Fueled by unprecedented student debt, expensive housing markets, and stagnant wages, young people are moving back home in record numbers. Chances are good, if your adult child isn’t already under your roof, he or she may be soon.
In fact, more than 32% of adults aged 18 to 34 are currently living with their parents, according to Pew Research, making this the most common living arrangement for this age group—for the first time in more than 130 years.
Further evidence that so-called boomerang kids are a thing: Last year 37% of graduating college seniors said they planned to live at home for at least a year or more after graduation, according to a survey from the job site Indeed.
As the living situation has grown more common, attitudes about it are shifting too.
“It used to be when an adult child returned home, the kid was labeled a loser and everyone asked, ‘What did the parents do wrong,’” says social psychologist Susan Newman, author of Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily. “That is no longer the case.”
Still, there’s no denying that the situation has its challenges. Social commentators and financial experts, for instance, warn that this new generation of boomerangers may jeopardize their parents’ retirement savings and financial well-being—and Mom and Dad’s sanity.
Yet the arrangement doesn’t have to be a bummer, for you or for them. There are plenty of positives involved in living together —as long as you both have reasonable expectations and the right attitude.
Getting to know Junior as a grown-up
For starters, living with your adult kids can have some very poignant rewards.
“I hear parents saying all the time they’re envious of friends who have grown kids living with them,” says Newman. “Getting to know your kids as adults is a great new parenting frontier.”
Just ask Phil Duncan, 61. At first, the Falls Church Virginia City Council member wasn’t prepared for his children to live at home after earning their degrees.
“When my wife and I graduated from college both of us went to work immediately and soon afterwards lived independently,” he says. “Our expectation was our kids would do the same.”
His outlook changed after his daughter Meredyth moved home in 2012 after graduating Swarthmore with a degree in art and biology and stayed until this summer, when she left to join the Estuary and Ocean Science Center masters program at San Francisco State University.
“These past six years have been the greatest opportunity to spend time with the child we raised, see who she is, how she thinks and see the world through the eyes of a millennial living under our roof,” says Duncan. “I’m sure I will look on it as one of the most pleasant phases of my life.”
A mutually rewarding experience
There are plenty of practical benefits for both sides too, as the Duncans learned.
For the adult child, there’s the financial support, of course—low-cost housing at the very least. That, in turn, buys your son or daughter some time and flexibility to work out their future direction and pick up some useful skills along the way.
During the time she spent at home figuring out what she wanted to do with her life, for example, Meredyth Duncan worked various jobs selling advertising, managing the graphics for her dad’s city council re-election campaign, even doing a stint at Starbucks. “That taught her everything she needed to know about dealing with people,” Phil Duncan says.
In turn, Meredyth provided both practical and emotional support as Duncan’s parents developed serious health issues—his mom died of cancer last year and his dad, 94, has ongoing medical problems—and Duncan himself was diagnosed with and treated for prostate cancer.
“Meredyth would drive me around when I was taking chemicals and couldn’t drive, she helped after my dad’s emergency surgery and his time in rehab, and she chronicled my mom’s life through photos and helped so much when she was in hospice,” Duncan remembers. “She was engaged in our lives in a very different way than I was with my parents at that age.”
The financial benefits aren’t all one way
For many families it makes economic sense to have an adult child move back. The reason boils down to the high cost of housing.
For every age group, housing is the number one expense, says Stuart Ritter, senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price. “If you have the room, the fact that your kids will not incur that number one expense for a while, means you’re giving them the capacity to lay a strong foundation for their financial future,” explains Ritter.
Yes, your bill for utilities and groceries will increase. But your child can pitch in, Ritter notes, and may even be able to help you minimize expenses if they do the landscaping, paint the front porch, or take care of other chores that would cost you money.
“Parents who help their adult child at home are often better off than parents who are constantly sending big checks to their grown kids to help them with high rents, bail them out of debt, or subsidize a lifestyle they cannot yet afford, Ritter adds.
Even in more modest circumstances, providing big lump sums to help kids get out of debt, put together a down payment, or finance grad school can drain principal from retirement savings and seriously erode parent finances. “Buying a few extra groceries or paying for the lights in the spare bedroom is not such a big deal,” says Ritter.
Setting clear financial goals is key
That said, both Ritter and Newman agree that a child cannot move back in without some accountability.
There are three financial goals you want your newly returned adult child to work toward, no matter what the circumstances, Ritter advises. It may take several conversations, it may even take sitting down together with a spreadsheet, but these are the rules of the game.
Save for an emergency fund. Returning home can provide a safety net for leaving home too. Make sure your child sets a goal to save between three to six months of income for emergencies, from car repairs to ER co-pays. When your child is finally on her own, she’ll need the cushion more than ever.
Take advantage of retirement savings. If your child is employed at a company that offers retirement savings benefits, now, when he’s paying little or no rent, is the time to get a head start and max out those savings. This is especially true if your child’s employer offers a matching contribution; that’s free money that you don’t want your child to miss out on.
Save for future housing. Sometimes the only way a new grad or unemployed adult child can scrounge up enough money for the security deposit on an apartment or the down payment on a condo is to live at home and save. The earlier your children can overcome the housing obstacle in their budget and start building equity, the better off they will be.
Be prepared to adjust your attitude
You’ve gotten used to living child-free. Your adult offspring has gotten used to make his or her own house rules. Cue the theme song to Family Feud?
That won’t be necessary, says Newman, as long as you keep these two things in mind:
Consider your adult child’s feelings. Sounds simple but we’re all accustomed to thinking of our children, well, as children. It may be time to change the lens and remember what it was like to be a young adult entering or battling the real world.
“Be sensitive to the struggles your child is going through, imagine what he or she is feeling—as an adult, not a child,” says Newman. When you do that, she adds, you’ll find a new way of communicating.
Toss out old patterns. It’s only natural to revert back to the way you dealt with your child when he or she was living at home way back when. Don’t.
Accept the fact that your life will change but know that you’re all adults now. You don’t have to “give up” a part of your life to embrace this new situation, advises Newman.
Phil Duncan couldn’t agree more. He saw his daughter as a source of strength and support during a tough time. They were both moving through a new stage of life.
“I feel like Meredyth is well prepared for life now. In the process she has gotten to know her parents as an adult,” Duncan says.
But that doesn’t mean the farewell is easy.
“This is going to be a real adjustment,” says Duncan. “It’s just like kindergarten. I’m going to cry like a baby. The difference is, she’s almost 28 and she really is leaving home this time.”