Reluctant Roommates: Living With Boomerang Kids

Laura Mitchell's picture
By Laura Mitchell on May 17, 2017

You love your children. You enjoy their company. You loved raising them and you were proud of them when they left home for college, for work, to live with friends…

And now that you have grown used to your empty nest, they’re back.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that one in three millennials—about 24 million young adults age 18-35—lived with their parents in 2015. Higher student loan debt, higher home prices and lower wages (adjusted for inflation) make setting off on their own much more challenging for these “boomerang kids” than it was for their parents.

For parents who have been enjoying their empty nest for some time, adjusting again to sharing your home and time with your grown children can be a challenge, no matter how much you love them. To meet that challenge, Thomas Milam, M.D., with Carilion Clinic Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, suggests treating the young adult moving back in more as a foreign exchange student or tenant than as your child.

Set Expectations
Setting the tone for the new way of living together may include a formal lease and a deadline for moving out in addition to interim goals, such as saving money or completing college or training courses. And just as you would charge rent to a non-family tenant, it is important to be clear about your child’s financial contributions to the household.
“Working out how much per month they should contribute to the mortgage or rent, groceries, utilities, Internet services and such is best done by showing them your bills or budget and ‘inviting’ them to ‘share’ in the expenses,” said Dr. Milam.
He recommends writing down and signing the house rules and specific terms so that everyone has the same expectations.

“Both parents and adult children can quickly slip back into old ways of living together that can easily lead to frustration and resentment,” he said. “The people who own or pay rent for the home are the ones who get to set the rules, and setting rules up front is important.”
Establish house rules up front and hold weekly household meetings to air concerns before they become grievances.
“Any reasonable adult, even if they are your adult child, should still be expected to behave and communicate like an adult,” said Dr. Milam.
Often it is the parents who have trouble adjusting to the new dynamic.
“I tell adult children that it is likely their parents will treat them like they are still about 12 years old,” he said. “Sadly, some children do like that, but generally it never works well.”
Seek Support
If taking these steps does not resolve tensions and help everyone adjust to and enjoy living together, a professional can help.
“Seeing a family therapist for a few sessions to work out problems with communication, expectations, chore-sharing, etc., can save a lot of grief and frustration,” said Dr. Milam.
Reaching out sooner rather than when issues are insurmountable can make addressing them much easier. 
“There’s no need to wait until it’s a problem to seek help,” he said.