It used to be embarrassing for young adults to have to move back in with their parents. But according to a 2018 Pew Research Center report, today, it’s almost par for the course. In 2014, living with parents became the single most common living arrangement for adults aged 18 to 34. The media has even dubbed millennials the “boomerang generation” because they’re so much likelier than other generations to end up back where they came from.
The main reason so many young people are staying with parents these days is simple: money. Millennials face a tougher array of financial challenges than previous generations, including stagnant wages, massive student loan debt, and steep housing costs. And in 2020, just as the labor market was finally starting to improve, the COVID-19 pandemic knocked the entire economy for a loop, sending unemployment rates soaring.
For a recent college graduate with no full-time job lined up, moving back in with family can be a sound financial move. It certainly was for me back in 1995, when I was a freshly minted graduate with a not-so-marketable English degree. Spending a year with my folks allowed me to keep a roof over my head and even build up some emergency savings until I could find a home of my own.
However, I’d be lying if I said I was thrilled about living with my parents again. It sometimes felt like instead of moving on after college, I’d gone backward, reverting to being a kid in my childhood home. And it probably wasn’t much fun for them either, as they were figuring out how to deal with a daughter who clearly wasn’t a child anymore but also wasn’t ready to live as an independent adult.
To make myself feel more like an adult in my parents’ home, I made a point of contributing to the household, paying a nominal amount for rent, and helping with chores around the house. As it turns out, this is just what experts recommend today for college graduates moving back in with their parents. By reestablishing your relationship with them on an adult footing, you can avoid the mutual resentment, low self-esteem, and habits of dependency that plague many young adults in this situation.
Effects of Moving Back Home
Sharing a home with your parents as an adult can be a challenge, but it’s not all bad. A 2012 Pew report on the boomerang generation found that overall, adult children who lived with parents were about as happy with their family life and living situation as their peers who lived on their own. The arrangement has its problems, but it also has upsides to balance them out.
The financial benefits of moving back home after college — at least in the short term — are obvious. Even if you’re paying rent to your parents, a single room at their house is still cheaper than an entire apartment. Living with parents makes it possible to get by on a smaller income or save more money toward long-term financial goals.
For instance, a 2019 report from Zillow found that saving for a down payment on a house is a more significant challenge for millennials than for previous generations. Between rising home prices and declining real wages, a 2018 Zillow report noted millennials who set aside 10% of their income toward this goal would need 7.2 years to reach it — 1.5 years more than their parents in 1988. However, the 2019 report notes that those who live rent-free with their parents can shave nearly three years off this total, potentially becoming homeowners sooner.
Unfortunately, a 2019 Urban Institute report shows that for many adults living with parents, it doesn’t work out that way. It found that people who lived with their parents between the ages of 25 and 34 were less likely to be homeowners 10 years later than those who rented during those years. In fact, after 10 years, over 30% still weren’t living on their own.
It’s not clear whether living with their parents caused these young people’s financial woes or resulted from them. A 2017 Pew analysis found that young adults were more likely to live with parents if they lacked a college degree, and less-educated workers also tend to earn less. Thus, it’s likely that these young people moved in with their folks — or never left — because they weren’t doing well financially, and not the other way around. But even if living with parents didn’t cause their money problems, it clearly didn’t solve them either.
Mental & Emotional Effects
For young adults, moving back in with parents can be a frustrating experience. They can feel smothered by parents who treat them like children, requiring them to be home by midnight or coming into their bedrooms without permission. In turn, young adults can respond by regressing to childish behaviors, such as expecting their parents to clean up after them. This dynamic isn’t healthy for either party.
Even when parents and children treat each other like adults, being dependent on their parents is often difficult for the younger generation. In a 2019 survey by Merrill Lynch, 75% of young adults said being an adult means being financially independent from your parents, so failing to meet this goal can damage their self-esteem. They can also feel guilty about being a burden on their parents and anxious about what their future holds. A 2018 German study published in Society and Mental Health found that young adults who move back in with their parents are significantly more likely to have symptoms of depression than their peers who live independently.
Effects on Relationships
Living with your parents as an adult can cause damage to your relationships — both with them and with your peers. It’s challenging to bring a date home or even hang out at home with friends when you’re sharing your home with parents and possibly younger siblings. Even spending time with friends away from home becomes more complicated if your parents insist you be home by a specific time or call them if you’re going to be out late. And on top of that, young adults living with parents often have tight budgets that make going out with friends hard to afford.
