Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. And Breakfast. And Lunch.

Dear Mr. Dad: I have a 20-year-old son who has been living on his own for several years. But he’s hit a few rough patches lately, and now wants to move back home. My wife and I want to do the right thing and help him, but we’re afraid that letting him move back in with us could turn out to be the wrong thing in the end—for everyone. Is it wrong of us to want our son to stay on his own?

A: Well, first of all, congratulations. You raised your son right: he went to school, got a job, and started making a life for himself. So it’s only natural that you’d assumed that you and your wife would have your house to yourselves. But times are much, much different than when you were your son’s age. According to a recent survey by Payscale.com, only 4 percent of Baby Boomers were living at home after having started their careers. Eleven percent of Gen X (those born between 1961 and 1981) got their first jobs but kept living (or moved back in with) ma and pa. And 28 percent of Gen Y (those born after 1982) are still under their parents’ roof. It’s no wonder that your son’s generation is sometimes called the Boomerang Generation.
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Will You Please Just Get Out of Here? Now!

Dear Mr. Dad: How do I tell my two adult children ages 22 and 24—and still living at home—that their father and I need our privacy and space? We have almost no time to ourselves, and romance is virtually out of the question, even more so than when they were little. They come and go as they please, constantly have friends over, and never tell us their plans.

A: Once upon a time, kids moved out of the house at 18, got jobs or went to school, and generally became (or at least acted like) grownups. However, there’s been an interesting trend in recent years. The Pew Research Center recently did a survey and found that the percentage of young adults living with their parents is the highest since the 1950s. In 2010, for example, nearly 22 percent of adults 25-34 had moved back home.

I must admit that I moved back in with my parents after college, but just until grad school started. And years later, after my divorce, I moved back in again. I didn’t stay long then either—mostly because it seemed horribly embarrassing to be living with my parents. Plus, it definitely made dating kind of tough. How many times can you get away with, “Oh, we can’t go to my house because, ah, they’re painting and the place needs to air out”? But as you’re experiencing first hand, the days of feeling embarrassed about living with ma and pa are gone.

In many cases, you can blame the economy. According to the Pew report (which is titled  “The Boomerang Generation”), 61% of adults ages 25-34 say they have friends or family members who’ve moved back in with their parents for economic reasons. And twenty-nine percent of parents of adult children say that a child of theirs has moved back in with them in the past few years because of the economy. So, while this may not make you feel any less resentful, it’s good to know that you’re not alone.

In your case, the biggest problem is that your boomerang children aren’t showing you much respect. You, your husband, and both children need to sit down and have a long, serious discussion. You’ll want to make several points:

  • It’s your house and there are rules. They need to ask before they bring friends over and they need to give you at least a rough idea of when they’re going out and when they’ll be back (a very important point if you want to put that romance back into your life).
  • What are their plans for the future? Are they going to get jobs? Go back to school? Where do they plan to live? Your goal here is to jointly come up with a plan that gets your boomerangers out on their own.
  • Right now, you’re paying the mortgage and utility bills and putting food in the fridge. If they want to stay in your house, they’ll need to start kicking in something towards expenses. If they balk, you might mention that 48% of boomerang children say they’ve paid rent to their parents and 89% say they have helped with household expenses.

Bottom line: If your children can’t or won’t do these things, it may be time to pack their bags. Be firm but not harsh—and don’t be swayed by arguments, tears, and empty promises. Letting your kids walk all over you won’t get you anywhere—and will keep them from ever being able to make it on their own.

When Adult Children Come Home

My wife and I recently sent our last child off to college. We were ready to sell the house and travel around the country, but our oldest daughter just lost her job and is planning to move back home. How can my wife and I enjoy our retirement but help our daughter at the same time?

One of the biggest risks to adjusting to a child’s leaving is that she might come back. All of us have certain preconceived notions about when major life events are supposed to take place, and we have a social clock that rings at the appropriate time. If the clock doesn’t go off at the right time, we’re likely to feel some stress. Moving out of the house is one of those events, and for most of us, the clock is set for eighteen, which is when the majority of American kids move out.
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