Overheard at the gym: "I'm selling my house. It's the only way I can get my son to move out and make sure the others don't try to move back." Apparently a boomer was downsizing sooner than planned because his 20-something son had become a squatter of sorts. The house was up for sale, and the couple was moving to a one-bedroom condo.
Many other parents share the crowded-nest problem. A 2015 survey found that almost 40 percent of young Americans are living with parents, siblings or other relatives, the highest percentage in 75 years.
Some parents expect and welcome the post-college sojourn for up to a year while the new grad finds a job and saves money to move out. The problems occur when a young adult refuses to leave or returns home with no game plan.
What can parents do in these situations? We chatted with Kim Abraham, a therapist in Grand Blanc, Mich., and coauthor of The Whipped Parent. Abraham takes a tough-love approach, with the belief that it's a privilege — not a right — for children to live at home after age 18. Based on her counseling experiences, Abraham argues that parents have indulged children to the point where creature comforts are expected. "They don't want to live in a one-room efficiency above a store," she says. "They'd rather move back to a comfortable home with better sheets and better food." Her advice on how to manage boomerang children:
- Don't share the wealth. Many parents worked hard to earn a comfortable life, and their children expect them to share it. "When you hand them those comforts you're cheating them out of gaining self-confidence and pride when they achieve those things by working hard themselves."
- Lose the guilt. We sometimes are held hostage by anger, disappointment or fear of what will happen if we don't bail them out. "Children are very good at pushing those buttons to make us feel responsible for their happiness and emotional well-being."
- No excuses. The adult children may claim their boss doesn't like them or they're not happy with their work and want to jump ship. They don't need to come home to do that. They can find a new job while continuing to work or go to school part time to get new skills.
- Make a plan. Adult children will claim they need to stay for only a short time while they save for a down payment or get back on their feet. "They usually come in with a goal. Then they get in the door and are not saving any money" or making any changes. Stop this by demanding a written plan with goals and deadlines.
- Threaten eviction. Draw up a contract with specific terms. "This is an agreement between two adults. Don't think of her as your child; picture her as a tenant." Set a move-out deadline and no matter what happens remind them 60 days out, and then 30 days out, that you are holding firm.
- List expectations. Make them contribute by paying rent or helping around the house and yard. Be specific about expected responsibilities. List your rules, from what time the front door is locked to no food in the bedroom. Be clear about your limits on babysitting if grandchildren move in.
- Resist rescuing. "It's unlikely that your child will end up homeless. Their survival mode will kick in and they will find a way. Remind them that you know the world is a scary place but that you have confidence in their ability to stand on their own feet."
Mary W. Quigley, a journalist and author, has written two books about motherhood and work. A New York University journalism professor, she is the mother of three adult children and blogs at Mothering21.com