September 21, 2018

The Empty Nest Isn't So Empty


They have been called boomerang kids, often between 21 and 35...adult children who end up moving back in with mom and dad. Sometimes the return is brief, for others it becomes an extended stay. I was surprised by the statistics: 15% of parents with grown children say one of their adult sons or daughters has moved back home in the past year. During a bad economic period, up to 40% of college grads are back with their folks a full year after graduation. 

Obviously, having an adult child move back home presents both challenges and opportunities to your satisfying retirement lifestyle.  Beyond the basic change an extra person makes to your day-to-day routines, space use, and costs, there are other important issues that need to be addressed.  Consider the following if you have an adult child ready to move "home:"

Protect your retirement assets. The worst thing you could do it tap deeply into what you will need to help your child out. If you are retired, or soon will be, you do not have the time to build those funds back to the level you have determined you will need. While you may feel pressured to bail your son or daughter out with the money you have in your 401 (k)) or IRA, don't do it. That advice comes from every financial source I could find on the Internet and makes complete sense to me.

If you do provide some money, make it a loan, not a gift. If you are able to help your child out while he or she attempts to get back on their feet without tapping your retirement money, then by all means do so. But, the suggestion is to loan the money rather than making it an outright gift. You will feel more like a partner in helping your child. And he or she will feel more like an adult than a child, still getting gifts from mommy and daddy. Establish a regular repayment schedule and charge at least some interest.

Charge room and board. Yes, I know she is your own family member. But, for the same reason you should loan money instead of giving it to her, the fact is she will increase your living costs. Charge a monthly rent that is well below normal market rates. But, the extra money will help you with the increased food and electric bills. Paying something toward those costs will help the child's self-respect, too.

Agree on basic ground rules. The new "tenant" should help with some household chores, handle his own laundry, offer to go food shopping on occasion, and help with the cooking or cleanup. If you prefer a neat home, insist that her living space (and yours) remains that way. What about bringing over dates or friends? 


What about "sleepovers" with members of the opposite sex? Decide well ahead of time the answers to these questions.

Insist that he or she actively look for a job or whatever it takes to become independent again. Lying on the coach while watching 6 hours of TV a day,  playing video games, or sleeping until noon is going to cause problems....quickly. Agree before the child moves in what is a reasonable plan for moving back out again.

Set a timetable. There should be some sort of "finish line" to this arrangement. Set a time-based limit, or when a certain income level has been met. Of course, you may need to be a bit flexible with this requirement. But, a timetable does help motivate the returning child to become creative in solving his problems. That may mean 2 or 3 part time jobs and living with a roommate. It may mean sharing a car or relying on public transportation. If there is a projected end to the boomerang phase, both parents and child have a goal to aim for.

Treat your "child" like you would an adult renter, not as his parent. It is quite likely he or she already feels bad about having to move back with mom and dad. Don't compound that by reminding him whenever possible of that fact. Respect his privacy, opinions, and needs. Realize that while she still wants your respect, she doesn't really need your permission. If he is following the ground rules you have both agreed upon, then take off your parent hat.

On the positive side, if your relationship with the returning child is good, this may be a tremendous time period together. Your "child" is an adult in opinions and actions. You can enjoy him or her for who they have become. The need to "parent" has diminished. The time is there to enjoy his or her uniqueness. It also feels good as a parent to help a child in time of need.

Having an adult child move home when he or she has lost a job, suffered the end of a bad marriage, or is recuperating from a serious illness will change you life, and theirs. By establishing fair and clearly defined rules and obligations it can be a time of discovery and a time of deepening relationships. It could be a tremendous plus for your retirement lifestyle.

If the adult child moving back has a spouse and/or a child, the change is more dramatic and the topic for another post.


Have you experienced the "boomerang" effect? Do you have any ideas or suggestions we can benefit from? Even if an adult child of yours has never returned home, I'll bet you have some opinions about the subject. Here's the place to let it fly!


26 comments:

  1. Excellent topic, Bob. We regularly experience the boomerang effect, but not really because of an adult child that cannot find a job and needs a place to land. Our oldest son is nearing the end of a demanding university program and has already stayed with us for 2, four month co-op work terms. We expect him back for a final term of 6 months starting next March. It is helpful for him in that he does not have to incur the expense of living on his own in another location, and it helps us in that he can help look after the house and cat if we choose to take off on a trip. He is a great young man and we have a wonderful relationship, so as much as we like our empty nest, we are happy to help and have not charged him anything.

