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Dispatches Guest Column: When an Adult Child Moves Back Home

Sammamish counselor Belinda Lafferty offers tips on easing the transition.

With jobs scarce and high student-loan debt, more college kids are moving back home after graduation. A recent study reported 10 percent of college graduates are living at home with mom and/or dad. Additional adult children are being forced to return home when they lose a job.

If you’re one of these parents, take heart: It’s a growing trend. In 1980, only 11 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds lived in multi-generational households. By 2008, when the recession hit full force, 20 percent were, according to the Pew Research Center. It’s become so common that we’ve coined a new term for this group, boomerangers.

Whatever the reason, when an adult child returns home to live, it can pose some challenges to both the parents and child. Keep in mind your grown child is entitled to be treated as an adult, a role that includes freedoms and responsibilities. Likewise, you are entitled to respect and some measure of authority. 

“It’s safe to say that, in general, this is not an ideal situation for parents or child,” says , a licensed mental health therapist with CrossPath Counseling & Consultation in Sammamish. “But, with good communication and some agreed upon guidelines, it can be an overall positive experience.”

Helpful guidelines

Dykstra suggests setting clear expectations from the start and keeping communication open. “Don’t let issues fester and become bigger than they need to be,” he says. In general discuss and even write down agreements around the following:

Time limit—Because the move home often is due to lack of gainful employment, you can base the time limit on when a good job is obtained, for example, six months after you get full-time work.

Goals—Is the return home due to financial reasons? Or is it due to a relationship split or lifestyle choices? Whatever the reason, it's important to talk frankly about it and lay plans for the transition back to independence. 

Rent—The returning adult child should pay rent or contribute to the household in other ways. Even if you don’t need the money, it’s good for both of you to feel there is give and take. You can always choose to set the money aside as a nest egg for when the child does move out. 

Chores—Whether it’s in lieu of rent or in addition, include chores as part of being a member of the household—think roommate rather than child. Otherwise, it’s too easy to slip back into mom-takes-care-of-everything mode, which does nothing to foster independence and much to breed resentment.

Guests, Curfews and Alcohol—It’s unrealistic to set curfews for an adult, but it's important to discuss and agree on a set of household rules, particularly when it comes to hot-button issues like coming in late night, overnight guests, relationships, alcohol or other substance use. 

If you can’t reach agreement on guidelines, or if communication is already difficult, it may be necessary to seek the help of an expert, such as a counselor experienced in helping families navigate transitions.

Expect some bumps along the way, particularly when it comes to such childhood standards as the magically-refilling refrigerator, free laundry service, and checking in. But this is also an opportunity to joyfully reconnect with your grown child and forge a stronger relationship.

Belinda Lafferty is Clinical Director of CrossPath Counseling & Consultation in Sammamish ,which provides professional counseling for youth, families, and parents. All practitioners are licensed and have specialized training working with youth, young adults and families. CrossPath offers expertise in working with youth in need of substance abuse counseling, families in conflict, and many other issues facing youth and families.

Editor's note: Dispatches is a new periodic series from Patch. The goal is to capture the American Dream and how it is changing in Sammamish. This can be done through stories, photographs, columns, videos and essays. If you have a story about the American Dream in the city, feel free to contact brad.wong@patch.com.

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