Just like when a mother bird releases her babies from the nest, parents think that once their son or daughter leaves for college, their child has entered a new era. We pull away from their dorm, misty-eyed yet excited for their transition into adulthood. Then, four years later, we find ourselves moving boxes back into the house, feeling like we’ve somehow failed as parents.
If this has happened to you, don’t worry; a child returning home doesn’t necessarily constitute bad parenting! What’s more, the practice of adult children—often referred to as “boomerang kids”— moving home after attending college or pursuing jobs is quite prevalent, with a record 21.6 million boomerang kids in the U.S. alone.
Unique situations exist, but there are several reasons for this trend. General declines in employment and marriage, as well as a rise in college enrollment for young people who’ve been out in the working world for a while, all contribute to this phenomenon. And on top of that, it will take years to fully recover from the economic downturn which has left college grads facing scarce job prospects and a difficult housing market while needing to repay student loans
When an Adult Child Returns Home
For the adult child, while having a place to live is, of course, a good thing, moving home also has potential repercussions; it can impede momentum, self-esteem, and confidence. It can also lead to falling back into negative or co-dependent behaviors. Parents can be negatively affected as well: emotionally, mentally, and financially. And siblings can be impacted by any negativity in the home.
But living with a boomerang kid doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Rather, it can be a constructive learning opportunity for your adult child—and for you. It’s an opportunity for you to be an example of the skills she needs to emulate in order for her to achieve independence. And it’s a chance for everyone in the household to develop new patterns of relating to one another.
Here are four tips that will help you manage the transition from being an empty-nester to having your adult child living at home again.
- Make sure your child knows that this is temporary. Discuss together the reasons your child would like to return home. Is it just until they land a full-time job? Find a roommate? Save for a down payment? If there isn’t a specific reason attached to your child’s living at home, it will be easy for the original objective to be forgotten about. Come up with a realistic, attainable timeline for him to meet his objective, and stick to it.
- Set healthy boundaries. Before your child moves back home, discuss with them what’s acceptable and what isn’t—then put those boundaries in writing. Think about any unacceptable past behavior, such as not doing chores or playing video games for hours, so you can hedge against those risks prior to your child’s arrival. Setting boundaries early on helps prevent the reemergence of negative, co-dependent behaviors down the road.(EDITOR’S NOTE: You can download a free living agreement template by clicking here!)
- Enforce those boundaries. Parents must be prepared to enforce the boundaries they’ve established. If you know that, for whatever reason, you can’t enforce the necessary boundaries, then you should seriously reconsider allowing your child to move back home.
- Avoid enabling behavior. Everything a parent does is a form of communication with his or her child. That’s why parents have to be mindful of what you’re saying with your actions. For example, if you constantly find yourself cleaning up after your son or washing his dirty clothes, you are effectively telling him that you don’t believe he can take care of himself—and that you will continue to satisfy his daily needs. He’s a responsible adult, so he should be treated like one.
Never forget that your child is an adult with the autonomy to make choices and accept the consequences. His or her choices are a big part of what led to the return home. Yes, growing up is hard. It’s natural for your child to struggle a bit. Remember, though, that part of supporting your child—and helping them launch into adulthood successfully—is knowing when to step back and encourage independence.
About Matthew Arrington
Matthew Arrington is the executive director and co-founder of Forte Strong, the world’s first failure-to-launch program for men who struggle to leave their parents’ home or find it difficult to become independent. Forte Strong uses a proprietary coaching model to help students find purpose and direction, guide parents and families in empowering their sons, and ultimately create a healthier family dynamic. Matthew currently resides in sunny St. George, Utah.