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How to Handle Return of Boomerang Kids

It's the new normal for young adults to move back home

Boomerang Millennials

Courtesy of Justin Lubin/NBC

Patrick Warburton and Carrie Preston play empty nesters in NBC's new comedy, "Crowded."

As college dorms empty after commencements across the nation, many new graduates will join the more than 20 million other young adults, ages 18 to 31, who have "boomeranged" home. It's so common that NBC recently launched a prime-time comedy, Crowded, about empty nesters whose life is disrupted by their young adult daughters.

Unlike a few years ago, moving home no longer carries a stigma. It's the new normal. One survey found that millennials think it's perfectly acceptable to live with parents for up to five years after college.

Some grads see returning home as a time to reboot before starting the next phase of their lives, says Mary Dell Harrington, cofounder of the blog Grown & Flown. The Great Recession made moving home a necessity for the unemployed, and they continued to return to their folks' homes even as the recession receded. In 2014, Harrington's own college-graduate son moved back home before he found work and got his own place with friends.

Harrington believes there's a "great practicality" to moving home, especially in high-rent urban areas. "Why not live at home, commute, save money and take advantage of that before going out and incurring those living expenses?" she says.

No matter what the reason for the move, it helps to have an honest discussion with adult children before they return or soon thereafter, says Christina Newberry, author and founder of AdultChildrenLivingatHome.com. "It's especially important if the child doesn't have a job so everyone is clear what steps need to be taken, so they're not stuck on the couch with nothing to do," she says.

Newberry suggests writing an actual contract (a template is available on her website) about expectations. Among the points for discussion are:

  • Financial contributions. If the grad has a job, will he pay rent? If not, will she get part-time work while looking for employment to pay rent and/or living expenses?
  • Length of stay. What's the expectation? A few months? A year?
  • Curfews and privacy. Will he come and go as he pleases? Will you keep tabs on where she's going? What about overnight guests? Is the bedroom off-limits?
  • Responsibilities. Will the grad help with cleaning, errands, laundry, carpooling younger siblings?
  • Expenses. Who pays for food, especially if the young adult wants a vegan, organic or other specialized diet? What about cellphones, cable TV, dry cleaning and gas?

The end goal, Newberry says, is not to kick them out as soon as possible but to "help them get to the point where they are ready to leave."

Even with the stress, many parents report that they enjoyed their child's hiatus at home. After almost a year, my coworker's son is moving out of his parents' home into his own apartment. Even though the young man started working at a tech start-up right after graduation, he wanted the time to transition from college to the real world and save some money. "It's time for him to go," says the dad. "He's ready to move on, and that's the right thing for him to do. But we'll miss him."

Mary W. Quigley, a journalist and author, has written two books about motherhood and work. An NYU journalism professor, she is the mother of three adult children and blogs at Mothering21.com.

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