Boomerang Generation: Create a Positive Experience When Adult Kids Move Home

A woman helps her father make a salad.

A daughter who once moved back in with her parents and a mom whose adult child moved back home offer advice to help make the boomerang experience better.

Adults moving back in with their parents is not a new phenomenon; for decades, relationship changes, job moves, housing costs, and outstanding debt have brought generations back together under one roof. A more recent addition to that list of reasons is the economic upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Even before the pandemic, “boomeranging” was becoming more common: A 2017 Pew Research Center analysis found that a greater percentage of young adults live with mom and/or dad these days compared to young adults in previous generations.

Christina Newberry became part of the boomerang generation when she divorced at 29, and it led her to write “The Hands-On Guide to Surviving Adult Children Living at Home.” Her stay in her parents’ house had challenges ranging from a longer work commute to some communication hiccups. But she says it was worth it to have additional emotional support at a difficult time.

A Family Dynamics Consultant with Wells Fargo Private Bank, Mariana Martinez experienced the boomerang generation from a parent’s point of view. Her son moved back home for a year when he was 21 to save money so he could eventually live independently.

Here, Newberry and Martinez outline three recommendations for parents and their adult children to consider, hopefully before move-in day arrives.

1. Set a well-defined timeline

Parents and adult children should agree on the reason for the move (such as taking an unpaid internship to kick-start a career) and how long the arrangement will last.

“We set some ground rules and had a clear timeframe based on the goals he had set for himself,” Martinez says of her experience with her son. “And it worked.”

“The end goal is for the adult child to get back out again,” Newberry says. “How do you work toward that, and what positive things are you going to accomplish during this time at home?” A timeline helps create a picture of what needs to take place.

2. Agree on how household expenses and responsibilities will be divided

When adult children move back in, Newberry and Martinez agree it’s important that the kids contribute to the household in some way—whether that means financially (even if it’s just $100 a month for rent) or with responsibilities, such as picking up the groceries and cooking the evening meal.

Martinez says having children contribute to the household budget can create a sense of self-sufficiency, even if the parents don’t need the money. But she adds that this can be tricky for high-net-worth families who aren’t accustomed to having their children contribute financially.

“When you’re expecting new behaviors from your children, such as contributing in a way that they didn’t when they were younger, it can be uncomfortable and sometimes hard for parents to set those rules, particularly when there’s no financial need,” Martinez says. “The children could ask, ‘Why are you charging for rent if you really don’t need the money?’”

To help ease tension, consider working with a professional to facilitate the conversation, says Martinez. You can discuss where to look for that help with a wealth planner. “The facilitator can take the conversation about living arrangements to a deeper level and expand on it, removing the demanding and defensive kind of dialogue that often happens when parents set these new ground rules.”

3. Clarify based on your unique situation

Many personal developments can impact the expectations that families set together. For example, the household may now include a stepparent and possibly stepsiblings whose feelings should be considered. Or maybe the adult child has children or pets that would also be moving in.

It’s important to discuss what the grandparents’ role is going to be with the younger children and pets, Newberry says. Parents and adult children should also agree on behaviors that might spark unnecessary conflict if not discussed. Some examples:

  • If the adult child has a pet, what are the expectations around its behavior?
  • What are the expectations for chores like laundry and cooking meals?
  • Will boyfriends or girlfriends be allowed to spend the night (when quarantines are not in place)?

“There’s a need for conversation around expected behaviors,” Martinez says. “You should not assume that because we are family, we’re going to support each other no matter the situation. It may be true, but under what conditions?”

Despite the challenges, Newberry and Martinez say that having adult children live at home—if managed with clear expectations—can be a positive experience. “As long as everyone is respectful and follows these guidelines,” Newberry says, “it can be a really unique time to get to know each other in a different way.”