When the World War II generation returned from war after 1945 America faced a housing shortage. Many ex-GIs and their wives moved in with parents or in-laws out of necessity. It wasn't until housing developments like Levittown, N.Y., sprang up that they began to move out and into homes of their own.
Their children, the Baby Boomers, couldn't wait to get out of the house and out from beneath their authoritarian parents. As soon they could they left home and returned only for visits.
For Boomers' kids, however, things are a little different. Good jobs are fewer than in years past and the cost of living is high. The Millennial generation has more in common with their Boomer parents and the two generations seem to get along. In a word, for an adult child moving back home it is comfortable. Maybe too comfortable.
“What I find in talking to my friends with children of this age, parents really are willing to help their kids out as far as they can,” said Janet Bodnar, an editor at Kiplinger who writes about families' financial matters. “Starting out, it looks like a win-win situation.”
Yes, the kids return to the comfort of home. And Mom and Dad, truth be told, actually like having them around, at least for a while. But the secret to making this arrangement work, says Bodnar, is making it clear from the get-go that it's temporary. It's part of the process of setting out expectations and that requires answers to a few questions.
“How is this relationship going to work?” Bodnar said. “What do you expect the kids to do and what are you willing to do in return?”
For example, if the kids are working are they going to pay rent or contribute financially to the household? If they're not working do you expect them to contribute any services in-kind? In Bodnar's case her youngest son has moved back home while attending graduate school. He earns his keep by performing household chores and providing on-site tech support for his parents.
Helping with the job search
Some kids move back home when they start a job search. Bodnar says parents can be helpful but should be careful not to overdo it. She recalls an incident in which one parent actually accompanied her adult child to a job interview.
If you have counseled your children about job-hunting skills in the past, it doesn't hurt to remind them of it, even if they seemed to reject your advice when they were younger.
“When they get out into the real world, suddenly all this advice begins to make sense to them,” she said.
If an adult child has returned home and is unemployed, parents might feel like they need to provide financial support, in addition to putting a roof over their head. If so, they are not alone. A Pew Research study on intergenerational living found that 48% of parents of adult children had helped their children financially in the previous year.
Skin in the game
But here it's especially important to have clear ground rules.
“Kids always have to have some skin in the game,” Bodnar said. “You don't want to give them carte blanche and pay for everything.”
This should be negotiated upfront. For example, Bodnar says her son is on her family cell phone plan but when it's time to upgrade a phone, he pays for it. If a child isn't paying rent, she suggests having them pick up one of the household expenses, like the cable bill.
Having an adult child move back home can be nice for parents, as long as it's temporary and it doesn't strain finances. After all, the parents may have economic problems of their own and other family pressures.
“You can not jeopardize your own retirement or, if you have younger kids still in school, you can't be expected to support them in the way in which they've become accustomed forever,” Bodnar said.
That's why when a boomerang kid returns, a frank and open discussion should be the first order of business.