Welcome Boomerang Kids Without Neglecting Your Marriage

Don't fall into your old patterns if adult children return home.

By Sarì Harrar and Rita DeMaria | Ph.D. from The 7 Stages of Marriage

When Nancy and Carl Terry’s son moved back into their Newport News, Virginia, home to attend a local college, his return sent new ripples through their quiet, content Reunion-stage marriage. “I don’t even remember any difficult adjustment when he first left,” says Nancy. “It was more of an adjustment when he returned. He’s a pretty mature, respectful young man. He came back for a limited time, for a definite purpose. And we didn’t need many ground rules. But having a third person back in the house was a real adjustment for Carl and me. We were used to doing things on our own.”

There was a bit more clutter in the house, and the Terrys found their routine was altered. “There needed to be more communicating: ‘What are your plans?’ ‘Will you be home this evening?’ He was pretty involved with school and friends, and it was a positive experience for all of us. But it was definitely a new wrinkle,” Nancy recalls.

In households across America, “boomerang kids” are returning home after college in increasing numbers. Still more are delaying their first flight from the nest — living at home for the first year or two of college or while they try out their first post-high school jobs. As of the 2000 Census, roughly 4 million kids between the ages of 25 and 34 were living at their parents’ homes in the United States. A more current estimate is that one-fourth of children between the ages of 18 and 34 live with their parents. Interestingly, more boys than girls are coming back home.

Grown kids living at home is also a global phenomenon. In Italy, they’re called mammoni, or “mama’s boys.” The Japanese call their not-so-prodigal kids parasaito shinguru, or “parasite singles.” And in the United Kingdom, they go by the acronym KIPPERS, short for “kids in parents’ pockets eroding retirement savings.”

What’s behind this important cultural shift? The trend toward later marriage is one factor. Boomerang numbers also rise whenever the economy falters; kids are more likely to come home when they can’t find jobs, don’t make enough to pay for apartments, or are saddled with education or credit card debt.

Most parents are happy to oblige; it’s for their children, after all. Yet they do see the trade-offs. In one national survey, a majority of parents hosting grown kids said the arrangement worked out well. But they also confessed that they’d enjoy more privacy and better finances if the kids weren’t there. And at a deeper level, having your kids return to the roost can freeze your evolving marriage just when you most need to focus your time and energy on each other. Another danger: If one or both of you fall back into old parental roles, your marriage could regress to the child-focused years instead of moving forward into independence, new roles, new activities, and new levels of marital connection.

When kids come home, the trick is to get on with this new life as much as possible instead of dropping everything to do an extra load of laundry or make a special supermarket trip to stock up on his favorite breakfast cereal and beer. These steps can help your marriage — and your child — keep moving toward independence.