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


  • 1.

    Make 'em pay.

    Financial advisors are unanimous: Parents should charge their adult children rent — and require that they chip in for their fair share of the food bill, the phone bill, cable TV fees, and utilities. Kids should also expect to pay their own bills — for gas, meals out, car loans, credit card debt, car insurance, and cell phones, for example. They’re grown-ups now, after all, and should know that if they incur expenses, they are responsible for paying them. Why? You want to foster healthy independence. You also want to guard your own pre-retirement earnings. A recent University of Michigan survey of 6,000 young adults estimates that parents give grown kids an average of $38,000 in cash — for cars, repayment of student loans and credit card debt, etc. — between ages 18 and 34. That’s a large number. Keeping the parental piggy bank shut can reduce tensions between you and your spouse and between the two of you and your not-so-prodigal child.

  • 2.

    Share the load.

    You’re not the maid, chauffeur, dog-walker, or laundress. A returning child should expect to shoulder one-third of the household chores. This too encourages independence and responsibility and reduces another source of potential friction in your once-quiet home.

  • 3.

    Set ground rules.

    Yes, adults come and go as they please. But they don’t wake up respected housemates with parties, unexpected guests, loud music, and the aroma of frying burgers at 3 a.m. Don’t try to set a curfew for your grown child — the last thing you want to do is act like the parents of a teenager again. Do lay out house rules early on and expect your new housemate to comply. Make sure you and your spouse agree and will back each other up. Don’t let your kid drive a wedge into your marriage by pitting the two of you against each other.

  • 4.

    Resist the urge to regress.

    Babying your grown-up offspring isn’t good for you or your child. He or she will either resent it or get a bit too comfortable. You’ll be putting your child back in the center of your life, just when the spotlight should shift to your marriage. The same University of Michigan survey found that parents of grown kids between ages 18 and 34 devoted over 3,800 hours to helping them. That’s what families are for, but don’t let extracurricular parenting pull you away from your marriage partner. Avoid time-warp mothering or fathering.

  • 5.

    Be your new self.

    Instead of waiting up for Junior on Saturday night, go ahead with that planned date with your spouse. Install your new houseguest in the bedroom farthest from your own so that you’ll have maximum privacy for conversations, cuddles, and lovemaking. Move ahead with plans for new joint projects with your mate and for new personal plans for your free time. If your marriage is changing, don’t hide it from your returning child: Kiss in front of him or her, have emotionally frank conversations, meet for dinner before heading home from work, invite friends over, and tactfully let your child know it’s your private social time.

  • 6.

    Set a move-out date.

    In the National Survey of Families and Households, most parents with grown kids at home said they expected their houseguests to stick around for one to three years. But many admitted that their children had no definite plans to move out. We say don’t beat around the bush. Set a time limit on the stay and encourage him or her to find that great job, save the money for the real estate down payment, or pay off student loans so that independence day can be a reality.

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