Mom and dad may have teared up after packing up and dropping their kid off at college, but many parents are finding themselves unpacking that same stuff four years later.
The percentage of young adults living at home with their parents reached its highest level in nearly 40 years in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center. A record 21.6 million young adults, ages 18 to 31 years old, often referred to as millennials, are currently living with their parents. This is a total of 36% of young adults, and increase from 34% in 2009 during the height of the recession and 32% in 2007.
There are several factors driving these young adults back into their parents’ homes, says Robert Wendover, director of The Center for Generational Studies, who names college debt, a tight job market and solid parent/child relationships as the anchors keeping grads at home.
“Parents are enamored of their children and children are enamored of their parents,” he says. “And considering the economy and the fact that people are getting married later in life, this is what I would expect,” he says of the Pew study.
What’s more, only 63% of young adults in the millennial category had jobs in 2012, compared to 70% in 2001.
Even if recent grads are able to find a job, Bruce Tulgan, founder and chairman of RainmakerThinking and author of Not Everyone Gets A Trophy, says the salary is likely not enough to cover student loan payments, rent and other living expenses.
“Entry-level jobs aren’t paying enough to make ends meet for many people,” he says. “They are in life-stage transitions.”
If you find yourself back at home post-graduation, here are a few rules experts recommend following to keep all parties happy:
Rule No.1: Set Boundaries
Have an open and honest talk with your parents about your expectations, Wendover says. You may even consider a written contract so that both sides understand what they are in for and can act as a reference during disputes.
“Think about why you are there, what your objective is and when you are leaving,” he says.
Also, realize the situation is likely not ideal for either party, so both should strive to be empathetic toward one another.
“Be open—there is a certain sense of humiliation or disappointment associated with living at home,” Wendover says. “Parents may have not thought this would happen either, you have to be sensitive that you may have put them in an uncomfortable situation.”
And while you might have grown up in the house, Tulgan recommends acting as more of a gracious guest.
“Ask them to establish their ground rules,” he says. “Have clear expectations upfront and be honest about what you need from the situation. Live up to their expectations as well.”
Rule No.2: Discuss Privacy
With everyone sharing the same roof, everyone is going to lose some privacy, but it’s important to set boundaries and expectations.
“Just because parents have access to [your belonging] doesn’t mean they can get rid of things or move them around like they did when you were 17,” says Wendover. “Some parents can’t resist it. Lay down boundaries, but be discreet. You can’t yell at your parents, you must have a mature conversation.”
He also suggests learning each other’s schedules to help avoid unnecessary stress and tension from things like taking all the hot water or blocking the driveway.
“Shared spaces are likely to cause conflict, so laying ground rules there will really help as well,” Tulgan says.
Rule No.3: Chip in Around the House
To help ease any strain over the new living situation, experts suggest helping to make dinner, clean up and offer an extra hand around the house.
“You should take on cleaning, tasks and responsibilities,” he says. “Think of this as part of the ground rules.”
Rule No.4: Stay Motivated
If you are back at home looking for work, remember what you got your degree in and why you wanted to pursue that career.
“So many students get to their last semester in college and have no idea what they want to do,” Wendover says. “Think about why you got and wanted that degree in the first place.”
Rule No.5: Have a Deadline
Finally, Wendover says having an end-date in site is key for both parents and children.
Talk about the debt you want to pay off or job you want to get and set a goal in the foreseeable future to make the situation more bearable.
“There needs to be a sense of a horizon for the child and parent,” he says.