    He has also mentioned the possibility of living with us for a while when he graduates. The prospects of finding a lucrative job within commuting distance seem to be pretty good. He will finish school with a very large debt load, and feels he could get that paid off much sooner if he could save by living with us. My wife and I have talked about this and have already come to the conclusion that some of the measures you have presented would be appropriate in our situation. While we would not charge him anywhere near a market level rent we feel that once he is making a good salary rather than incurring debt he should start to at least contribute to the increased household expenses we will incur, such as food, electricity and water consumption. He has always been pretty good about helping with the workload too, such as washing dishes, preparing the occasional meal, doing his own laundry etc. We have not had the discussion with him yet, but that time will come soon enough and we are sure he will understand.

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    1. Yours is an excellent example of how having an adult child live at home for a specific reason for a fixed period is the right choice. Then, having him stay with you while getting a job and starting to pay off a student loan while contributing to the costs and maintenance sounds like a win-win, too.

      You are blessed to have a son who obviously enjoys your company and understands the various limits that protect everyone's feelings and needs.

      You have ticked off the important points of this post and found a positive path forward. Thanks for your story.

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  2. I have a child who lives with me. He goes to school full time and works full time, but we live in an exhorbitant area in terms of rental housing. We follow about half those rules. We don't make rles about his lifestyle, he's an adult and those choices are his when it comes to when he comes in, who he has over, and things like that. We don't charge any kind of rent, and probably never will. He does what he can around the house and cooks on occasion but honestly, if you work full time and go to school full time the time you are at home and non sleeping is not that great.

    Other than the fact that he takes up a roomt hat could be the guest room (but then again Ihave a sewing studio taking up a room that could be guest room, I don't perceive him as using anything that increases our bill in any discernable way except for water. I control the heat and heat all rooms (and cool all rooms) and am the primary user of electricity as I am home all day.

    I do not feel the need to charge rent. Once he graduates and is only working, I suppose that is a possibility, but like Dave's kid, he will graduate with debt and I would much prefer that any extra money he has be put to offload that debt as soon as possible. Were I to charge rent, I would put it in a savings account and give it to said child when he left.

    I will say that having my son home has kept me aware of current culture (pop and otherwise) in a way that is not the same as reading about it and talking about it on TV and that his perspective on everything from education to politics has probably widened my sphere more than I have his, and my sphere is pretty wide.

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    1. Another positive experience...thanks, Barbara. I like the idea of taking any rent and returning it when the child moves out. That makes tremendous sense to me.

      Our youngest daughter travels a lot for business. That means she is at our home to either drop off or pick up her dog quite a bit. If there are only a few days between trips she will often stay with us rather than make a 1 and a half hour round trip drive to her own place.

      She does like the house a little cooler than we do and she likes to watch morning TV shows which we don't. I just put on headphones and listen to music while reading the paper in another room. Her presence adds very little to our overall costs. She buys some of her own food and helps with the dishes when she is between trips.

      Like you mention in your last paragraph, having her around does introduce us to TV shows and movies that we probably wouldn't discover on our own.

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    2. I'd like to add another positive experience. Our son just graduated from college in Boston in May, and his girlfriend who is also from the Boston area needs 3 semesters of nursing school to complete her studies. They are BOTH living with us since the end of August. Our son, started a new job and the girlfriend is studying hard! They both want to be on their own, same as they were in MA, but as another person mentioned in a post, the rent here is just out of reach for them right now. I expect they will be here until she finishes school and gets that first job, probably a year or so, but they have definite plans of obtaining an apartment or even having saved enough to put a downpayment on a house. They are very good about keeping their spaces neat, helping clean up after dinner, and my son... God bless... said "tell dad to give me a number" as far as helping with household expenses. We're in the process of figuring that out now. We've been so very lucky to have him home even for a bit. We're enjoying each minute. Oh.. and for some comic relief, we have a dog and they have a cat - who also lives here :) .

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    3. I'm glad to learn of another positive experience. The rent/school loan issues have changed the equation for so many that it shouldn't be surprising so many younger adults are trying to catch up by cutting expenses at home for awhile.

      I have received enough emails over the years to know all adult children-parent situations aren't as positive as these first three. But, it is good to be reminded that often the reasons for "crashing" at home can be very reasonable and logical.

