Adult children: how to live with your boomerang students

If your child is returning home (like a quarter of young adults) after graduation it raises financial, domestic and emotional issues. Celia Dodd reports on how to negotiate this new territory

If your son or daughter is graduating this summer you’re probably gearing up for their imminent return to the fold. Nearly a quarter of young adults are being forced back into the nest by soaring housing costs, a tough job market and student debt. The days when graduation meant financial liberation for parents are long gone.

Most parents welcome their kids back with open arms, even if it interrupts their new child-free status quo and puts their dreams on hold. But don’t feel guilty if you have qualms.

The boomerang phase seems to work most harmoniously when parents see their kids in a new light, as adults who do their own washing. As parents we also have to recognise that we can no longer lay down the law.

Should you support them with money?

It gives both sides a head start if they can be open about their expectations of everything from curfews to cooking to privacy, and discuss how the new set-up is likely to work.

Money has to be the trickiest topic. It’s one thing to support a student who is living away from home; it’s quite another when their spending is in your face, and you see your cash going on skimpy tops and vodka.

Parents are faced with a whole new set of dilemmas, which often cause conflict between spouses. If kids are unemployed should we give them an allowance? If so, how much?

Should parents fund further training, or that Masters which seems like a bit of a stopgap?

Should we charge rent?

Above all, how can parents encourage independence in offspring who are still financially dependent?

Graduate unemployment

One condition of moving back home has to be that your child will do their best to find a job. Although graduate employment prospects are better than at any time since 2007 it’s still tough out there, and last year a quarter of graduates were being paid less than £11 an hour.

But even a badly paid, boring job is better than no job, according to Dr Ruth Nemzoff, who writes about adult children in her book Don’t Bite Your Tongue. “Kids who hold out for the perfect job are living in a fantasy world,” she says.

“It’s far better to get a job which enables you to learn more about yourself and what you like doing and don’t like doing, which gives you contacts and adds to your CV.”

The trouble is that if kids are living at home, with organic veg and red wine on tap, they are cushioned from appreciating what a reasonable wage really is.

One solution is to ask for a contribution to household bills, which, however small, will introduce a note of realism.

Graduate internships

Some kids get too comfortable, earning just enough as a barista or a lifeguard – and living the life of Riley with their liberal parents – while wider opportunities pass them by.

In this situation, parents are justified in pointing out the career-enhancing benefits of an internship or training, even if the pay is terrible. If they can afford it, parents might offer an allowance as an added incentive. Dr Nemzoff says, “It’s appropriate to give a stipend if the child is working hard and it really is a career-enhancing internship. But only if they’ve been responsible with money in the past.”

And if they haven’t been good with money? Offer free board and lodging, pay for their travel card, but expect them to earn the rest.

Will the nest ever empty?

When I interviewed parents for the chapter on boomerang kids in my book The Empty Nest they said that what they found hardest was the uncertainty. It is emotionally and practically unsettling because you never quite know when you’ll have to say goodbye again, and when you’ll be able to get on with your own plans.  

Agreeing on a time limit can help. Parents should explain why they want to fix on a date; because they plan to sell the house or go travelling or whatever.

The date can always be renegotiated if necessary – though some parents get so desperate for their child to move out that they end up helping with the rent.

Whatever happens, adult children have to appreciate that their parents have lives too. But that’s what’s so good about the boomerang phase: it’s a great opportunity for the generations to get to know each other as adults.

Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children by Ruth Nemzoff is published by Palgrave Macmillian

Seven tips on how to live with boomerang kids

Discuss new ground rules from the start, and be prepared to compromise.

Discuss issues with your partner. It’s important to be aware of what you don’t agree on.

Don’t do your child’s washing. They should take care of themselves.

Encourage your offspring to talk about career plans and help them research useful courses and internships.

A weekly allowance for kids who aren’t employed – yet – is better than doling out the odd tenner on demand. Decide whether it’s a loan or a gift.

Expect a contribution to household costs, however small.

Set a date when your child would ideally like to move out – and when you want to get on with your own future. Be clear that it’s renegotiable. 

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