When the Road to Success Leads Back Home


When the Road to Success Leads Back Home

Despite our best efforts, sometimes grown children aren't quite ready to enter the real world.

December 1, 2015

You may have been preparing for this moment for the past 18 years, maybe even longer. You’ve given your time, sweat and tears – and yes, your money – to raising a child into a capable adult, and now you’re ready to send them out on their own. So you pack up their car, kiss them goodbye and watch as they drive off toward the future you’ve envisioned for them. But what happens if the car makes a U-turn along the way? What does opening your door and welcoming your son or daughter (perhaps a few grandchildren) back into your home mean for both of you?

Not Quite Ready

The day our children move out of the house, graduate from college or land their first full-time job isn’t always – or even often – the day they achieve independence. Life is full of twists and turns, and even young adults with the best laid plans can veer off course, turning to their parents for support when things get tough. One study, conducted by Arizona Pathways to Life Success, says that half of recent graduates ages 23 to 26 depend on their family’s financial support to meet their current needs.

There are many reasons why an adult may want or need to return to their family home. Difficulty finding a job after college ranks high on the list, but divorce and layoffs could factor in, too. And, of course, you’ll want to help. But what happens when your soon-to-be divorced son escapes into video games instead of searching for an apartment? How can you make your home a launching (or re-launching) pad rather than an endless vacation?

You may be willing to welcome your children back home with open arms, a full refrigerator, free laundry and more, but there’s a fine line between helping and enabling. So what’s a loving parent to do? It seems the answer lies in boundaries.

And, the time to set them is before your children lug their suitcases back over the threshold. Let’s take a look at some of the things to keep in mind if you or someone you know finds an adult child heading home again.

Be Realistic

Returning home as an adult doesn’t carry with it the same benefits and privileges of childhood, for good reason. As parents, it might be your instinct to give your loved one as much as you can – the way you’ve always tried to in the past. But many adults supporting family members overestimate their ability to give and don’t think about how long they’ll be paying to feed another mouth.

Worse, many don’t think through what it could mean for their futures. They raid their own savings and retirement accounts, often using up more than they intended to, and ignoring the fact that they may not have as much time to make up for the losses. Remember, too, that having less than you’ve planned for can greatly affect your quality of life in retirement.

To avoid this, try sitting down for a few hours as a family. You’ll need to discuss whether or not you can (or will) fund your child’s nonessentials, such as trips, cellphone, entertainment and clothing expenses. If your new housemate is able, ask them to pay rent, help with bills or split the chores to ease the financial and physical burdens. Doing so reinforces responsibility – with the added benefit of putting into practice essential budgeting and money management skills. Creating a financial plan with your son or daughter also could help keep disagreements in check later on. Try turning to your advisor for help determining how you can strike a balance between assisting your children and making progress toward your own goals.

Should your family meetings get a little contentious, try taking a break for a few hours, or even postponing the conversation until a day when everyone’s spirits are higher. As money issues arise, ask your advisor if they can offer some financial education to your children. Their objective guidance, along with your support, might be the push your loved one needs to rejoin the real world. Wherever your conversations end up, focusing on the love that you share will help guide you toward the right path for your family.

Encourage Without Enabling

A return home can provide your grown child a space to escape the day-to-day and refocus on the things that matter most in order to reframe future goals. But your kids may need a little nudge from you, especially if they’ve taken a blow to the ego. What you see as lack of motivation may really be mild depression after a bad interview, but that doesn’t mean your couch-potato daughter doesn’t need to relaunch her job search. Consider starting a conversation about career aspirations, ways to network, or share leads when you hear about them. Remember, you can’t do the work for her, but you can offer support – with a smile, a hug or a listening ear – as you push your offspring toward independence.

Establish Boundaries

Once they’re in the house, set some rules. Imagine it’s Thursday night, and you and your spouse are excited to binge watch a Netflix show that caught your eye. But as you head into the living room with a bowl of popcorn in hand, you’re surprised – and maybe slightly disappointed – to see your son or daughter already firmly plopped in the middle of the couch; the TV on full volume.

Merging different age groups in one household is never easy. But welcoming your loved one back into your home doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the things you enjoy. Feel free to set rules for communal living spaces, like laying claim to the TV on Thursday nights or assigning everyone a day of the week to cook dinner. These small compromises can help you avoid petty fights, and keep an open dialogue for when issues arise later on. 

Set Your Limits

When asked how long is too long to live with parents, a recent study showed the average American believes four years is too long, while adults ages 55 and up thought the stay should be no more than three. In contrast, millennials (ages 18-34) felt it was OK to live at home for up to five years. This disconnect between the generations can lead to problems once a son or daughter has taken up residence in their old bedroom.

So it makes sense to also set a time limit for their stay. Without these parameters, it can be easy for your child to get a little too cozy at home – and for you to feel a little smothered. But if everyone agrees with say six months to a year, then you both may find a comfort zone, knowing the endgame. You could establish deadlines based on when they reach a certain age, save a specific amount of money or land a decent-paying gig. Just make sure whatever you decide is clearly understood to avoid any future contention.

Check In

During your child’s stay, be sure to discuss your thoughts and feelings occasionally to make sure everyone is feeling heard. After all, your children are your greatest investment. Checking in every once in a while or establishing a night each month to meet as a family can help address any bumps in the road and make things smoother for everyone involved. 

Taking the time before your child moves back in to talk about and agree on things such as how long they can live at home, chores they’ll be responsible for and whether you expect them to pay rent can make the transition easier for the whole family. In the end, all you want is to help steer your loved one toward their fullest potential. By staying flexible, having honest and open conversations, and involving objective outsiders when things get tough, you and your family will be able to take life’s twists and turns with ease, the way you always have. Together. 

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