When adult kids come knocking, there are ways to make living at home workable.
The first thing to keep in mind is that it’s very easy for families to slip back into old roles, but the fact is that both parents and kids have changed,” says Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, an author who specializes in family relationships. “Both parties need to realize that they’re both different people; they’ve all grown and changed, and they need to talk about the rules of the game.”
The “game” Nemzoff refers to happens when adult children move back home after having been out of the house for a while. For the Millennial generation, this phenomenon has become more and more common.
Colloquially referred to as “boomerang kids,” Millennials who move back home comprise 29 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds surveyed in a Pew Research Center (PRC) study of 2,048 total nationwide participants.
In addition to the study, PRC analyzed data from the 2010 census and came to the conclusion that the number of Americans living in multigenerational family households is the highest it has been since the 1950s. The Center cites the recession and struggling economy as reasons for this trend.
The majority — 78 percent — of adult children living at home say they do not have enough money to “lead the kind of life they want,” according to the PRC.
In the words of a mother who has her adult son living at home: “It was logical for him to move back home because of the money.” After finishing law school at Michigan State University two years ago, Marla Weiss’ son Jordan moved home to West Bloomfield.
“My original plan was to move out of Michigan, but that didn’t happen,” said Jordan, 26, who has a job, but not enough money yet to live on his own. “We’re all on the same page in terms of how much rent costs and why I’m not moving out. They’ve left it up to me to move out when I want.”
Nemzoff strongly urges parents and their kids to discuss the logistics of the living arrangement prior to the move. “Parents need to make their wishes known — right down to the minutiae,” she said. “If they’re used to a kitchen with no dishes in the sink, they need to make that clear.
“Really being clear about the physical and social expectations of the situation will make everyone’s lives easier,” Nemzoff emphasized.
For the Weisses, there was not much ahead-of-time discussion. As Marla Weiss said, “We’ve never had much trouble with our kids. We followed the same rule we had when they were younger: We trust them until they give us reason not to.
“It’s worked pretty well,” she said happily, “and I know every parent-child relationship is different, but it’s just not a problem here.”
The Rosensteins of Troy had their son Sam move home after graduating from the University of Michigan four years ago.
“I don’t know if my experience is typical because I get along with my parents more than most people I know,” said Sam, 26, who is working and saving money. “I wasn’t thrilled about going from a more independent situation to a less independent one, but I knew it was the best thing for me to do at the time.”
His mother, Karen, said, “I welcomed him home; I like having as many members of my family together as possible. I think it’s a great solution until he has enough money to live on his own.”
Prior to Sam moving home, Karen said they had a few conversations about how the living situation would go, “but it wasn’t a big deal.”
Sam said, “It’s important to have your own space. Personally, if I’m in my room, my parents generally don’t bother me there.
“Also, for someone who’s considering moving home, it’s important for their sanity that their parents understand they are adults. My parents are pretty good about not needing to know where I am at all times, but sometimes I need to remind them that I am indeed 26 years old.”
In terms of taking care of things around the house, Sam said, “I was always expected to do chores when I came home from school, so that wasn’t a change, and there was no discussion of a curfew or anything like that.”
Karen explained, “He’s an adult now, and it’s always helpful to respect that.
“I try to think of things as ‘Is this something I would talk to him about if he was living in another city?’ For me, that helps to keep me in the right mindset of how my role in his life has shifted.”
Over the course of the time an adult child lives at home, Nemzoff suggests doing a “regular tune-up of the situation so you don’t have a crisis.”
“Having a plan to talk about the situation every month or so is a good idea. This way, the child isn’t being nagged at every turn, but the parents have a chance to voice their concerns,” she said.
“So, once a month you can say, ‘OK, I thought I wouldn’t mind if you came in at four in the morning, but it’s disturbing my sleep.’ By having a scheduled time to talk about things that aren’t going well, the situation is much more controlled and livable,” Nemzoff advised.
“Also, if there are jobs to be done around the house and it’s been decided that your child will do them, leave them a note and assume it’ll get done — don’t automatically assume that you’ll be left doing the chore.
“This reframing is important; make sure you don’t put things in a negative light from the start.”
For a mother and daughter from Farmington Hills who wished to remain anonymous, this advice from Nemzoff is particularly applicable. The daughter, a recent graduate of MSU who moved home in the past month, said, “It seems like my parents have really low expectations for how I’m going to act while I’m home; it is a little upsetting they don’t trust me more.”
Her mother said, “We do have our misgivings because of past experiences with her lack of follow-through and with keeping to basic house rules.
“But we’re glad to be able to give her the opportunity to have a place to look for a job and save money,” she added.
With the experience of moving home fresh in her mind, the daughter said, “I would definitely suggest looking at each other as adults that are living together and get rid of your parent-child relationship. Obviously, I’m still the child, but the dynamics are different because I had an independent life for four years, and I need to be an adult in the relationship, too.”
It is not just the kids in boomerang situations who enjoyed freedom while at school — the parents often enjoy their empty nest. The Farmington Hills mother said, “After several years as empty nesters with our kids in college, we’ve enjoyed the freedom of it just being the two of us. It’s been good for our relationship, and having our daughter move back home will change the dynamic.
“I’m hoping for a mutual understanding of how we can live together easily, respectfully and without a lot of friction,” she added.
Unforeseen friction can come from both the parent’s and the child’s time commitments. For the kid moving back home, they may have recent memories of visiting home during the holidays when their parents made sure to spend time with them, and vice versa for the parents.
Nemzoff said, “One of the biggest complaints I hear from people in this situation is that their child never talks to them. And this might sound odd, but if you expect some sort of conversation, you have to make that clear.
“It’s very important for kids to know that parents are people. So, just as they would ask a friend how their day was, parents want to be treated like that, too. Often, parents whose adult children move home feel like they’re a convenient rest stop.”
She explained that kids often do not realize their parents’ lives have changed since they moved out. “Kids need to understand that they’re not the center of their parents’ lives anymore. Often, the child feels pushed aside because their parents have other responsibilities now and it’s hard for the kid to realize that.”
“Do not panic every time there’s a wrinkle,” Nemzoff said. “There will always be wrinkles.”
By Marielle Temkin, JN Intern
Tips For Living With Your Boomerang Kids
Quick tips from Dr. Ruth Nemzoff of Brookline, Mass., an expert in parenting adult children and author of Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children and Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family.
• Remember both parents and kids have changed — try not to automatically slip back into your old roles.
• You need to talk about expectations ahead of time. Are they paying rent? How long can they live at the house? Are their friends allowed over? Can they leave dirty dishes in the sink? Expectations, right down to the minutiae, need to be made clear to avoid miscommunications.
• To avoid nagging and over-monitoring, set a plan for when you’ll meet to talk about the situation. That way you can say, ‘I thought I wouldn’t mind you coming in at 4 a.m., but it’s disturbing my sleep.’ Think of it as a regular tune-up so you don’t have a crisis.
• For the parents, if you ask your child to do something around the house, try to assume they will actually do it. Don’t jump straight to the negative and assume you’ll be the one doing it.
• When it comes to relationships — either a child’s or a parent’s — politeness always works.
• You can never make anything too clear. Have frank discussions.
• Assume good motives. For kids, their parent might not be prying, but rather just showing interest. When you find yourself framing things negatively, try to think of it in a positive light.