Graduating from college used to be a rite of passage — not just for students but also for their parents. Watching your kid cross that stage to receive a diploma meant your job as a parent was done. You’d successfully raised your child to adulthood, and now they were ready to start life on their own.
But nowadays, parents heading home from that graduation ceremony are likely to find themselves bringing their offspring back home to live with them for a year or more. According to a 2016 Pew analysis, more 18- to 34-year-olds Americans shared a home with parents in 2014 than lived in any other type of household — on their own, with a romantic partner, or with roommates. Compared to previous generations, millennials are waiting longer to get married and are also graduating from college with more student loan debt. For them, moving back home until they find their financial footing makes sense.
For their parents, however, it can be more worrisome. As your kid settles back into their old room, you may wonder how long they’ll be there and how this will affect your finances. Does having a college graduate still living under your roof mean you’ll have to keep looking after them for life?
Effects of Your Kids Moving Back Home
Studies show that many parents’ fears about having their adult children at home are somewhat overblown. However, they’re not entirely groundless. Sharing a home with your kids most likely won’t derail your finances and could even improve them. However, emotionally speaking, it can be a significant source of unhappiness and tension — for them as well as for you.
Financially speaking, having your adult children move back home has both pros and cons. If they pay you rent, that’s a source of extra income for your household. But if they don’t, they’re merely an additional burden on your resources. Paying to support them can reduce the amount you’re able to save for retirement, and having to provide space for them can prevent you from downsizing to save money.
According to a 2012 Pew report, having parents and adult children under one roof can be both helpful and harmful for the family finances. In 2012, the median income for multigenerational households was higher than for other households, mainly because these households typically had more people earning income. However, on a per-person basis, their median income was slightly lower.
On the plus side, both young and older adults in this living arrangement are less likely to live in poverty than those in other types of households. Pew says that’s probably because having multiple earners in the home serves as a safety net. If one person loses a job, it doesn’t cut off the household’s only source of income.
Mental & Emotional Effects
One benefit of welcoming adult children back into your home is that you put off all the problems of empty nest syndrome. Many parents experience a deep sense of sadness when the last of their kids leaves home and they find themselves on their own. They face an identity crisis as they let go of the parenting role that’s occupied so much of their attention for years. They can also feel worried about the children who are no longer under their care and guilt about not having spent more time with them.
However, having an adult child move back home can create negative feelings as well. You may feel concerned about your child’s future and worry about how long you’ll have to continue providing support. You might even fear that by giving your child a home, you’re actually holding them back, making it too easy for them to slack off on finding a job.
For most parents, the stress of bringing an adult chick back into the nest is more than the stress of having it empty. A 2018 study by the Institute for Family Studies found that, as a group, parents with adult children living at home are less happy than empty nesters. Similarly, a European study published in PLOS One in 2020 found that senior citizens with adult children are happier than their peers with no children — but only if those children no longer live with them.
Effects on Relationships
Sharing a home with your adult children can put a strain on your relationship. It’s easy to fall into the same familiar roles you had when they were young — doing all the shopping, cooking, and laundry while expecting them to obey a curfew and ask permission before inviting friends over. Then you feel resentful because they’re not doing their share, while they feel resentful at being restricted.
Yet having your kids at home can also help you grow closer. Because you see them every day, you talk more often and are more aware of what’s going on in their lives.
For many families, the positive effects of sharing a home cancel out the negative ones. In the 2012 Pew survey, 34% of young adults said living with their parents had improved their relationship, while only 18% said it worsened it. Younger adults ages 18 to 24 were most likely to report a stronger relationship with their parents after moving in with them, while 25- to 34-year olds were equally likely to report positive and negative effects. (Pew did not ask the parents for their opinions about their relationships with their adult children.)
How to Handle Living With Adult Children
For some parents, learning their kids will be with them longer is excellent news. For others, it evokes a sense of dread: “Will this be like having a messy teenager in the house again? Will they treat me like hotel staff? And most important, will my kids ever leave?”
According to psychiatrists and other experts in family health, the answers to all these questions are largely up to you. By taking the right attitude with your adult children and setting appropriate ground rules, they say, you can head off major problems and make your time with your children go more smoothly. And you can also ensure their stay with you doesn’t last forever.
Don’t Be Alarmed
It’s tempting to think a child moving back home has somehow failed at life. After all, when you were young, finding a job and an affordable apartment wasn’t so hard, so it seems like a kid who can’t do the same must just be lazy.
However, it’s important to remember that the world has changed a lot since then. The Economic Policy Institute reported in 2019 that about 1 in 20 young college graduates is unemployed, and 1 in 10 is underemployed, working at a job that doesn’t require a college degree. Dr. Gene Beresin, a staff child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Rand Spero, president of Street Smart Financial, writing for The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, stress that in today’s economy, it’s quite common for college graduates to spend some time living with their parents.
Bryn Jessup, a mental health expert interviewed by Psych Central, adds that it’s normal for young adults to be hesitant about diving into the world of adult responsibilities. However, by age 30, nearly all young adults are living on their own. So the fact that your kids need a transition period to full independence doesn’t mean they’ll never get there.
Treat Adult Children as Adults
In the 1991 film “Father of the Bride,” when the lead character’s grown daughter announces she’s getting married, he immediately pictures her as a 7-year-old making the same announcement. This whimsical scene makes a serious point: No matter how old your kids are, it’s always somewhat difficult to see them as adults. Maybe you can manage it when they’re away from home, but when they’re back in their childhood bedrooms, it’s easy to forget they’re no longer little kids who need tucking in at night.
