about making choices for themselves, regardless of who is paying for it.”
Still, it’s a good idea to set boundaries. After all, it is your home. If your adult child cannot accept that, then they may need to live elsewhere and find another source of support.
“But you can be emotionally supportive without financially enabling adult kids to continue behavior that is unproductive, disrespectful or that you disapprove of,” suggests Adams.
Create a Timetable and Agree in Writing
If you allow your adult child to come back home, Kay suggests working with them to create an exit strategy. This could involve helping them to develop good financial habits, as well as techniques for addressing the non-financial problems in their life. After all, “If you try to send them back out prematurely, they may bounce right back home which is not a sign of independence at all,” warns Kay.
Both Kay and Adams agree that you should put the exit strategy and any agreements for living at home in writing so that both parties are fully aware of the expectations and the timetable involved.
Adams suggests saying, “We’ll contribute to your support in X ways for X amount of months,” and then helping them to work towards the goals you’ve set together.
Kay calls this “feathering the nest with rocks.” Your child will feel welcome at home but they’ll also feel incentivized to move out.
Avoid Enabling Unhealthy Dependence
Both experts agree that you should seriously ask yourself (and your spouse) whether you are helping your adult child to cultivate healthy emotional and financial habits or allowing them to rely on you in a way that stunts their independent growth. If it’s the latter, you may have to rethink the living situation.
Adams warns that if you are doing their laundry, waking them up in the morning or managing any part of their life, you are depriving them of the chance to master that skill and preventing them from accepting responsibility for their own successes and failures.
Adams also advises examining the quality of the relationship. If it’s troubled, difficult or contentious, or if it’s affecting your marriage, then your time at home may not only be unpleasant, but it may also cause emotional harm as you try to insert yourself in problems that are not yours.
When it comes to dealing with more serious problems, you can allow an adult child to live with you as you guide them and help them pay for counseling and medication. But if they’re unwilling to take steps to change their situation, you’ll have to accept that you can’t solve their problems for them. And, depending on the circumstances, you may need to seek professional help (e.g., a rehab facility), especially if they are a danger to you or themselves.
“You can establish that home is a place they can be when not using drugs or alcohol while giving any other nurturing and support that you can,” Adams suggests.
Embrace a Healthy Relationship With Your Child
According to Adams, what goes on between you and your adult child during their third decade of life is more important for setting the tone of the relationship for the rest of your life than any other time in the first 21 years. “If you haven’t related mutually as adults, that’s the first thing you have to practice,” she adds.
Kay, who has helped launch her own seven children into their adult lives, insists that you can have a healthy and vibrant relationship with your adult children, especially when they don’t live in your house.
“I take an interest in what they are interested in. I act only as a sounding board to help them weigh out financial and life decisions and along the way I am encouraging their independence.”
KEEP READING: Buying a Home for Your Children: Dos and Don’ts