Rules for When Your Graduate Moves Back Home After College
College graduation season is a joyous time to celebrate your young adult's achievements. But it's also time to make major life decisions — like where they'll live when school ends.
One option you should prepare for? Moving back in with mom and dad.
Living with parents after college has become increasingly common: More than 32 percent of young adults live with their parents, according to Pew Research. In 2016, 37 percent of graduating college seniors planned to live at home at least a year or more after graduation, according to a survey by the job site Indeed.
It's not surprising: Millennials are delaying marriage into their mid-to-late 20's and they tend to get along better with mom and dad than earlier generations did.
"It used to be you were expected to be on your own and you didn't really want to hang out with your parents," said Angie O'Leary, head of wealth planning at RBC Wealth Management in Minneapolis. "Today, the relationships are very different."
There are financial reasons, too: Major urban markets sport high rents and many college grads have student loan debt. In this environment, “parents are their graduates' lifeline," said Susan Newman, Ph.D., social psychologist and author of "Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily".
While allowing grown “kids" to move back home helps them save money or pay off student debt, some critics say the practice can keep young adults from taking responsibility for their lives. Another criticism of the practice is that it perpetuates the dependence of a generation raised by hovering "helicopter parents."
How to Help Your Child Transition to Independence After College
Despite the criticism, your young adult may need or want to move back home and you may agree. But it's important not to slip back into the old routines, like doing everything for your child or micromanaging their schedules, which can lead to resentment on both sides.
Keep in mind that the college graduate who's returning to you is not the same teenage kid who left a few years ago. To live together harmoniously and with mutual respect, experts recommend proactively discussing expectations.
These steps may help make graduates returning to the nest a positive experience that enriches the parent-child relationship.
Focus On the Positives
When your adult child moves back into your home, it may feel like a bit of a disappointment for both parents and child. However, it can be “a wonderful opportunity to enrich your bond and get to know each other as people, rather than as parent and child," Newman said.
Parents can use the time with a boomerang kid to teach financial literacy and help them get into the habit of saving and investing, O'Leary said.
"Some families encourage their young adult to put the money they would otherwise have spent on rent, insurance and phone bills into an emergency savings fund — or into their 401(k) at work — so they get into the habit of getting their employer match and have a solid start financially," she said.
When her own daughter moved home to Minneapolis after graduating from the University of Denver, O'Leary had her save up the down payment for a house, which she recently purchased. "It was a great eye-opener for her to see how much money goes into things like property taxes and utilities," she said.
Try to focus on developing interdependence—in which both parties gain something from each other—rather than simply enabling dependence, said Jane Adams, the author of "I'm Still Your Mother" and a speaker who provides coaching for parents of grown children.
“Having your kid back home can provide companionship, help with household chores or expenses, and can give you a viewpoint into a world you would otherwise miss out on," Adams said. “You also get to have your parenting validated; you must have been a good parent if your kids still want to be around you."
Develop an Exit Plan
Early on, set a hoped-for date when your child will be able to live independently. The date doesn't have to be set in stone, but at least everyone will be on the same page about the basic timeframe and the temporary nature of this living arrangement. After six months, Neman recommends revisiting the plan and adjusting it as needed.
“It is not meant to be a hard-and-fast moving out date, but rather an incentive to keep your offspring motivated and moving in a positive direction," she said.
Identify Their Responsibilities
To avoid feelings of resentment, and to encourage independence, your adult child should have some responsibilities in the household beyond taking care of his or her own space and laundry. Take time to discuss together what those responsibilities will be, such as doing yard work, cleaning or grocery shopping.
“When your child does something for you, acknowledge it — say thank you," Adams said. “While that acknowledgement should go both ways, don't keep reminding them of everything you do for them."
Determine Their Financial Contributions
Think about how or whether your adult child could contribute financially to the household by paying rent or helping with other bills. They likely weren't contributing to expenses prior to graduating and finding a job, but now its worthwhile to have that conversation. Requiring them to make some contribution may encourage responsibility and avoid resentment. Just don't make finances the crux of your relationship.
“Monetary contributions should be discussed, then dropped," Newman said. “If he or she is employed, find a realistic, even token contribution—for instance, keep gas in the car, pay the utility bill or his own cellphone bill, or a small monthly rent. If you can afford to do so, put that money away and return it to your child as a gift when he or she leaves to live on her own."
Resolve to communicate openly, like adults. Decide that if something upsets you or your adult child, you will discuss it honestly and respectfully.
“If your kid says he's living at home to save money and you see them spending all of it on cars, clothes and concert tickets, it's okay to ask about it and sit down and set a goal together and make a plan for how to achieve it," Adams said.
Set Your Boundaries
Like most parents, you probably want to help your child in any way you can. But in some cases, adult children can take advantage of their parents or the situation, and no parent has to sacrifice her own finances, safety or values to accommodate a grown child.
“You have to set boundaries for how you'd like for things to go," Adams said. “And if the situation is just intolerable, the parents get to say, 'We'd like for you to make other plans.'"
By being proactive, you can avoid making the move back home stressful for yourself and your young adult. “Appreciate the time you have together and focus on positives as a new way to turn your parent-adult child relationship into a friendship," Newman said.
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