Sharing a roof can also put a strain on your relationship with your parents. You may feel resentful if your parents restrict your behavior in ways you consider inappropriate. And your parents may feel resentful if they think you aren’t pulling your weight at home. Yet at the same time, living with parents can also strengthen your relationship. It’s much easier to stay close when you see each other every day than when your only contact is an occasional phone call.
In the 2012 Pew survey, young adults living with their parents said the effect on their relationship had been more good than bad. Over one-third said their relationship had improved since they moved in, while only 18% said it had grown worse.
However, these results differ for people at different ages and stages of life. Among the youngest adults, between the ages of 18 and 24, 41% said living with parents had strengthened their relationship, while only 12% said it had worsened it. By contrast, those aged 25 to 34 were as likely to say the effect on their relationship had been negative as positive. The same was true for adults who moved back home with their parents after having lived on their own previously.
Guidelines for Adult Children Moving Back Home
If financial circumstances are forcing you to share a home with your parents, there are ways to maximize the benefits of this living arrangement while mitigating the problems. It’s easier to get along well with your parents — and feel better about yourself — if you make a point of thinking and behaving like an adult rather than reverting to your childhood habits. And by acting like an adult, you encourage your parents to treat you like one.
This approach worked for me decades ago, as it did for other adult children who’ve shared their experiences living with parents on sites like Apartment Therapy and Business Insider. And you can implement all the strategies we found helpful.
Have the Right Attitude
First, remind yourself there’s nothing wrong with living with your parents. In many parts of the world, adult children don’t typically leave their parents’ homes at all until they’re ready to get married and start families of their own. And even in the United States, there are more young adults living this way than in any other situation. It’s perfectly normal and no cause for embarrassment.
Instead of being disappointed with your living situation, try to cultivate a sense of gratitude for it. Consider how much worse off you’d be if you were fresh out of college with no steady job, substantial student loan debt, and no place to stay. Simply having a roof over your head at a price you can afford is no small blessing. And being able to share a home with people who love you is an even bigger one.
Respect Your Parents’ Rules
When you’re living in your parents’ home, you have to be willing to live by their rules. After all, they’re giving up some of their own freedom, and in some cases making financial sacrifices too, by letting you stay with them. The least you can do in return is to show them the same respect you would to any other roommate.
For instance, if your parents want you to be home by a particular time at night, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t trust you. It’s simply that the house is their home too, and they don’t want to be woken up in the middle of the night when you arrive home with a group of noisy friends. At the same time, they’d rather not stay up late themselves worrying about where you are and whether you’re OK. If they ask you to be in by 1am, think of it less as a curfew and more as a courtesy to your roommates.
Likewise, it’s within reason for your parents to set rules about when you can have friends over, how loudly you can play your music, smoking or drinking at home, leaving a mess in the bathroom, or borrowing their car. What you do outside the house is your own business. But they have a right to decide what’s allowed in their own home.
Pull Your Weight
Put your relationship with your parents on an equal footing by contributing something to maintaining the household. If you have any income, it’s only fair to chip in a portion of it to help cover the cost of your room and board. Even if it’s not anywhere close to the market price of rent, it shows you consider yourself a breadwinner and not a freeloader. If your parents won’t accept a regular monthly payment from you, you can still contribute by buying a bag of groceries now and then.
Even if you can’t afford to contribute financially, you can still pitch in to help out with household chores like cooking, yardwork, or laundry. If you make your parents’ workload lighter, your presence becomes an asset to them rather than a burden. At the very least, keep your room clean, and clean up after yourself in shared spaces such as the bathroom. If you routinely leave a mess behind and expect your parents to clean up after you, you can hardly be surprised if they resent it.
According to the 2012 Pew survey, a majority of young people living with their parents think this guideline is reasonable. Nearly all of them — 96% — say they routinely help with chores in their parents’ house, 75% say they contribute to household expenses, and 35% pay some amount of rent to their parents.
Pro tip: If you’re eating groceries that your parents provide, offer to help do some of the grocery shopping to replenish the pantry. If you don’t enjoy going to the grocery store, you can use Instacart to have them delivered to the house.
Spend Time Together
One of the best ways to strengthen any relationship is simply to spend more time together. During the year I spent with my parents after college, my relationship with them was probably the closest one I had. Similarly, Laura Mueller, who spent seven months living with her parents after a breakup, writes on Moving.com that she has great memories of the time she spent hanging out with them.