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  3. My close friend lives in a good neighborhood. Her youngest son (24) and wife moved in with her when they moved back to the area for jobs. Now they have jobs and it seems that they are going to make it a long term arrangement. She is divorced and soon to be retired. They are active and gone all day working and playing. They are taking over the mortgage (which they could not get on their own) and she is paying them rent. They split the other bills. They are at the end of their second year and it seems to be working out. The house is in her name. Once they get to a certain point, they will assume the mortgage & put the house in their name when their income is enough to handle the full payments. She may move at that point. Otherwise she will stay and provide care when and if the younger family grows.
    Another win (that looked like a terrible mistake the first six months).
    Another family has their 35 yr old son living with them. He is ill and it, also, looks long term. They have a small casita- which is where he has his space. He only comes in to cook and occasionally socialize. There have been hiccups, but it seems to be working.
    I know my kids are planning on the opposite situation- when we move in with them.....Another discussion for another day.

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    1. Forgot to add- the first person has very little equity in her house.
      The second couple owns their place outright.
      We would pay for a part of any house we take up residence in.

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    2. The situations you describe do sound positive for both sides. In the first couple's case, having a plan to eventually become homeowners with the active cooperation of mom may be a more common scenario as housing prices and mortgage rate continue to rise.

      Two generations helping each other is a beautiful thing to see.

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  4. Our son moved home to go to college after a messy divorce (and home had moved while he was gone).

    We got him a trailer to live in on the property. Right now we are helping with his bills and he adds to the power cost, but that is about it. He does help out around the house (but does not cook a meal, which I appreciate for a good reason).

    He cares for the house and animals when we are traveling.

    He does tend to end up with "things" in our space, but otherwise has been good to have around.

    It has been pretty much a win-win. Once he finishes school he can head out for a new job without debt and be able to get a new start.

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    1. Like all the examples cited so far, your son is making the best of a bad situation with your help and his participation. Having an adult child move home after divorce is more common than we may think. but, that is a time when the love and support of a family is vital. Thank you for sharing this story.

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  5. My kids live 2 1/2 hours away, and 7 hours away. My sister (who lives in Phoenix) has two adult children living at home with her. In a way, I'm jealous. Anyway, I agree with all your points except maybe #2. I say, if you can afford to help out your child financially, go ahead and do it. But give them the money, b/c you really don't want to be a debt collector with your own kids.

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    1. In many cases I agree with you, especially when the reason for the move home is like the situations noted above. But, being realistic, there are others cases where a child moves back and expects mom and dad to provide the same type of support that occured before he or she left home the first time. The decision to provide a gift or a loan is really dependent on the parents' financial situation and the motivations and future plans of the child.

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  6. I am the odd one out here, perhaps. I love all my kids, but once I got them out of the nest, I relished my alone, grown up space. I don't want any of them moving back in. When one kid was in crisis and asked to move back in, I knew that boundaries and rules, especially about time limits for moving out and taking steps towards independence, would not be respected. I offered temporary financial support and assistance in finding housing, but did not let my child move in. It was a tough decision, I have to say, and one I second guessed a lot, but I think it was the right one. I should add that all my kids live close by so I'm very blessed and lucky to be able to see them often.

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    1. Your decision reflects the necessity of knowing a particular child well enough to take that position. It isn't easy, but giving in would not make that child's problems go away. Offering financial help while still requiring steps toward independence was hard for you but necessary. Being a parent is not easy and sometimes requires a toughness that we didn't know we had until forced to find it.

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  7. After I graduated from college, I lived with my parents until I was 33. My first job paid $2.59 per hour. Saved all my money, paid 1/3 of the costs when they replaced their windows etc. I purchased my home at 26 a trailer with 20 acres but could not afford to live there. Used all my savings for the down payment over $16000 and borrowed an additional $13000 + from my parents to assume the mortgage. Back in those days the trailer mortgage was 11% and the land was at 9%. I worked 3 jobs for 3 1/2 years and rented out my home. My parents got all the rent money and every bit of extra I could add. I paid them off during this time period. Reduced my job to one and worked on paying off the trailer. It was paid off before I moved to the property 7 years after the purchase. I would never have been able to afford my home if I had not lived with my parents. I also knew that if I ever moved out, I would not be allowed to move back in with them. They never charged me rent and I would not be as financially stable without their generosity.

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    1. I'm glad your story has a happy ending. It sounds as if all three of you worked together to make your dream a success. You didn't put their financial situation at risk and they didn't force you to give up on your goals.

