The Emotional Side When Adult Children Move Back Home

Anger, anxiety and joy are all part of the mix when grown kids move home

Mother and daughter talking face to face
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Between a troubled economy and crushing student loan debt, grown children are moving home at ever-increasing rates. More than 14 million young adults, ages 18-24, were living at home in 2007, according to U.S. census stats. At least 60% of recent college graduates end up moving home, at least temporarily, but those numbers may take a dramatic spike as the recession deepens. An online poll by found that 77% of new college alums had moved home in 2008 - a 10% jump in just two years.

On the plus side, there is comfort in knowing you're not the only family whose empty nest has suddenly unemptied. On the other hand, this was never the plan, was it? So it's hardly surprising that a mixture of emotions - anger, anxiety and joy - flows when junior moves back home. If you're still trying to decide if this step is right for you, this "Are You Ready for a Refilled Nest?" quiz may help. But if you've already taken the plunge, it may be helpful to understand where the boomerang trend and its accompanying emotions are coming from, and the issues most likely to arise.

  • It's Not the Same World: Many parents today grew up in an era when people got married in their early 20s, when the salary of an entry level job was enough to cover at least half the rent on a reasonable sized apartment, and new grads dreamed of saving up $20,000 for a down payment on a house, not to pay off student loans. There's a huge gap today in what an entry level job - assuming you can find one - pays and what it costs to live. The average entry level job for a psychology major, for example, in 2008 was just below $31,000. That's a fine amount if you're paying off the mortgage on a house purchased in 1980, not so great if you're renting a 21st century apartment in Southern California, where the average monthly rent was $1,500. Layoffs are the norm. And it's an unusual student who doesn't graduate deeply in debt.​
  • Parenting Skills and Anxieties: It's an unusual parent who doesn't internalize the move home as some sort of judgment on his parenting skills. "If only you'd taught your child better money sense," you may think, "...insisted on that internship" or "... instilled more discipline." Give yourself a break. This is a massive societal trend, not a reflection on you or your child. Take comfort in knowing that you are supporting your child through a difficult time and that even back in 2003, 34% of the nation's young adults, ages 18 to 34, were still on the parent payroll, according to the Institute for Social Research. And avoid comparing your child with your neighbor's genius offspring - that's just demoralizing.​
  • Old Roles and New: It's easy to slip back into old roles, but it's not a healthy thing for anyone. As parents, you are entitled to enjoy your freedom, your new interests and social life, quiet home and intact retirement funds. And your grown child is entitled to be treated as an adult, a role that includes freedoms and responsibilities. Expect some bumps along the way, particularly when it comes to such childhood standards as the magically refilling refrigerator, free laundry service, and curfews. But this is also an opportunity to joyfully reconnect with your beloved, grown child and forge a new relationship. You may have just acquired a new yoga buddy.​
  • Smooth Transitions and Clear Expectations: Any new living situation brings friction, but particularly one so fraught with changing roles, anxieties and a considerable history. Don't let anxiety or irritation build up. Address those issues before they fester, and understand that most problems between new roommates - which is what you are - occur when unspoken expectations and assumptions collide. Ideally, the decision to move back home was reached together. Now sit down and discuss all the other expectations and issues: the grocery shopping, cooking, use of the family car, rent and so on. Discuss a time limit and goals. Put your agreement in writing or use a sample rental contract as a basis of discussion.