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Moving Back Home With Your Parents After College – How to Make It Work

By Michael Lewis

moving homeAt some point in your life, you have likely heard the phrase, “You can’t go home again.” However, as popular as the saying may be, it’s entirely wrong: Millions of young adults are moving back home to live with their parents, sometimes with children of their own.

According to a 2011 Pew Research Center Report, the country is now experiencing “the largest increase in the number of Americans living in multi-generational households in modern history.” More than 10% of all households (11.9 million) include members of multiple generations, the majority of which were an adult child living with a parent. The number of children returning home has become so commonplace that they have earned the appellations “baby gloomers” and “boomerangs.” One of every four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 indicated that they had returned to live in their parents’ house after being independent; one in five of those between the ages of 25 and 34 reported the same.

When a child returns home as an adult, it is rarely voluntary; rather, it is the consequence of too little or no income, high debt, and/or poor income prospects. Young people, even those with college degrees, have borne the brunt of the Great Recession’s impact on the job market. Only 54% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 are currently employed, the lowest employment rate for the group since the government began keeping track in 1948. Furthermore, the unemployment rate for young college graduates has exceeded 19% for the past two years, with no signs of improvement.

Those who have jobs typically earn wages substantially lower than in the year 2000, and they are likely to take 10 to 15 years to make up the difference, according to a 2012 report by the Economic Policy Institute. In 2010, the average college graduate owed $25,250 in student loans, up 5% from the year before – and the number is likely to continue to rise.

While the prospects of parents and their adult child living together generally excites none of the participants, it can be tolerable and even enjoyable if the parties anticipate the potential problems, consider the situation to be “temporary,” and agree upon responsibilities and behaviors to alleviate possible tensions.

Parents Coping With a “Boarder”

“It’s just not fair,” complained Sue to her husband Al about their adult son Tripp living with them in the movie “Failure to Launch.” “We were good parents and now we’re supposed to be done!”

Many parents have a similar reaction when learning that their child will be moving back home. Unless they had experienced a similar predicament in their own lives, parents frequently assume that the child has somehow “screwed up” and is therefore responsible for his or her inability to find a job or afford an apartment. However, this is not necessarily true. Parents should recognize that the unprecedented number of adults moving back to live with parents is more likely the consequence of the integrated international economic system and its widespread outsourcing, increasing automation, and the tepid recovery of the 2009 global recession.

According to Katherine Newman, dean of the school of arts and sciences at Johns Hopkins University and author of “The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents and the Private Toll of Global Competition,” these conditions have led to “more long-term unemployment and real structural weakness in the labor market. That has had a significant effect on new entrants to the labor market.” In other words, your child is more likely the victim of circumstances than self-inflicted actions.

While the parent-child relationship is one of the longest lasting social ties human beings can establish, it usually includes some tension and aggravation in the best of circumstances, usually over relationships, finances, housekeeping habits, and lifestyles. Recognizing that your child has become an adult, capable of making his or her own decisions and accepting their outcomes, can be difficult according to Dr. Marion Lindblad-Goldberg, professor of psychiatry at University of Pennsylvania. “Parents can relate to their adult children when they’re away from home…But in the home, particularly if it’s the same home, the kid goes from being 28 down to 25 to 20 and ends up at 7.”

Falling into old patterns of communication and habits is destructive, guaranteeing that the experience will be unpleasant for all parties. Mothers should be particularly aware of unsolicited advice, as adult sons and daughters report more tension with their mothers than their fathers. Parents need to keep in mind that their children are no longer little boys or girls who need to be told what to do, but grown men and women.

An adult child returning home can be a huge inconvenience and even a financial burden, but remember that coming back to live with Mom and Dad wasn’t where your child expected his or her future to lead either. All parties – Mom, Dad, and adult child – need to respect one another’s needs, boundaries, and authority to make the new circumstances work.

living at home

Adults With New Rules

Adults who return home to live with their parents often expect to behave similarly as when they lived alone, but in better financial circumstances. After all, they have been on their own, in charge of their own schedules, and able to come and go as they please with whomever they want for a time. Being asked to conform to rules in place when they were 16 is, in their opinion, unreasonable and unwarranted. They may view the arrangement as temporary and think of themselves as guests, not as family members with responsibilities to others in the household.

As a returning child, you need to appreciate that the house is your parents’ home with its own set of rules and habits. Your parents are making a sacrifice to accommodate you and cover some of your expenses. Therefore, they are entitled to the same respect and common courtesy that you would show to any roommate or friend. While a curfew is not reasonable for an adult, letting your parents know that you will be out late so they don’t need to stay up and worry is the amicable thing to do. In short, to be treated as an adult, you should act like one.

Adult children living at home should contribute a fair share of financial and household responsibilities. If you have an income, contribute something for room and board; it’s the gesture that is important, not the amount. Help with the house and yard work from time to time, and always be sure to clean up after yourself. Your parents may be happy to have you with them, but they don’t expect to be full-time maids, chauffeurs, or cooks. When you have a disagreement, act like the adult you are, not the whiny kid you may have been when you lived at home previously – this is also a great way to ensure that your parents treat you like an adult.

Finally, have a plan and a timetable to move out and find your own apartment. The date of departure doesn’t have to be written in stone – it may be when you get a job or when you’ve paid off a portion or all of your debts – but it should be a target upon which both parties agree. It is a lot easier to tolerate different lifestyles and unusual personal habits when you know the arrangement is short-term. A sense of humor is a valuable coping mechanism and a comfort during tense moments.

