Adult Children Moving Back

Written by Dr. Sidney Langston  

Kathryn and John, the parents of three adult children, sat across from me looking worried. John had retired several months earlier and he and his wife had been looking forward to doing some traveling and spending time alone together. However, it seemed that their dream was not going to be realized because their adult daughter had lost her job, and all her efforts to find new employment had failed. Her savings had quickly been depleted and she was no longer able to support herself. She wanted to come back home to live. In the past their daughter had taken their help for granted. Now they wanted to be available to her, but they wanted to do it in the healthiest possible way.

The number of adult children living at home has been on the rise since 2000, according to the census data. Men 25 to 34 who are living at home rose from 14 percent in 2005 to 19 percent in 2011, while women of the same age went from 8 percent in 2005 to 10 percent in 2011. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 16% of 20-to-24-year-olds are unemployed and according to Pew Research, a whopping 85% of college seniors had planned to move back home with their parents after graduation. According to the research this is almost always for financial reasons or because of divorce. The research also indicates that when adult children return home they want to enjoy all the privileges of adulthood with little or no responsibilities. They want their parents to take care of them. If allowed, this will infringe on the parents’ financial resources, privacy, and lifestyle.

As parents we want to help our children as much as possible, regardless of their ages. However, it is one thing for our children to gratefully accept our help and another to have our help taken for granted.

If, like Kathryn and John, you are faced with the possibility of one of your adult children returning to live with you, perhaps the following suggestions will prove helpful.

  • Establish a written or oral contract with your adult child before allowing him to return home. This will help protect both your rights and his. Negotiate the terms of the contract with your adult child so that they are mutually satisfactory.
  • If at all possible, establish with your returning child the expected length of stay and stick to it. You can always renegotiate the time limit if it becomes necessary.
  • If your child is between jobs and can’t pay room and board, expect him to help around the house or the yard. This way he can earn his keep, while maintaining a sense of responsibility and self esteem, and you will benefit from his help.
  • Establish ground rules. This doesn’t mean that you are treating him like a child. Rather, it is stating what you expect of anyone living in your home. For example, if you don’t let people smoke in your house, and your adult child smokes, don’t change the rules to accommodate him.
  • Don’t establish curfews or ask where your adult child is going or when he will be back. Remember he is an adult who has been living on his own, keeping his own time schedules. However, it is common courtesy for your adult child to let you know if he is not coming home at night or will be out of town for an extended period.
  • Work diligently to keep the lines of communication open and honest. This helps to avoid unnecessary conflicts and makes everyone concerned more comfortable.
  • Lastly, refrain from caretaking, overprotecting, or indulging your adult child. Don’t do his thinking and planning for him. Keep in mind he is an adult and he needs the learning experience of making his own decisions and/or mistakes. This allows him the freedom to err in judgement, make mistakes, experience the consequences of his decisions and learn from those consequences without erosion of self respect.

Kathryn and John left my office feeling better equipped to deal with their returning adult child and their own future. They had some tools which would make this transition in their lives a little smoother for everyone.

Six months later Kathryn and John called to let me know that their daughter was on her own again. Her stay in their home had worked out well because they had discussed guidelines in advance and everyone knew what to expect.

In these difficult economic times, more and more adult children find themselves temporarily living with their parents.  But, if everyone involved works together, lives and relationships do not have to be disrupted.


Dugger, Jim (1991). Parenting: Ward and june don’t live here anymore.  Shawnee Mission Kansas: National Press Publications.

Copyright 1994, El Rophe Center, Inc.