Boomerang Children: Expect Them to Come Back


I've been an empty nester for nearly three years, but that may soon change. One of my daughters is talking about taking a "gap year" between college and medical school and the other is thinking of saving up for a move westward. So, sometime in the next year or so, there's a good possibility that one or both of my adult daughters could move back home.

That makes me part of a growing trend that many baby boomers are experiencing: boomerang children and multigenerational living.
Thankfully, both of my daughters are great kids, and my husband and I would welcome them back for a temporary stay.

And we're not alone in this. AARP reports that a recent MoneyRates.com study found that about 85 percent of the 2,000 adults surveyed said the door was open to adult kids who wanted to move back home for financial reasons. According to a Pew Research Center report, a whopping 36 percent of all 18- to 31-year-olds were living at home in 2012. Most who've experienced multigenerational living say they feel pretty good about it and very few expressed regrets.

While these arrangements have obvious benefits for kids struggling to find jobs and get on their feet, parents and kids may find it difficult to adapt to living together as adults. We know we can no longer set curfew, but is it reasonable to expect them to keep you posted on their plans, just as a courtesy? And how about keeping their things picked up off the family room floor and putting dishes in the dishwasher? Who cleans the bathrooms and takes out the trash? And, the really tricky part: do the kids contribute to household finances?

Here are some tips from AARP for making it work:

  • Talk money. AARP cautions that parents may think it is always their responsibility to care for their children, but doing so can put their own financial security at risk. You and your children should agree at the start on how they'll contribute and what they'll get in return. Experts say adult children who move back home generally should contribute something financially, whether it's paying rent, contributing toward utilities or food or paying their own transportation or cell phone expenses.
  • Explain your finances. If the kids have circumstances that make those financial contributions impossible, make sure they understand how their return affects your finances. Many of us in the sandwich generation are behind on our retirement savings and our salaries haven't kept up with inflation. If it's a strain to help out your kids, make sure they are aware of it—often they really don't know. 
  • Respect each other's lifestyles. If you are like my husband and me, your routine and lifestyle have changed since the kids left home. And your kids most certainly have changed. Try to be honest and respectful. Remember that your kids are now adults—but don't hesitate to remind them that they still need to respect you and your home. It can be difficult, especially if your home doesn't allow for a lot of privacy. You may need to plan for some privacy—for everyone's mental health and well-being.
  • Get out the chore chart. Well, maybe you won't be giving out gold stars like you did when they were little, but you can expect the kids to do their share of the work. It's important to set expectations at the start—and maintain a dialogue. I know from experience that our house starts to feel cluttered as soon as my daughters come home, even for a short visit. Clothes, shoes, water bottles, dishes, shopping bags and all kinds of stuff starts to accumulate. This will be an ongoing dialogue.
  • Assess the benefits. Talk about how the arrangement can be beneficial for each of you. The kids will obviously be saving money. I could see some benefits if I could get them to regularly empty the dishwasher and vacuum the dog hair.
  • Your kids' kids. If your child has children—or even pets—that adds another element to the mix and more to work out. Again, talk about it up front and make sure expectations are clear. If you want to help with child (or pet) care, discuss what your role will be. If you prefer not to, talk about your expectations and under what circumstance you would try to help out. 
  • Discuss how long the arrangement will last. Talk about why they've come home and what seems like a reasonable amount of time for them to accomplish their goals (saving money, finding a job, going back to school, etc.) Most parents surveyed by MoneyRates.com who said they'd let an adult child move in thought that the move should be for a year or less.

My husband used to joke that as soon as the kids went to college we were changing the locks on the doors. I guess it's not time to call the locksmith yet.

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