Ways to enjoy quality time with parents include:
- Family Meals. Eat dinner together as a family. Ask each other how your days went, and share stories about your friends and your plans. Afterward, prolong the family time by helping out with the dishes.
- Shared Activities. Instead of spending every night out with friends, set aside one evening a week for a family game night or movie night. Go out for walks together, perhaps with the family dog. Join them for a snack at a local coffee shop or ice cream parlor. Or since you’re helping out with chores anyway, do tasks like yardwork together.
- Checking In. If your work schedule doesn’t sync well with your parents’, regular family dinners or shared activities may not be an option. However, you can at least find a few minutes each day just to check in with each other. Let them know what you’re up to and how you’re feeling, and ask the same about them. These little shared moments remind them you still think of them as family and not just your landlords.
Spend Time Apart
Although it’s good to spend some time with your parents, you don’t want to cut yourself off from your friends and outside activities. Mueller recommends keeping your previous routine as intact as you reasonably can. Continue your regular trips to the gym and evenings with friends, and go on dates. You’ll feel much better about living with your parents if you don’t have to sacrifice your social life.
Of course, when you’ve just left college, you don’t necessarily have an existing routine to stick to. That was my biggest problem during my year with my parents. My friends from high school and college all lived far away, and I wasn’t sure how to make new ones.
To deal with this problem, Dylan Love of Business Insider recommends looking for new activities in your local area. When he moved back to his hometown after seven years in New York City, he joined a chess club and enrolled in a twice-weekly language class to get out of the house once in a while.
Talk Things Through
No matter how much of an effort you make to get along with your parents, it’s inevitable that you’ll have disagreements once in a while. When that happens, the best thing to do is talk it out like adults. Retreating to your room to sulk like you did in childhood won’t resolve anything, and it will make your parents more likely to treat you like a child. Instead, approach your parents openly about any issues you’re having and work on resolving them together.
Dealing with problems is easier if you address them when they first arise. The longer you put off talking about them, the more resentment can build up on both sides. Scheduling a regular weekly meeting with your parents to talk about how you all think things are going gives you a chance to air any grievances before they have a chance to fester.
One exception to this rule is if you have an ongoing difference of opinion with your parents that you know you can’t resolve with a discussion, such as differing political views. Getting into repeated hostile political arguments with them will make your relationship weaker, not stronger. In this case, the best thing you can do is agree to disagree. Acknowledge that this is one area where you’re not going to change each other’s minds, and simply do your best to avoid the subject.
Have an Exit Strategy
One of the most unnerving things about moving in with your parents is the fear you could be stuck there for life. So for the sake of your sanity — and that of your parents — you need a plan to make sure that doesn’t happen. Try to move in with a plan for when you’ll be ready to move out and find your own apartment.
Think about what specific goals you need to reach before you can move into a place of your own. For instance, when I moved in with my parents after college, I planned to move out as soon as I found both a full-time job and an apartment I could afford on my starting salary.
If you’re currently thinking of your goals in vague terms like “saving money,” try to narrow it down to something more concrete. Try to come up with a specific amount you need to save to move into your own place. For example, you know you should keep three to six months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund. So you might decide to move out once you have enough to cover your rent, food, and other bills for six months, plus an extra one or two months’ worth for a security deposit. With this amount socked away, you don’t risk ending up back at your parents’ door if you face another financial setback.
Along with your money goal, it’s a good idea to set a time frame. For instance, you could decide you want to be out of your parents’ house within a year. With that deadline in mind, you can figure out how much money you need to set aside each month to reach your goal on time. Knowing your stay under your parents’ roof has a fixed end date will make it easier on both you and them.
The key to getting along with your parents while living in their home is respect — and it works in both directions. By cooperating with their rules and requests, you show respect for them. And by doing your share of the work and paying your share of the expenses, you encourage them to respect you as a responsible adult. Putting yourself on equal footing can make your stay with your folks more pleasant for everyone.
However, you shouldn’t let yourself get too comfortable. Your sojourn with your parents should be a stepping stone to independent adult life, not a way to run from it. By letting you stay with them temporarily, your parents are helping prepare you for financial independence in the long run. You can return the favor by using their helping hand to pull yourself up — not pulling them down with you.
Have you lived in a multigenerational home? What advice can you offer others in the same situation?