American Dream

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Adult Children Living at Home

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In 2009, Gloria and Gerry Visel’s son Edward graduated from Pomona College with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. After graduation, Edward moved back home into his childhood bedroom. The economic downturn, along with a degree known for difficult job prospects, meant that Edward became a member of the so-called boomerang generation: adult children living at home because of economic hardship.

Gloria admits that adjusting to family life with an adult child at home was somewhat difficult, but the Visel family put in place certain helpful rules for the two years Edward lived with his parents. Here are her tips for making the most of the situation.

1. Charge Rent

When Edward came home, Gloria and Gerry required him to pay $200 in monthly rent. “We wanted to charge him a minimal rent to keep him motivated to get a job,” Gloria says. “We didn’t want to get stuck in a parent/child relationship with Edward, which would have been easy to do if he weren’t trying to get a job. The rent made it clear to all of us that he was a contributing member of the household.”

Experts agree that charging rent can be a good first expectation for adult children if they decide to move back in with their parents. In an interview with Bankrate, Craig Skeels, a certified financial planner, says that boomerang kids “should be paying some form of rent to the parents to help cover costs and to get them used to having some set bills.”

2. Treat Your Child Like an Adult

It can be very easy to fall back into old family patterns when adult children return home. But Gloria says that it’s a mistake to treat your returning child like a kid. Making home too comfortable could ultimately hurt your child, because they might have less incentive to launch themselves into the world. “We tried to treat him like an adult and let him take care of the things that we would expect any adult member of the household to do for himself.” This included everything from laundry to cooking to getting himself to and from temporary jobs.

3. Let Them Find Their Own Path

After two years at home, Edward took a job teaching English in Japan for a year. Gloria says that the experience was wonderful for her son, but that it was not necessarily the path she would have picked for him. “He’s still trying to find his way,” she explains. Edward came back to the U.S. after a year, worked on various political campaigns, and has since settled into a job in Washington, D.C., with the nonprofit Educational Testing Service. “It’s not where he wants to be forever,” she says, “but it’s up to him to figure out where to go from here.”

This Too Shall Pass

As with every stage of parenthood, guiding adult children living at home can feel overwhelming. The key is to change your mindset. Remember that your child is now a fully grown adult who is capable of contributing to the household and finding their own way. Starting there, you and your child can forge a new relationship—with new expectations.

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Emily Guy Birken is a former educator and respected personal finance writer. She is the author of the best-seller The Five Years Before You Retire, and the forth-coming book Choose Your Retirement. Her work has appeared on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, Business Insider, MSN Money, and Kiplinger's, and Birken has been a guest on Wisconsin Public Radio as well as several podcasts, including Stacking Benjamins and The Doughroller.Birken's background in education allows her to make complex financial topics relatable and easily understood by the layperson. Her mix of no-nonsense advice, humor, and research into the latest studies on finance and behavior make her work a go-to resource for anyone hoping to get a better handle on money matter.