Should Your Adult Child Move Back Home?

You can foster independence and responsibility while you set boundaries.
By John Daum
April 18, 2022

Do you have an adult child living at home part-time or full-time? Are you considering this kind of arrangement? You might be struggling as you think about how to nurture and honor their adulthood while still being the adult parent in your home. I’ve got essential principles and practical help as you set boundaries with adult children. Let’s begin by examining the adult in the somewhat strange term adult child

Everyone begins life being cared for by others. And if we live long enough, we each end our lives being cared for by other people. Somewhere in between is the chapter of life we call adulthood

Adulthood: When you bear the responsibility of taking care of yourself.

If you’re a parent, you’ve brought a child into this world who began life utterly dependent on you. But as any toddler will show you, the desire to be independent is built in. It’s human nature for the toddler to protest and say, No, I’ll do it myself. That’s a healthy predisposition. Remember: The ultimate goal of parenting is to transition a dependent person into an independent person. 

Parents raise future adults who do life themselves. 

The toddler can’t actually do it themselves, and we don’t expect them to. But when is it reasonable to expect your adult child to be responsible for themselves and no longer dependent on you?

The transition can be tricky. It typically occurs between the late teens and early 20s. How do you know when your child is an adult? Every individual is different. You know where your young adult is from a developmental standpoint. But there are some significant signposts.

At age:

18Legally accountable. Vote. Enlist in the military. Marry without parental consent.

21 – Can buy tobacco, alcohol, and in many states, cannabis.

25Rent a car. 

26Latest age they can be on most parents’ health insurance.

What do you see when you look at those numbers? From 18 to 26, there’s a window of time where adult freedoms and responsibilities kick in. Hopefully, we prepared our kids for the “training wheels” to come off during their teenage years. At 18, the training wheels are definitely beginning to come off. By the early to mid-20s, the transition is complete.

Your toddler is now an adult peddling through life on their own.

Remember: Adulthood  = Independence + Responsibility.

★ If we don’t give our adult children responsibilities, they can’t be independent and reach adulthood. This only extends their childhood and delays their maturity.

There are legitimate circumstances that may cause your adult child to be at home: College, unemployment, experiencing childbirth, illness, even a broken marriage or partnership. Our goal as parents is to promote independence through education, employment, financial stability, and ultimately, living on their own. Moving back home (in most cases) should be a temporary arrangement marked with tangible goals leading to their moving out.

MINDSET SHIFT:

Think of an adult child living at home as more like a housemate and less like a teenager. Your name is on the mortgage or lease. Sure, there should be healthy conversations. But you get the final word.

★ Something(s) To Think About. As parents, we have an impulse to do anything we can for our kids. Know your limits. Understand the healthy freedoms & responsibilities your adult child needs to grow into an independent adult. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Will there be an agreed-upon end date? 
  • What signposts can you put in place to mark educational & occupational goals? 
  • Will you be dealing with a young person who has drug or alcohol issues? Significant mental health issues? 
  • Will your child be bringing a baby with them? 
  • Despite your good intentions, realistically, can you handle this? 

Avoid problems before they happen. Address and agree to boundaries before an adult child moves back home (if possible). Put them in writing. Sign them like a rental agreement or contract

What are sensible, reasonable requirements or conditions you would have for a housemate to reside with you? 

1. They’re reasonably easy to live with. They respect you, your property, and your boundaries.

Start here. You and your adult child living at home will occasionally experience friction. That’s reasonable. They’re adult family

(If it helps, think of your adult child as a stranger who is renting a room at your place. There would undoubtedly be limits.) 

Sadly, there are numerous cases of adult children intimidating, manipulating, or even verbally and physically abusing their parents. You wouldn’t put up with that behavior from a renter. You can’t tolerate such behavior from your adult child. Basic respect is a minimum requirement. Understand what abuse is in all of its forms.* 

2. They’re a contributor, not just a consumer – a giver, not just a taker.

This arrangement shouldn’t just be a net financial gain for your adult child. It should instill discipline and be instructive. Catch this: The person doing the work is learning and growing. The person sacrificing is the person developing character and life skills. This person must be your adult child. 

What resources do they have? Income? What amount can they reasonably contribute? Tough Love Alert: If your adult child is enrolled in school, they can probably work part-time. If your adult child isn’t in school and is unemployed, their job is to find a job. 

What about time & energy? Your adult child can help with household cleaning, laundry, yardwork, and meal prep & clean up. Organize these responsibilities with systems and schedules. Focus on clear communication. If you’re providing childcare while your son or daughter is at work or school, factor that into the division of labor. (I know, I know, but this is your grandchild, right? Call up a local daycare or preschool. Understand the value of the service you are providing.)

3. Hopefully, this is a harmonious, temporary situation.

Don’t be surprised if adjustments take some time, it’s difficult, or it isn’t working out. It’s ok to feel bad if your adult child is in a tough spot in their life. It’s understandable to want to help. Maybe you can. Perhaps you shouldn’t. What’s certain is that you can’t be motivated by guilt or a well-intentioned, “I can fix this.” Let that stuff go. Be the parent your adult child needs today. To let them play video games 24/7, “borrow” money constantly, or take advantage of you is to stunt the growth of their adult independent living skills. You love them too much to do that

4. If you allow your adult child to move in with you, the situation should be right for you both.

Communicate and set boundaries upfront. Agree on how you’ll know the arrangement is working and can continue to an agreed-upon end date. As difficult or uncomfortable as it may be, communicate the signs and consequences that will bring an end to this arrangement. 

Remember: Your adult child is becoming the person they will be for the rest of their life.

*Domestic Violence Hotline

Do you feel unsafe? For a free, confidential, and clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here, or contact the Domestic Violence Hotline, 24/7, at 1−800−799−7233.

Sources:

Adult Children: The Guide to Parenting Your Grown Kids

Rules, Boundaries, and Older Children: How to Cope with an Adult Child Living at Home

Rules for Adult Children | Boundaries for Adult Kids Living at Home

Adult Children: Relating to Them in the Best Way – Dr. John Townsend

Setting Boundaries with Adult Children — Lilley Consulting

Emerging Adulthood

Resources:

7 Ways To Deal With Adult Children Who Make Poor Decisions

Keys to Multigenerational Communication – First Things First

The Art of Communication – First Things First

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