Boomerang Kids: The House Rules

Studio 5 Family & Relationships Contributor and clinical psychologist Dr. Liz Hale shares ways to keep the peace on the home front.

Adult children are “coming home,” quite often and for usually three basic reasons:

1) Economy. Unemployment is rising sending a lot of young adults packing it back home.

2) Debt. School loans, especially, are making moving back in with mom and dad enticing to help the new graduate get their finances in order.

3) Illness or divorce. About 25% (1/4) of all divorces happen within the first 5 years of marriage. Not much income has been created during this short period of time making it difficult for some young people to survive on his or her own.

While parents are often more than willing to assist both emotionally and financially during these tough times, they potentially suffer the largest risk. During the time when they should be building a substantial retirement savings account, they are picking up a child’s student loan. As parents try and do too much for their children, they get off course in planning for their own financial future, and then, interestingly enough, the burden bounces back to them down the road, needing to care for aging parents who cannot afford proper living arrangements themselves. The mental health key: have both parties become individually independent.

A viewer e-mail I received recently had in the subject line: “THEY’RE BAAAACKK!”

“Three years ago, my daughter moved out. Last week she moved back in, with a husband and baby in tow! It’s cramped in my tiny home and I find myself babysitting way too often. I want to be “Grandmother” not “Mother.” I feel I’m being taken advantage of. Help!”

While I don’t have more details than what’s printed here. My first suggestion is that it’s not too late to develop a plan of action and expectations.

Establish Action Plan & Expectations

Ensure that you and the other parties have the same expectations about your living arrangement. Ask of them what you would of any border regarding obligations, expenses, and chores. Ask, “Why are we doing this?” Is it for your child to begin their career; save money; prepare for graduate exams and school; receive respite from an abusive relationship? Or, is it for free babysitting or until a couple can afford a home? Let’s get everyone on the same page immediately. Discuss what you expect around the issues of having guests; level and type of music allowed; TV viewing times; drugs and alcohol use; parties and events; pets; child care; and respect.

Respectfully Charge Rent

This next tip is controversial; charge rent! How dare I have the audacity to suggest charging a family member rent?! I use the word “respectful” because that’s exactly what it is. It conveys the belief that “I believe in you; you have all the skills, talents, and abilities to handle adult responsibilities, starting with rent.” Many fellow experts agree that charging rent is key to a child’s development. Having a monthly financial contribution helps adult children prepare for independent living and contributes to the needed household resources.

Do not take out a home equity loan or borrow form your retirement to meet the needs of your adult children. That would be foolish. Be supportive without limiting you own financial options. That is YOUR responsibility.

This e-mail came from Steve in West Jordan:

“I love my children but I no longer want to live with them! Both of my adult sons have returned home to live and save money for homes. My wife and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum….she spoils them and I want to “grow” them. I’m ready to go find a house of my own since I’m no longer the King of my Castle!”

These are not unusual feelings; one parents resentment over the other parent’s over-involvement.

Insist Spouses Stick Together

Just like when you’re children were younger, do not let them divide and conquer. Support each other in your parental decisions. Do you remember the “sandwich technique?” When you want to talk about a sticky situation try a positive followed by the request, and the followed by another true positive. For example, “Honey, I love what a dear, loving mother you are to our boys. And, I’m concerned that we’re doing them an injustice with our high level of generosity and low level of expectations. I miss not being on the same page with you.”

Spouses on both sides of the arrangement need to stick together. When an adult child and their spouse move in, that adult child needs to remain and adult and revert to their childhood role. Spouse need to cleave to one another; you are first and foremost a spouse to your partner not a child to your parent.

Determine Time Limit & End Goal

The ultimate goal is independence, right? Set a time limit for how long it may take to establish independence.” The definition of one person’s “independent living” may be different than another’s. Are we waiting to save a million dollars, or is it when enough money for a down payment on a modest home is earned?

Keep the lines of communication open with all parties and regularly review the terms and conditions of your shared housing arrangement. Time limits can be adjusted; just be certain to keep the other party abreast of any changes or problems as they arise.

Parents (Home Owners) Rule Roost

The more generations that share a house, the more complex the situation can be. Whomever’s home we’re in trumps! The home owner or renter makes the rules. That needs to be made clear to everyone, especially grandchildren. They are used to looking to their parents to make the rules. While older parents are the executives of the household, adult children should help craft some of those rules. It needs to be a “we” arrangement. Make all rules mutual and explicit; rules about buying food, phone and computer use, as well as household chores and responsibilities. Grandparents, by the way, can check to see whether or not they are eligible for a tax credit if grandchildren have moved into their home.

Lastly, of course, what’s most important for all parties is to keep their commitments to each other. If parents and their adult children hold to their agreements and respect each other, few problems will be encountered. It can actually prove to be a very sweet time of positive memory building if handled well.

Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular Studio 5 Contributor. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit to add your thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice

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