How to Deal With Adult Children Who Have Never Moved Away From Home

Because the trend is so visible, discussions about adult children living at home often end up focusing on boomerang kids – adult kids who have moved away from their parents’ home and then moved back (or “boomeranged”), often after college, the loss of a job, or the end of a marriage or live-in relationship. But there’s another group of adults living with their parents, of course – those who never left. Maybe they went to a local college or lived at home while going through an apprenticeship or training program. Or maybe they’ve just become a bit stuck because they don’t quite know what to do with their lives, and they have a comfortable nest in which to linger. How do parents help these adult kids get on the path to independence?

In some ways this is harder that dealing with boomerang kids, since there is no clear moment at which to have a family meeting to set out the rules/expectations for the adult kid and develop a timeline for their stay at home. But in some ways it’s easier, since the relationship will have evolved slowly rather than been faced with the shock of an adult returning home who has developed habits and become used to the patterns and behaviors associated with living independently.

Ideally the family should have a meeting at which the “rules of engagement” for the adult child’s stay in the parental home are discussed and agreed to, just like a family should if a boomerang kid moved home after some time away. The challenge is figuring out when it is appropriate. For some families it may be as soon as the child graduates from high school, while for others it may be after college graduation. At that meeting, the family needs to tackle some tough issues: Figure out the adult child’s financial impact on the household, figure out ways to mitigate that, assign the child a financial responsibility, discuss acceptable behaviors and expectations, and determine an acceptable length of time for the adult child to stay at home. Then, work on developing a reasonable timeline with some meaningful goals and milestones along the way to help the adult child achieve independence based on that timeline. Put it all in writing to form a contract between the parents and the adult child that can be referred back to when times get tough and tempers flare. Having the agreement in writing helps keep everyone on track.

Remember: Parents’ main job in parenting any adult child is to help the child get to the point where he or she doesn’t need to depend on the parents any more and can live independently.