However, this attitude isn’t healthy for them or you. If you try to impose the same rules you did when they were teenagers — such as insisting they be in bed by 11pm — it’s only natural for them to feel offended. Then they’re upset with you for making unreasonable rules, you’re upset with them for defying you, and no one is happy.
Jessup urges you to give an adult child more freedom than they had during their teen years. In particular, don’t manage their life, keeping tabs on what they’re doing every minute of every day and offering unsolicited advice on everything from their job search to their love life. As long as it doesn’t interfere with the family, Jessup says, what your grown children do outside the home is their own business.
Jeffrey Griffith, an education and career specialist also interviewed by Psych Central, agrees. He adds that trying to make decisions for adult children does them no favors in the long run. In his words, “You need to step back and let them succeed and fail on their own.”
Set Ground Rules
Both you and your child will have an easier time getting along if you let them know precisely what you expect from them while they’re living in your home. You can’t assume they know what’s acceptable and what isn’t because your expectations could be completely different from theirs. Spelling out the rules in advance helps you avoid clashes.
For guidance on how to do this, AARP interviewed Deborah Owens, co-author of “A Purse of Your Own: The Easy Guide to Financial Security”; Christina Newberry, author of “The Hands-On Guide to Surviving Adult Children Living at Home”; and personal finance columnist Lynnette Khalfani-Cox. They all recommend setting down all your house rules in a written, signed contract.
Jessup makes the same recommendation but adds that this shouldn’t simply be a document in which you lay down the law for your adult child. Instead, you and they should negotiate together to agree on what’s reasonable. They’re more likely to stick to the terms of your agreement if they had a hand in creating it.
Topics for you and your child to negotiate include:
- Privacy. Everyone needs some space to themselves. Both you and your grown child need to set clear boundaries for yourselves and agree to respect them. For instance, you might all agree to knock before entering someone’s room, leave personal mail untouched, and avoid eavesdropping on phone conversations. If either party has trouble remembering to respect a closed door, invest in a set of door locks.
- Possessions. Along similar lines, you and your offspring need to agree about how or whether you intend to share personal belongings. That includes the house itself and anything they might be inclined to borrow, such as cars and sports equipment. For instance, you might say they can borrow your car only if they ask first, and they can’t take it more than 50 miles from home.
- Shared Spaces. Talk about what level of neatness you expect each other to maintain in spaces you all use, such as the kitchen or bathroom. If your child has lived on their own before, you might also ask them to put some of their things in storage rather than cluttering up the house.
- Chores. It’s only fair to expect your kid to help with household chores while they’re in your home. Your agreement with them should outline exactly which household duties are their responsibility. Possibilities include cleaning their own room, doing their own laundry, and doing a certain share of the family’s cooking, cleaning, yardwork, and home repairs.
- Work. If your child isn’t employed now, you have a right to insist that they at least make a sincere effort to look for work. If they’re having trouble finding a position in their chosen field, it’s not unreasonable for you to ask them to take a part-time job in the meantime to help cover their expenses.
- Money. Make it clear that your home is a no-freeloading zone, and you are not an ATM. Agree on an amount for your child to pay each week or month as their contribution to the household expenses. Require them to pay this sum on time like any other bill, and don’t give in to any requests for extra money.
- Guests. Talk about whether and when your child can bring friends over to the house. Agree on such details as how many people they can invite, what time they have to leave, and whether they need to notify you ahead of time.
- Behavior at Home. Hash out other details of what your kid can and can’t do in your home. For instance, agree on whether it’s OK to come home late at night and whether you expect them to call you if they’re going to be out later than expected. Also, decide whether behavior such as drinking or smoking is allowed in the house.
Set an End Date
There’s one more vital detail to spell out, perhaps in your agreement itself: when you expect your kid to move out. Newberry stresses that you can’t simply assume they’ll leave “when the time is right.” With no clear end date, it will always be easier for them to stay than to make an effort to find a place of their own.
Griffith recommends telling your child you’re only willing to keep them in your home for a fixed amount of time — say, six months or a year. That gives them a firm deadline to become fully self-supporting.
It can also be helpful for your child to figure out the exact amount of money they’ll need to meet this goal. For instance, they might need to save up enough for a security deposit, three to six months’ worth of rent, and some extra to cover food and other living expenses. That way, even if they lose their job, they’ll be able to support themselves until they find another. They can use local real estate listings to figure out how much this comes to in dollars.
Having both a dollar figure and a timeline can make it easier for your adult child to plan their way toward independence. For instance, if they know they need to save up $5,700 in one year, that means they’ll need to set aside $475 each month to meet their goal.
When you agree to treat each other with respect, having your grown children at home can be a rewarding experience. It’s a chance to get to know each other all over again — not just as parent and child, but as adults. You can meet the adult your child has become, and they can relate to your dreams and struggles in a way they couldn’t before.
But no matter how enjoyable this time together is, it shouldn’t last forever. Your job as a parent isn’t to share a life with your children. It’s to teach them the life skills they need to build a life of their own. When you finally see your chick leave the nest and fly, you’ll know you’ve done your job right.
Have you ever shared a home with an adult child or lived with your parents as an adult? What strategies did you use to make it work?