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How to Set Rules for Adult Children Living at Home

3 conversations to have when your child moves home

Photo by Ronald F. DiMauro Architects, Inc., original photo on Houzz

The New York Times recently reported that for the first time in history, adults ages 18 to 34 are more likely to live with a parent than with a romantic partner. At 33, I’m surprised by the number of friends I have who are comfortable living back at home with their parents (yes, they manage to have dating lives too).

There are lots of reasons why 20- and 30-somethings might migrate back to the nest. Those reasons may be a big factor in how that living arrangement is handled. That being said, regardless of whether the adult children return home due to necessity, transition or preference, here are some things you should be sure to discuss.

Photo credit: Menter Architects LLC, original photo on Houzz

1. Timeline

It’s really important to discuss how long this living arrangement is expected to last. Is it indefinite? Six months? Two years? Until Pete gets a job? Once the house is built? What is the length of time the adult child is thinking he or she will need, and what can the parents handle?

It will be different for each family, but think about it realistically. For example, if an adult daughter moves home with her new husband because their house is being built, add to the time frame an extra month or two since large house projects can go on longer than expected.

Photo credit: Cynthia Marks — Interiors, original photo on Houzz

2. Financials

Some families may be in a position where the parents can and are happy to cover the costs of having their kids back at home. If so, lucky kids! But that isn’t the case for most families.

While I think it’s best if the suggestion comes from the adult child who is moving back in (shows a proactive approach!), parents may need to outline what’s expected financially before Junior moves back home. Each situation will be different, but here are some suggestions for what he or she contributes:

  • A flat rate meant for food, bills, mortgage, wear and tear, etc.

  • A flat rate for bills and rent, with the expectation that the adult child purchases communal and personal food items

  • A rate based on a percentage of the adult child’s income

  • A rate that is supposed to go up to a certain point once the adult child finds a job (or another condition that makes sense for the situation)

  • No rent, but contributes to bills and food

  • No rent, but with the expectation that certain projects and chores will be done by the adult child

3. Expectations

As with any living situation, you are going to want to set clear expectations around the ins and outs of living together. It will be important to set clear boundaries. Here are areas to think about:

Cleaning: Whether you set up a cleaning schedule, chore wheel or (as my mom did) put up little signs that indicate what’s expected in that room (things like: put away toiletries, wipe sink and counter, put clothes in hamper, hang towels on hooks or racks), it’s important to communicate what is expected in terms of cleaning. For some, all you’ll need to say is, “Clean up after yourself and help out with weekly chores.” For others, you’ll need to spell out what’s expected on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Be clear and specific.

Photo credit: Alison Hodgson, original photo on Houzz

Guests: Adult children shouldn’t be made to feel like teenagers again with curfews, but Mom and Dad shouldn’t feel as though their house has turned into a college dormitory with people coming and going all the time either. Take time to think and talk about what’s going to work — you may have to experiment here to see what feels right for your family.

Things to think about: How frequently can guests come over? Is it OK to have a significant other stay the night? What about when Mom and Dad are out of town? Is there an area of the house that’s better-suited for late-night hangouts — a finished basement room, guesthouse, in-law apartment or finished garage attic? What about people just dropping by? Start with some general rules and adjust them as needed. Remember, it’s always OK to check in with each other and see how the arrangement is working. 

Behavior: At 30, it can be hard to think of your parents having a say or even an opinion about how you should be structuring your day or going about your business. But parents are parents, and they are going to have opinions and thoughts about your life. It would be good to talk about things like sleeping late or taking a lazy day to curl up on the couch and veg out. This conversation isn’t reserved for rest. It could be a workout routine, eating habits, or personal choices around drinking or smoking that come into the mix.

No matter what it is, this can be territory where parents and adult children can clash, and it’s important to discuss things and voice concerns, but also keep age in mind. Parents and children may always have that dynamic, but finding language for how to talk about these issues is a good idea.

Some sample language

1. Adult child: “Hey guys, I could really use a day to sleep in. Would it be all right if this Saturday you held off on cleaning until after 10 a.m.?”

2. Parent: “Chris, we are happy to have you here, but as your mom, I’m not able to condone the smoking. I’m going to ask that you not smoke in or around the house.”

3. Adult child: “Dad, I appreciate you wanting to help me find a job, but I’m feeling a lot of pressure when you ask me about it daily. How about we do a once-a-week check-in?”

4. Parent: “Libby, we are glad you’re staying with us, but it’s important to me that your ongoing projects get put away when you’re not working on them.”

Every family is going to have different issues and different successes when adult children come home again. Hopefully you’ll be proactive and try to have as many expectations in place ahead of time. For those moments when issues do arise, remember to speak from a place of respect and understanding.

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