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Adult Children Living at Home—What Do We Do?

August 25, 2023

What To Do if Our Child Needs To Move Home

It sounds like a new pop band, but parents with “Boomerang Kids” know this is an increasingly common phenomenon where adult children move back home after spending a year or more living on their own. It may be a short stopover before graduate school or a longer stay bringing a spouse or even grandkids along. Regardless, the dynamics of adult children living at home can be sticky. 

If you’re wondering if you’ve failed, don’t panic. It’s probably not about you. It’s been said before (because it’s true), but the world your child is living in is very different from the one you entered in your young adult years. The advent of technology, an ever-changing economy, and the lasting effects of a global pandemic are just a few of the realities changing the landscape of a young adult’s education and employment path. Add in higher rents with escalating food and lifestyle costs and it’s easy to understand why adult children are finding refuge and solace in moving home while they get their bearings.

The irony is your child may be returning a few years after you’ve spent time adjusting to life without them. You love them and want the best for them, but you may have other plans! So before they fly back into your empty nest, do some preplanning and get prepared for some honest conversations. They’ll go a long way to making the change a good one for all of you. 

Talk to Your Spouse First 

You both love your child. What’s to talk about? 

The plan seems obvious. Your young adult will move home, find a job, save some money, and be back out on their own in about six months. But life is rarely that clear cut or easy. Before you let them unpack, spend time with your spouse getting on the same page 

Be vulnerable and honest about what it might look like to have a kid back in your house. Talk about what you think it will feel like to live with a person who is now an adult, with their own opinions, philosophies, and attitudes. Thinking through these scenarios gives you time as a couple to have conversations about your needs including what you will need from each other during this transition. 

Here are a few questions to consider during an initial conversation with your spouse. 

  • Why does our child need to move home? 
  • What is their timeline? How long will they need/want to stay? 
  • How will this affect our own lifestyle, careers, hobbies, or plans for retirement? 
  • Will this cause financial strain for us?  
  • Do we expect them to pay rent? If yes, how will that money be used? 
  • How do we expect them to contribute to the household? Laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. 
  • What are our house rules about overnight guests, noise, and late night or early morning activities? 
  • Are we both in agreement this is the right thing to do for our child and us? 
  • What emotions are we feeling as a result of this decision? Happiness, frustration, excitement, annoyance, etc. 
  • How can we support each other during this change? 

This will likely not be a one and done conversation—as time goes on, check in with your spouse. What does our home life look like now? How are you feeling? How can we continue to be supportive of one another? As you have further conversations, you may want to dig in even deeper and talk about how you will respond if your child no longer holds your faith beliefs or has made lifestyle choices that are counter to your personal belief systems.  

Keep in mind, it’s not all hard stuff! There will no doubt be some great benefits to having your son or daughter move back home. It can be fun and rewarding to get to know your child as an adult. What are some interests you share now that they’re older? What will dinner conversations look like sitting across from a young adult? Of course, having them back may also allow them to provide additional help with the house and younger siblings or make it easier for you to care for your own aging parents. But even the good stuff will need new boundaries. 

As you work to embrace the changes created by adding your adult child back into your homelife, you’ll need to assess your own flexibility and limitations to have the best chance of creating a new family community of adults.  

Older couple with adult children living at home trying to figure out how to navigate this new season of marriage and parenting

Avoid Old Patterns 

One key to success during this transition is to avoid falling back into childhood roles and old parenting patterns. Taking on tasks like laundry, cooking, and cleaning are no big deal for a weekend, but they can quickly become an area of resentment when your child is part of the household again. Likewise, they may have happily abided by your curfews or rules for clothing when they were in high school, but as an adult those limitations may warrant revision.  

In his book “Doing Life with Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out,” author Jim Burns reminds us creating ground rules and boundaries respects that all of you have new roles. “Our kids need to know we still love them and that we’re going to get through this together. These new boundaries and expectations acknowledge that they are adults and we’re going to hold each other accountable in a very different way than we did when they were children.” 

Talk to Your “New Roommate” 

Once you’ve found common ground as a couple, it’s time to find out more about your son or daughter’s plans. Keep the conversation light and your tone curious. The goal is to open the lines of communication, so you can develop a plan together. 

  • How will moving home be helpful for you? 
  • What are some problems you think might arise when you move back home? 
  • What former household rules might need to be amended or altered? 
  • How long do you think you’re going to be home?  
  • Have you thought about your exit strategy? 
  • How are you feeling about this transition? 

Do your best to stay positive and gather information. Instead of shooting holes in their plan or sharing what seems an obvious solution to one of their obstacles, try asking follow-up questions with a phrase like, “That’s interesting! Tell me more about it.” Commonly used in dialogue therapy, “tell me more about it,” not only gives you more information, but it also gives your young adult the security and freedom to share their hopes without criticism. This kind of communication builds rapport and trust and imparts faith you believe in them.

At the end of your conversation, take some time to assess the information and touch on the points where you all easily agree such as respecting each other’s space, agreeing to be partners with the laundry or household chores, and gathering a rough estimate of their personal timeline and financial responsibilities. In your private time, make some notes of areas of concern and/or topics that still seem a little vague. There’s no need to solve every issue immediately. Just be prepared for compromise and adjustments along the way.   

So, what do you do when your adult child moves back home? Above all, actively seek ways to enjoy this new parenting adventure. Embrace the change, look for the good, and keep your eye on the prize of a healthy, loving relationship with your child.  


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