Repopulated Empty-Nests: What to Do When Your Kids Move Back Home

Senior adult woman talking to her son.

“The Boomer” is a column written for adults nearing retirement age and those already in their “golden years.” It will also promote reader interaction by posting e-mail responses and answering reader questions. E-mail your questions or topic ideas to

Boomers are increasingly finding their empty-nests repopulated by their adult children as the labor market remains weak and the economy struggles to make a full recovery.

So just when you think you are “alone at last”, you hear that knock on the front door. And let’s be honest, moving back home is probably not what your kids expected to do in life either.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that the number of people between the ages of 25 to 34 living with their parents nearly doubled between 1980 and 2008. The financial crisis and still weak labor market have only added to the trend—forcing more   adult kids (aka “kidults”) back home with mom and dad.

Family relationship experts Rosemary Lichtman and Phyllis Goldberg, offer the following advice to boomers facing new roommates.

Boomer: What financial ground rules should be put in place before you let your adult children move back home?

Negotiate financial obligations upfront so no one feels exploited. When each of you feels like you've been heard, it takes away some of the frustration stemming from lack of control.

If your kidult isn’t working, institute a barter system with household chores exchanged for spending money. If they're working, some of their salary should go toward rent, food and expenses since they will be benefiting from a variety of family privileges.

Create a timetable for their eventual financial independence, beginning with their fiscal responsibilities when they move back. It's essential for everyone to recognize that even temporary monetary assistance actually comes with a price tag for all – potential conflict around issues of co-dependency, control and unsolicited advice.

Boomer: What household rules and expectations should be put in place to assure your kids don't take advantage of you?

Ground rules should be established ahead of the move in at a family meeting to make sure everyone has similar expectations. Both parties will be giving up some autonomy and control--so you may have situations where push comes to shove.

Present your positions for the best and worst case scenarios and then draw some middle ground so everyone gets some of what they want from the living situation.

Gain consensus about making the division of labor on chores equitable. Put any absolute deal breakers out on the table so they can be discussed in detail. Ultimately, commit to a concrete plan to move the family toward common goals. And put it in writing so that everyone is working from the same blueprint.

If you'll be sharing certain possessions, like the TV, washer and dryer, refrigerator space and common areas, establish clear guidelines. Arrange regular follow up family sessions to check in with each other. Is the arrangement working? Do you need to clear the air? If you can understand each other's positions, you’re all more likely to agree to make concessions.

Boomer: Should boomers set time limits with how long children can live with them?  

Limits and deadlines on the living situation create less conflict down the road.

According to a 2006 Money/ICR poll, 60% of Americans believe that college graduates should be allowed to move back home, but only for up to a year. Have a serious conversation to learn more about why your emerging adult kids are moving back home and how you all feel about it. The timetable may be different if the reason is a job loss, divorce, bankruptcy or saving for a large purchase.

Your boomerang kids' ultimate goal should be to live on their own. Encourage them to set short-term objectives and work toward them. Having a mutual agreement about when to move out will help avoid resentments along the way. Try to keep your schedule in place but be willing to be flexible and move to Plan B if your initial approach doesn't work out.

Boomer: How much help should boomer parents be giving their kids while they are living home again.

Find the right balance between offering support and taking care of yourselves. You don't need to fall back into the roles you each played during the years of active parenting - you giving and the kids receiving.

If you've been enjoying your empty nest, continue doing what you've patiently waited through years of parenting to do; use your free time as you please without agonizing over family responsibilities. Now you certainly don't want to turn into a helicopter parent overseeing every aspect of your kidults' activities, smothering them and enabling their continued financial dependence. While they probably need a certain degree of monetary support - and often, health insurance coverage - the most useful help you can give may be through open and honest communication. As you share everyone's concerns for the future and brainstorm strategies for your boomerang kids to implement now, you'll be helping them develop the tools they need to succeed once they leave home again

Boomer: What tips can you give to boomers to "keep the peace" while their adult children are living with them?

Establish areas of accountability and appropriate boundaries. This will smooth over the wrinkles of day-to-day living. Respect is essential on both sides of the generation gap as you set up standards to protect the privacy of each person.

Living with roommates in a college dorm is one thing, but sharing space with adult family members can get awkward. Identify signals to use when one of you wants to be alone. The last time you all lived together, the circumstances were quite different yet old issues around power or dependency can resurface in this close environment. Having rules in place will allow you to detach more emotionally and benefit from the freedom to reclaim your life.

Insist that your kidults face their own challenges. At times 'tough love' is the most effective support parents can give. Boomers may even find that the new relationships they forge with their adult children are richer. You'll experience first hand your offspring's increasing maturity and they'll learn more about you as individuals, not just parents.