Welcome Boomerang Kids Without Neglecting Your Marriage

When Nancy and Carl Terry’s son moved back into their Newport News, Virginia, home to attend a local college, his

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.

[step-list-wrapper title=”” time=””] [step-item number=”1. ” image_url=”” title=”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.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”2. ” image_url=”” title=”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.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”3. ” image_url=”” title=”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.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”4. ” image_url=”” title=”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.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”5. ” image_url=”” title=”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.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”6. ” image_url=”” title=”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. [/step-item][/step-list-wrapper]

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