Importance of Previously Agreed-Upon Rules

Research from parents and their adult children who have returned home clearly shows that an agreement about the rules that will be followed by everyone is paramount to a successful and satisfying experience. The agreement, preferably in writing for reference in a dispute, should consider:

1. The Privacy of Each Party
Family members in the same house often view closed doors as invitations, personal letters as newspapers, and private conversations as open discussions. Continuing such behavior is inappropriate, could be embarrassing, and might lead to open hostility.

If maintaining a sense of privacy is difficult, invest in a set of door locks. The questions of overnight guests and romantic activity should be discussed prior to the move to understand what might be acceptable in the home and what should occur outside.

2. Autonomy
Both parties – the parents and their adult child – usually have possessions that they have acquired and consider to be personal, including the house, automobiles, sporting equipment, and more. Whether these items are available to other household members or any conditions or restrictions regarding their use should be discussed up front. While it is impossible to anticipate every contingency, the ability to invite guests over or to use the automobiles without the agreement of the other party should certainly be considered.

3. Responsibilities
Who does what, when, and how often? People living together need an understanding of the expectations of the others and the duties that will be performed individually and collectively to maintain the household.

If you are unemployed, your obligation to yourself and your parents includes a diligent search for employment, perhaps even taking a job for which you are overqualified. When you are home, share the household chores – don’t waste the day playing video games or watching television. And if you drink beer, buy your own. You might treat your parents to a night out occasionally, too.

4. Moving Out
As U.S. News Money blogger Gary Foreman wrote in his column, “Your parents supply a pathway, not a destination.” Your return home is intended as a respite, a break in the action to give you the opportunity to recharge your batteries, not a haven where you will be dependent upon them forever. Having a written plan and targeted objectives will help you know when the time is right to leave.

don't get too comfortable

Final Word

Fortunately, most parents willingly accept adult kids moving home, and are happy that they can help them during a difficult time in their lives. Ron (65) and Sue Friedlander (59) share their home with their son, 27-year-old Paul, who is a heating and air conditioning technician looking for work. When asked if the return had complicated their lives, Sue said, “We are happy to have him. We are absolutely okay with him staying with us for as long as he wants to.”

Your parents, while amenable with the notion that you will be moving back in, may not be quite so accommodating. Remember, family is there to catch you when you fall, not to provide a permanent crutch for life. Parents help prepare their children for life, but all birds leave the nest eventually – you should, too.

Have you been forced to move back home? If you’re a parent, has a child returned to the nest? What advice can you offer others in a similar circumstance?

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Michael Lewis
Michael R. Lewis is a retired corporate executive and entrepreneur. During his 40+ year career, Lewis created and sold ten different companies ranging from oil exploration to healthcare software. He has also been a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC, a Principal of one of the larger management consulting firms in the country, and a Senior Vice President of the largest not-for-profit health insurer in the United States. Mike's articles on personal investments, business management, and the economy are available on several online publications. He's a father and grandfather, who also writes non-fiction and biographical pieces about growing up in the plains of West Texas - including The Storm.

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  • John@TheMoneyPrinciple

    It’s very difficult and you have to establish new rules. This becomes even harder if the returning one is unemployed – they end up living off Mum and Dad again. Both need space. In our case, we eventually solved it when the second son returned and we helped them find a small house nearby to share. Young people need their independence, not yet more years of being the junior in the relationship. They need their own front door in other words.

    • MLewis

      John,
      We has a similar experience when our older daughter moved back home in her late 20s while changing careers. It took some adjustments, but it was an experience I’m glad we had. Like you, I helped her and a younger sister into a home which is now being occupied by the younger daughter, her husband and 3 kids. The older daughter, chasing her dreams, eventually moved to the West Coast where she found her own husband and started a family. I’m not so sure I’m flexible enough today to do it again.

  • http://twitter.com/mikecraig1040 Michael J Craig

    Your article is very timely and of course to the point. The solution is REAL working together. It’s important to recognize that your job as a parent isn’t done until the adult children are back on their own. If done properly this situation can make the family even stronger by reinforcing the notion that no matter what, the family will work together and overcome anything.

    • Michael R Lewis

      Michael, Thanks for writing. I agree with your sentiment that’s parent’s job is never completely done. We’re all in a “pay it forward” mode.

  • Jordan Rodriguez

    I’ve had to move home with my parents after college and all I could think was “I am a failure.” Moving back home is the thing I least want, and as stated in the article, I’m treated as I was back in high school with a lack of privacy and personal space. Although I agree, it’s amicable to let one’s parents know if they’re out late, it is a tad bit annoying when I lived on my own and didn’t have to tell anyone anything if I went out. I’m trying to move out a.s.a.p. but so far I’m stuck.

    I was drawn to your article for these very reasons, and I’m glad someone addressed such a touchy subject. I haven’t seen anyone else mention “failure to launch”, not just the movie, but the real thing that can and does happen. You did a fine job of capturing most thoughts from both sides of the table, which was nice to see. It wasn’t all just how the parents see the return of their child, but how the now adult sees things and how being treated as they once were can be crippling.

    • Michael Lewis

      Jordan,
      I sympathize with your situation. It is hard, but there are some benefits that you will keep for years including the opportunity to interact with your parents as adults – peer to peer – rather than parent and child. I hope you continue to prepare for the time you will be able to get back on your own. That day will come.
      Good Luck.

      • Jordan Rodriguez

        Yeah, one day. Thanks.

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