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Family & Relationships

What to Do When Your Empty Nest Refills

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They’re known as the “boomerang” generation. They leave home for college, graduate and then boomerang back home to live with their parents, refilling that empty nest.

According to a Pew Research Center study that analyzed U.S. Census data, young adults today are more likely to be living with their parents than in another arrangement. “In 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household,” reads the report.

Susan Newman, Ph.D., says that if this situation hits home with you (literally), it’s important to remember that the adult child moving back in will be different from the child who left home a few years ago. Newman is a social psychologist and author of Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re) learning to Live Together Happily, which shares advice on handling issues that may arise when parents and their adult children live together. She says that both parents and kids should try and make this change a positive experience for all involved.

Being home provides a comfort zone to get feet on the ground — to save for a place to live, to get more education, to regroup after a personal crisis like a split with a partner or roommate,” Newman says. “On the plus side, parents get to know their adult children as adults and children get to know their parents as people, not just mom and dad. They discover new interests and share experiences as grownups and strengthen life long bonds.”

She shared what she considers the “Big 3” for navigating this new living arrangement:

  1. Agree on an exit plan early on. While you don’t need to establish a “must-move-out-by” date, it helps to have a discussion about a reasonable deadline to make the transition, says Newman. That way, your son or daughter will have something to work towards. “Without it, you run the risk of enabling and allowing them to coast along and take advantage of the good things you provide. A “goal date” will urge your child toward career success and independence,” she says.
  2. Establish rules and boundaries. Parents should have a frank discussion with their child about expectations when they move back in. Should the adult child call if they won’t be home by a certain time? Are there concerns about drinking or overnight guests? Is the son or daughter expected to pay rent and/or help with household duties? Talk about these issues early, before habits are formed or feelings get hurt. “No one’s a mind reader,” says Newman. “Parents need to be honest about what they expect from their child.”
  3. Don’t fall into “the trap.” “Slipping back into old mom-dad/child roles is one of the biggest pitfall parents and adult children face,” says Newman. It can be unproductive, she says, to treat your son or daughter like a child.  If your son or daughter is working, let them pay for what they can. Talk to them about contributing to household duties, like doing their own laundry. And give them the space to try and solve problems or address challenges on their own.

While these are important rules of the road, Newman also shared a number of other tips to abide by, including:

  • Assign jobs/chores so you don’t feel put upon.
  • Don’t let money color the relationship.
  • Don’t depend on your child to become your social partner.
  • Understand that if your son or daughter comes back home, it doesn’t mean that you failed as a parent or that your child failed as a person.
  • Accept that your life will change, but try not to make too many accommodations for your adult child that could in turn affect your own social life
  • Give the new arrangement time — it won’t be ideal immediately.

By working together as adults, your family can be creative, communicative and make the best of the new living situation. Know that it’s temporary and could be a positive evolution of your relationship. And remember this: the scenario may one day be reversed, should you need help as you get older. Treat your children as you’d like to be treated, and that kindness may just boomerang back.

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