'Boomerang Kids': When an Adult Child Moves Back Home
It's a scenario fraught with potential conflict: Moving back home as an adult can be tough - on both the grown children and their parents.
But it can also come with opportunities, as long as expectations are established early, say some "boomerang kids" who moved back in with mom and/or dad after reaching adulthood.
A new study interviewed 31 of those young adults, aged 22 to 31, who gave their insight into what worked best and what caused problems.
"People move back in with their parents for a lot of reasons, and we're seeing that increase with the COVID-19 pandemic," said study author Jenna Abetz, an associate professor in the department of communication at the College of Charleston, in South Carolina.
"We were just really interested in how, when adults are moving back in with their parents, how do they navigate that process? How do they think about it? How do they talk about it? How could we make this ever-increasing trend a positive thing? How can that be a positive, productive experience for families?" she said.
Abetz and her colleague, Lynsey Romo, an associate professor of communication at the North Carolina State University in Raleigh, conducted in-depth interviews with the study participants in 2019, prior to the pandemic.
The reasons for moving back home varied. For some, it was a transitional bridge between college and an advanced degree or starting a new job. Some characterized it as an investment in their future, with financial or emotional support from their parents as they started their careers.
The young adults were aware of the cultural stigma, the suggestion that they have had a "failure to launch."
"We had participants talk about how they were studying for the LSAT [Law School Admission Test]. How living at home with their parents helped them save money and helped them navigate that process. But at the same time there were some certain strategies that they adopted along the way that we thought were really useful," Abetz said.
The researchers suggested four tips for people to help make returning home more positive.
- First, it's important to communicate clear expectations. For example, are the adult children paying rent or buying their share of food? Some did and some didn't, depending on what worked best for the family. Are they expected to be home at a certain time each evening? "If I want an adult relationship with you, as opposed to a parent-child relationship, I have to set these kinds of expectations," Abetz said.
- Secondly, young adults should contribute to the household in some way. The new living arrangements worked more smoothly for study participants when the grown children contributed to domestic chores. Sometimes the contributions are emotional, participating in family life and possibly attending sporting events of younger siblings.
- Thirdly, successful participants laid out intended timelines. They explained their career and financial goals and how living with their parents would help them achieve those. "If I hadn't moved back in my parents' house and I was working at the same place that I'm working now, I'd be struggling financially to pay my bills," said one participant, who the researchers called Myra, 27. "I'd be a lot more stressed than I am and it would just not be a good situation."
- Last but not least, the young adults also should embody adult behavior, the researchers said. They shouldn't slip into old childhood habits.
Not all of the participants had positive experiences. Among problems were generational differences, with a gap in understanding that although a parent may have been able to graduate college and then buy a house and support a family on it, that may not be true now.
"One thing they really had to navigate was different generational expectations of what are millennials and Gen Z really facing. What are the obstacles they are facing that are much different from what their parents face," Abetz noted.
For the majority of the participants in the study, moving back home was temporary and they had a positive experience, she said.
The findings were published recently in the journal Emerging Adulthood.
Linda Sapadin is a psychologist and success coach, who said she'd revise the term "boomerang kids," which the study authors used, to "moving back to move ahead."
"When you change the words, you change the thought patterns," Sapadin said.
For some families, having their adult children move back home will be an easy transition, Sapadin said, but for others it will be important to discuss expectations ahead of time.
It's always good when communicating about tough topics to plan the talk in advance and not begin after people are already angry, Sapadin said. Start conversations with "I," which can lead to talking about your needs, rather than "you," which can sound accusatory. Avoid words like always, never, everything and nothing, which tend to create problematic communication, Sapadin said.
"Setting expectations is critical to success. If you expect one thing and your parents expect something else, you have different assumptions, it is a formula for tension and for disagreement and for anger to erupt," Sapadin said. "You want to communicate clear expectations, how you'll contribute to the household, how you'll fit into the family."
Generations United has more on multigenerational households.
SOURCES: Jenna Abetz, PhD, associate professor, department of communication, College of Charleston, Charleston, S.C.; Linda Sapadin, PhD, psychologist and success coach, PsychWisdom, Long Island, N.Y.; Emerging Adulthood, May 7, 2021