Maybe it took you some time to feel truly comfortable in that empty nest once the kids moved out. Eventually, though, you found perks aplenty: a clean kitchen, no more late nights spent worrying about who's going where and the living room all to yourself.
Then you get that phone call from one of your grown children: "Mind if I live at home for a bit?" And your world is turned upside down again.
According to a 2010 report by the Pew Research Center, more and more "boomerang" kids are moving back home. About 49 million Americans, or 16 percent of the U.S. population, lived in family households with at least two adult generations in 2008 — an increase of 2.6 million over the previous year and a startling jump from the 28 million people, or 12 percent, who lived in multigenerational households in 1980.
Like homing pigeons, young adults ages 25 to 34 are now coming back to roost with their parents with increasing frequency. In 1980, 11 percent of adults in this age group lived in a multigenerational household; by 2008, 20 percent did.
Why? Point your finger at today's wheezing economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 37 percent of those ages 18 to 29 were either unemployed or out of the work force by 2009. Put that together with the high cost of living, college loans and the fact that more than half of first marriages end in divorce, and it is easy to see why so many young people can't make it on their own.
For some, family togetherness is smooth sailing the second time around. But for most, it entails many challenges. "You may expect your grown kids to behave like adults, but sometimes everyone falls back into their old patterns too easily," explains psychotherapist Susan Ende, co-author with Gail Parent of How to Raise Your Adult Children (Hudson Street Press, 2010).
If you and your adult child find yourselves living under one roof again, here are some tips to make the transition easier for everyone:
Wait for the knock on the door. If your son is struggling to put gas in his car or your daughter has fallen behind on student loans, it's fine to offer an occasional helping hand. "Don't be the one to suggest that your child should move back in with you, however, unless there's a real emergency," cautions Ende. "Wait until he or she asks. Otherwise, your child will feel less urgency to solve problems on his or her own."
Share your concerns. "Talk openly with each other," says Dr. Nada Stotland, a Chicago psychiatrist with a special interest in women's mental health. What worries you about sharing a house with your child? Do you want your child to pay rent, or support his or her own cell phone and car expenses? What chores do you expect your child to do? Likewise, what are your child's concerns? From wanting to eat only vegetarian meals to having the opposite sex sleep over, "Getting the issues out on the table right away is more important than settling on the rules," Stotland adds. "Once you iron out a plan, make a point of revisiting it every few months or even weeks to see if everyone's concerns are being met."
Have it your way. One of the biggest issues for most adult children is that they think there should be no rules for them in their parents' home, Ende says. "Make it clear that it's your house. Sure, an adult child can express an interest in doing things a certain way, but until he or she pays the mortgage, you get to make the rules."
Offer empathy, not pity. Most adult children resort to moving back in with parents after losing jobs, apartments or relationships. "You're likely to be dealing with someone who feels like a failure," Stotland says. Your child may feel lonely, defeated or angry, and is bound to need some TLC. At the same time, it's unhealthy for your child to make best friends with the couch. Encourage him or her to volunteer, do the grocery shopping, babysit younger siblings and socialize. "Send the message that you know your child is capable," Stotland says.
Put your financial future first. Decide ahead of time how much money you want to contribute — and can afford to give — to bail your child out, says Ende. Your child has decades ahead to create his or her own financial security, while you may be retired or close to it. Don't hesitate to tell your child you expect him or her to chip in for household expenses. Let your child know there are limits on your finances and your own retirement security comes before all else.
Keep it short-term. Given the option of living at home, many adult children may try to hold out for the "right" job with the idea of living with parents indefinitely. Nip that idea in the bud. "Make it clear that moving back in with you is not a long-term plan," says Ende. It's a good idea to set a specific time limit — say, six months — and then review the arrangement when that period is up to make sure that it's working well for all involved.