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  8. Anonymous for this one. We let one of our kids move in while job searching after getting an advanced degree (actually my kid, second marriage for both of us, but relationship was good). We didn't charge any rent, because this 'kid' was already in hock for a good portion of the education and we saw it as a short term thing. The job search went on for quite a while (almost a year), most of it online (based on location and field), and my husband wasn't convinced kid was looking hard enough being online so much. I noticed the anxiety the job search was creating, as well as the stress in the house on both ends. Needless to say, it was a tough time.

    DH and I ended up hashing it out in our therapist's office a few times, and a great job finally came through, thank goodness. I think some of it was a huge generational gap (he is older than I and less tuned into the latest job market, job hunting trends, etc.), and some of it was me cutting my kid more slack than many would have. But overall, I can't say it was a great experience for anyone.

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    1. Oops. *WASN'T* a great experience for anyone.

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    2. A cautionary tale of some of the unseen and unanticipated problems that can occur. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. Great article. We have three adult sons in their mid-late 20s. We found ourselves in a situation 1.5 years ago where all three had moved back in with us. Our youngest had graduated college and was looking for a job. Our middle son was employed as an auto mechanic but struggling to pay debt on the tools he had to purchase for his job, and the oldest son moved back in after a nasty breakup with his girlfriend. I was laid off from my job a little over a year ago and immediately determined that the free ride was over for the kids. I worked up a full household expense budget (needed one anyway as early retirement looked like the route I was going to take versus going back to work), divided the cost by 5, and they got to pay their fair share starting exactly 1 year ago this month. We thought youngest one would immediately move out as he was employed then with a great paying job, and that the other 2 would stay home and pay their fair share of the expenses as the amount was still less than half what they would pay in the rental market where we live in the Dallas, TX area. The result... Middle son moved out immediately and has never looked back (We are very proud of him as he was the one we thought would be the last to leave). Our youngest son stayed another year and just moved out to his own apartment mainly because he was sick of the 2 hour daily commute to his job. Our oldest son still lives here and his rent/board just went up by $200/mo due to the expenses being now shared by 3 versus potential for 5. He is staying because his costs are still about half of what they would be in his own place, and he pretty much abides by all our rules and we pretty much treat him as an tenant. It's honestly quite nice to have him here as he helps with the expenses and is someone who is here at the house when we travel. The other two sons make regular shot visits to collect any mail, eat an occasional home cooked meal, or do laundry. Each of them has to pay me for their portion of our family cell phone plan each month as it is cheaper for us all to be on a shared plan. I expect our oldest son will continue to love with us until we either downsize the house and move or he starts to date again. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having your grown children share the expenses if/when they reside with you. I have found it gives them more self confidence to know what they contribute matters (I showed them each the math if asked) and that you do respect them as being adults. It is also very fulfilling to see them make their own decisions and know you are there for them if needed and are willing to help them be independent and successful as adults by ensuring they understand that there are no free rides in life and you can be there to help them but not take over for them.

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    1. Thank you for your example of when sharing expenses and treating the relationship more like a landlord-tenant than parent-child has positive results. Frankly, I think it is fair to have an adult child share in some of the expenses if he or she is able. And, your point about it helping their self-confidence is important. Regardless of their living arrangement they are adults and really want to be treated as one.

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  10. Great article as always. A small point to remember: adult sleepovers are not always opposite sex.

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    1. How true, but the same discussion is required.

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  11. My youngest son, who is 25, has lived with us for extended periods. He lived with us each summer between semesters, and then for a year after his first university degree while he looked for career-related work. As he did not find a permanent position, he moved to go back to school to complete a post-degree diploma (and boarded with his sister and family for a year). Then again he moved in with us for nearly a year while he looked for work. After some temporary positions and a false start, he landed an excellent job. He moved out and has his own place now in a nearby city.

    He was easy to have around and I enjoyed having him. He paid 1/3 of the food costs, cooked once a week, helped with chores, and looked after the house and pets when we travelled. However, my husband was less thrilled about having him living with us. Also, my son was ready to move out and get on with his own life, so as soon as he found work, he made the transition to move away quickly.

    We are all glad that he is thriving in his new position, and he loves having his own apartment, which he shares with a buddy. I am also glad that we were able to help him out in getting started. The job market can be quite tough to get launched in for even well-educated and hard-working young people.

    Jude

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    1. Our youngest daughter lived with us for various periods after graduation, being let go while living in another state, and when she was attempting to establish her own business. She still spend several days a month with us prior to and just after a business trip because we watch her dog. It is not a burden at all.

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