The Empty Nest Isn’t So Empty by Bob Lowry

The Empty Nest Isn’t So Empty by Bob Lowry

They have been called boomerang kids, often between 21 and 35…adult children who end up moving back in with mom and dad. Sometimes the return is brief, for others it becomes an extended stay. I was surprised by the statistics: 15% of parents with grown children say one of their adult sons or daughters has moved back home in the past year. During a bad economic period, up to 40% of college grads are back with their folks a full year after graduation.

Obviously, having an adult child move back home presents both challenges and opportunities to your satisfying retirement lifestyle.  Beyond the basic change an extra person makes to your day-to-day routines, space use, and costs, there are other important issues that need to be addressed.  Consider the following if you have an adult child ready to move “home:”

Protect your retirement assets. The worst thing you could do it tap deeply into what you will need to help your child out. If you are retired, or soon will be, you do not have the time to build those funds back to the level you have determined you will need. While you may feel pressured to bail your son or daughter out with the money you have in your 401 (k)) or IRA, don’t do it. That advice comes from every financial source I could find on the Internet and makes complete sense to me.

If you do provide some money, make it a loan, not a gift. If you are able to help your child out while he or she attempts to get back on their feet without tapping your retirement money, then by all means do so. But, the suggestion is to loan the money rather than making it an outright gift. You will feel more like a partner in helping your child. And he or she will feel more like an adult than a child, still getting gifts from mommy and daddy. Establish a regular repayment schedule and charge at least some interest.

Charge room and board. Yes, I know she is your own family member. But, for the same reason you should loan money instead of giving it to her, the fact is she will increase your living costs. Charge a monthly rent that is well below normal market rates. But, the extra money will help you with the increased food and electric bills. Paying something toward those costs will help the child’s self-respect, too.

Agree on basic ground rules. The new “tenant” should help with some household chores, handle his own laundry, offer to go food shopping on occasion, and help with the cooking or cleanup. If you prefer a neat home, insist that her living space (and yours) remains that way. What about bringing over dates or friends?

What about “sleepovers” with members of the opposite sex? Decide well ahead of time the answers to these questions.

Insist that he or she actively look for a job or whatever it takes to become independent again. Lying on the coach while watching 6 hours of TV a day,  playing video games, or sleeping until noon is going to cause problems….quickly. Agree before the child moves in what is a reasonable plan for moving back out again.

Set a timetable. There should be some sort of “finish line” to this arrangement. Set a time-based limit, or when a certain income level has been met. Of course, you may need to be a bit flexible with this requirement. But, a timetable does help motivate the returning child to become creative in solving his problems. That may mean 2 or 3 part time jobs and living with a roommate. It may mean sharing a car or relying on public transportation. If there is a projected end to the boomerang phase, both parents and child have a goal to aim for.

Treat your “child” like you would an adult renter, not as his parent. It is quite likely he or she already feels bad about having to move back with mom and dad. Don’t compound that by reminding him whenever possible of that fact. Respect his privacy, opinions, and needs. Realize that while she still wants your respect, she doesn’t really need your permission. If he is following the ground rules you have both agreed upon, then take off your parent hat.

On the positive side, if your relationship with the returning child is good, this may be a tremendous time period together. Your “child” is an adult in opinions and actions. You can enjoy him or her for who they have become. The need to “parent” has diminished. The time is there to enjoy his or her uniqueness. It also feels good as a parent to help a child in time of need.

Having an adult child move home when he or she has lost a job, suffered the end of a bad marriage, or is recuperating from a serious illness will change you life, and theirs. By establishing fair and clearly defined rules and obligations it can be a time of discovery and a time of deepening relationships. It could be a tremendous plus for your retirement lifestyle.

If the adult child moving back has a spouse and/or a child, the change is more dramatic and the topic for another post.

Have you experienced the “boomerang” effect? Do you have any ideas or suggestions we can benefit from? Even if an adult child of yours has never returned home, I’ll bet you have some opinions about the subject. Here’s the place to let it fly!

By Bob Lowry

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