In this time of economic uncertainty, more young adults live with their parents than ever before, even if they previously lived on their own.
The Pew Research Center shows that living with a parent is the most common young adult living arrdangement in the U.S. for the first time on record. Half of college students plan to move home after they graduate, due to large levels of student debt.
Psychologists call these young adults “boomerang kids” as they boomerang from living on their own to living with their parents. In some cultures, it is common for extended family members to live together. In many places of the United States, however, there is a stigma attached to young adults who live with their parents.
Research on the experiences of these families shows several things that can help make the experience of adult children moving home more positive.
The first tip is to be intentional about the goals for the living arrangement. Families who view the move as a positive, intentional step forward show greater satisfaction than families that haphazardly fall into this situation. Parents need to recognize that moving home is now a normative situation, given the economic realities of this generation. Rather than believing the negative stigma surrounding a “failure to launch,” families should consider the financial advantages to sharing a household (such as paying down student debt). Both parents and their offspring need to think carefully about how they want to set up the living arrangement. All family members need to engage in “perspective taking” to consider the situation from the parents’ and the young adults’ points of view. By being upfront and intentional, families can set up a positive environment in which mutual support is achieved.
Second, families need to have clear expectations of the living arrangement. In addition to financial considerations, the quality of the parent-child relationship is key. What guidelines will the family members adopt to be sure relationships are preserved? How will disagreements be resolved? All family members need to contribute to the household, but in a mature, shared way. This is not the time for parents to treat their young adults like adolescents — curfews and assigned chores are not appropriate for young adults. Instead, think about how roommates divide house tasks, and converse with each other as equals.
Some families set up a system in which the young adults pay rent, but that money is saved and later gifted to go toward a house down payment.
Finally, family members need to articulate clear timelines. This helps reduce the stigma of living at home. Check-ins should occur at regular intervals — perhaps every three months — in which each family member reflects on whether the arrangement is working well for them. Is the child feeling stunted? Is privacy a concern? Is the child actively moving toward independence? Timelines help family members ensure expectations are being met.
In general, today’s generation of young adults have healthier relationships with their parents than previous generations did. Thus, adult children can benefit emotionally and professionally from living with their parents. Parents can discuss work-related dilemmas and provide advice — when asked.
Parents’ mental health and marital satisfaction can be hampered by children moving home, but they also can be helped. Following these three guidelines can help ensure the living arrangement is a positive experience for all family members’ well-being and life satisfaction.
To be successful, young adults need to stick to their goals. They also need to assert their adult identity by not sleeping until noon and partying late at night. Everyone needs to be careful not to revert to parent-adolescent patterns that are not appropriate for adults.
Young adults also need to respect their parents’ privacy and autonomy. It is a big change for parents when their children move home after previously living apart. With some thoughtful communication, families can make this time of their lives a positive step in the right direction.
Abby Coats is an associate professor of psychology at Westminster College in Fulton.