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Boomerang Generation: Create a Positive Experience When Adult Kids Move Home

Two women—one who once moved back in with her parents, and another whose adult child moved back home—offer advice to help make the boomerang experience a win.

A woman helps her father make a salad.

Adults moving back in with their parents is not a new phenomenon, and neither are the reasons it happens, including relationship changes, job options, housing costs, and outstanding debt. But a 2017 Pew Research Center analysis found that young adults today are more likely to “boomerang,” or to live with their parents compared to previous generations.

Christina Newberry became part of the boomerang generation when she divorced at 29, and it led her to write “The Hands-on Guide to Surviving Adult Children Living at Home.” Her stay in her parents’ house had challenges ranging from a longer work commute to some communication hiccups. But she says it was worth having additional emotional support at a difficult time.

A Family Dynamics Consultant with Wells Fargo Private Bank, Mariana Martinez experienced the boomerang generation from a parent’s point of view. Martinez’s son moved back home for a year when he was 21 years old, to save money so he could live independently.

Here, Newberry and Martinez outline three recommendations for parents and their adult children to consider before moving day arrives.

1. Set a well-defined timeline

Parents and adult children should agree on why the child is moving back in (such as the need to take an unpaid internship to kickstart a career) and how long the arrangement will last.

“We set some ground rules and we had a clear timeframe based on the goals he had set for himself,” Martinez says of her experience with her son. “And it worked.”

“The end goal is for the adult child to get back out again,” Newberry says. “How do you work toward that, and what positive things are you going to accomplish during this time at home?” A timeline helps create a picture of what needs to take place for the adult child to move out again.

You charge them rent, save the money, don’t tell them, and give it back to them when they move out. —Twitter poll response

2. Agree on how household expenses and responsibilities will be divided

When adult children move back in, Newberry and Martinez agree it’s important that the kids contribute to the household in some way – whether that means financially (even if just a token $100 a month for rent) or with responsibilities like carpool activities and cooking the evening meal or, even better, with both.

Martinez says having children contribute to the household budget can create a sense of self-sufficiency even if the parents don’t need the money. But Martinez says that this can also be tricky for high-net-worth families who aren’t accustomed to having their children contribute financially.

“When you’re expecting new behaviors from your children, such as contributing in a way that they didn’t when they were younger, it can be uncomfortable and sometimes hard for parents to set those rules, particularly when there’s no financial need,” she says. “The children could say, ‘Why are you charging for rent if you really don’t need the money? Why would you take 25% of my paycheck when that’s a tiny fraction of the income you earn?’”

To help lessen tension, Martinez says that you could consider hiring someone to facilitate the conversation. You can discuss where to look for that help with a wealth planner. “The facilitator can take the conversation about living arrangements to a deeper level and expand on it,” she says, “removing the demanding and defensive kind of dialogue that often happens when parents set these new ground rules.”

Mine came back to pay off student loans. No rent but I had him pay utilities and do other chores. Worked out for us. He is debt-free. —Twitter poll response

3. Clarify based on your unique situation

Many personal developments can impact the expectations families set together. For example, the household may now include a stepparent and possibly stepsiblings whose feelings should be considered before an adult child moves home. Or maybe the adult child has children who would be moving in as well.

“There’s a need for even more conversations in terms of expectations about what the grandparents’ role is going to be with the [younger] children,” Newberry says.

Parents and adult children should also agree on behaviors that might spark unnecessary conflict if not discussed. Two examples:

  • Will boyfriends or girlfriends be allowed to spend the night?
  • Who’s going to handle chores like laundry and cooking meals?

“There’s a need for conversation around expected behaviors,” Martinez says. “You should not assume that because we are family, we’re going to support each other no matter the situation. It may be true, but under what conditions?”

Despite the challenges, Newberry and Martinez say that having adult children live at home, if managed with clear expectations, can turn out to be a positive experience.

“As long as everyone is respectful and follows these guidelines,” Newberry says, “it can be a really unique time to get to know each other in a different way.”

Ours moved back in and does a lot of work around the house with maintenance, etc. It has actually saved us money. —Twitter poll response
Mark Tosczak is an experienced business writer and marketing consultant based in North Carolina.

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