Can Adult Children Coming Home Be a Win-Win?

Adult Child Coming Home

As a parent, you like to believe that your job will be mostly done by the time your child finishes high school, graduates college, gets established in a career or gets married. But life doesn’t always work out that way. And in truth, parenting is one of those jobs that truly has no ending. You’ll be a parent to your children for the rest of your life. And that’s the way it was meant to be.

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. – 1 Timothy 5:8 (NIV)

As an adult child, you hope to move forward in life and never have to retrace your steps. Moving back home with your parents can be humbling, and something you want to avoid too . . . probably even more than your parents do. But sometimes . . . life just doesn’t cooperate with our plans.

No matter how reluctant you may be to go back home, count yourself blessed to have a home to go back to!

Why Are Adult Children Coming Home?

When we think about the many reasons why adult kids come home it’s easy to see why this is happening with increasing frequency.

  1. Job loss. A bad economy or an industry decline can force an adult child into retooling for a new career, complete with a big drop in income.
  2. Divorce. They may need some time to get back on their feet, especially if children are involved.
  3. Credit problems. A year or two in the lower cost environs of home can work better than bankruptcy.
  4. Debt. With high college costs, so many young people have been inclined to collect large student loans that hamper their forward progress. In addition, they might have not have managed their money well as a college student.
  5. Foreclosure. This can leave them unable to get even a suitable rental situation, and coming home may be the only option.
  6. Health problems. They may have a health problem or a complicated surgery that will leave them unable to fully support themselves for a time.
  7. And sometimes . . . they’re coming home to take care of you. Adult kids don’t always come back home because they have problems. Sometimes they come back because their parents have problems. That’s a blessing!

What ever the reason for the return, both parents and adult kids need to make the situation work. And maybe they even need to embrace the event for its virtues – there are some. It is, after all, an opportunity either to be helped or to help someone in need.

Require Financial Contributions

If they’ve already lived on their own, an adult child has a good idea of what it costs to live. They know that life isn’t free, so it shouldn’t be free at home either. At a minimum, the adult child should be expected to contribute a dollar amount to the household that is sufficient to cover the increase in household expenses that have resulted from their return.

That doesn’t necessarily mean paying rent. But he or she should be expected to pay an amount that will cover the cost of additional food and utility expenses at a minimum. This amount – whatever it is determined to be – should be less than what it would cost the child to live completely on their own. He or she must, after all, be in a financial position to improve their circumstances. But that does not mean that the parents should largely subsidize the child’s cost of living either.

Establish a Division of Labor Immediately

A returning adult child should not expect chef and maid service. He or she should not only take care of their own personal household needs, but also to make some contribution to the overall workload in the family. This is especially important if the returning child is unable to contribute fully in a financial way.

This could be in the form of having the adult child do certain specific chores around the house. For example, a returning son could be made responsible for doing the lawn work. A returning daughter could be responsible for doing the family’s laundry. In this way they would also be making a chores contribution to the household. It would distribute the workload more evenly and take the pressure off mom and dad.

Establishing Boundaries

You almost certainly had them when you were originally together as a family, and now that you’re all adults you’ll need them even more. They have to be implemented and respected by all parties.

Time is one of those boundaries. When the adult child was living on their own they kept their own schedule. But now that they’re back with mom and dad a schedule has to be developed that will work for all parties in the family. That may mean that the returning child shouldn’t expect to be coming and going all hours of the night.

Friends are another area that needs boundaries, especially if the returning child has an active social life. It has to be understood that friends can’t be dropping in, hanging around or sleeping over for extended periods. The parents have agreed to have their child live with them, not their friends too.

Activities also need boundaries. If Junior developed a habit of practicing on his drums at 3 o’clock in the morning, that may be an activity that has to be dropped. Mom and dad may also have to give up certain activities that could be disturbing to the returning child. The living arrangement will have changed for all parties and accommodations will have to be made that will make a happier living arrangement.

Create Family Time

Not all of the return of an adult child should be about rules and regulations. The return can and should also be seen as a chance to fix any relationship issues that may have been damaged in the past. Some parents – and some kids – will say, “If I had a chance to do it all over again, I’d . . . .” Guess what? Here’s your chance.

Even though you may have been separated for a number of years, you’re still family. That should guide all that you do. To some degree you need to re-acquaint yourselves with functioning as a family. Some time should be blocked out, maybe on a weekly basis, for family dinners, quiet conversation, watching movies of common interest and even activities outside the home.

The increased bonding will go a long way toward softening the stresses that are inevitable when multiple adults live under the same roof.

Make it Fun

The return home of an adult child shouldn’t be seen as a struggle that everyone needs to endure until it’s over.

Even if there were strains in the family in earlier days, there probably were times when you all had fun together. That shouldn’t change. Do things that are fun, enjoy the company, laugh, and celebrate being a family. It’s one of God’s greatest gifts to us.

Yes, adult children coming home to live can be a win-win – but you’re going to have to do your part to ensure it is!

Do you have any other suggestions that may help a family with adult kids coming home?

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  1. Aaron

    This is an interesting take on something I think we are going to see more of down the road here as things get more expensive and wages struggle to keep pace. Maybe it is a good thing as suggested – as it will foster family relationships.

    • Kevin

      Hi Aaron–it’s actually statistically true that more adult kids are either coming back home or never leaving in the first place. It’s mostly due to the economy and student loans. We should be prepared for it if it’s at all possible.

  2. Tracy

    Great article and great timing. My oldest son will be returning next month after a year of overseas missionary work. He had been out on his own before leaving, but he’ll be living with us while he pursues college. While we already had most of these ideas in our plans, it’s certainly reassuring to see that we’re on the right track.

    • Kevin

      Hi Tracy–by welcoming him home and helping him out, you’re contributing to his missionary work!

  3. Josh @ Live Well Simply

    Excellent article. Sounds like you covered all the potential conflict areas. I think if an adult child returns home, their stay should be an asset, not a liability to their parents’ time and resources.

    • Kevin

      Hi Josh, that’s really the point. We should view it as an opportunity more than a distraction. Life isn’t perfect, and we should be there to help where we can and to do it graciously.

  4. Jenny

    This really covers all the important aspects of a child returning home as an adult. Paying for basic utilities, contributing labor around the house and respecting each other are key elements to successful living conditions as they get their finances in order.

    • Kevin

      Hi Jenny–it should be viewed as a do-over, with everyone doing their part to make it work and to improve future opportunity. And it really can be a chance to heal old wounds, which more than a few families have!