The “boomerang generation” has been around for two decades, and it does not appear to be going away anytime soon. Young adults today are more likely to live with their parents than previous generations did, according to analysis published in 2017 by the Pew Research Center.
The continuing trend has created a need for guidelines on how to manage their stay and how long it should last.
Mariana Martinez, a family dynamics consultant with Wells Fargo Private Bank who has compiled a list of recommendations, said the focus should be on the new household dynamics, not on who does the dishes or pays the electric bill.
“It’s more about the relationship and less about the financial details,” Ms. Martinez said. “The relationship with an adult child who moves back home has to change from what it was in high school and college.
“And it goes both ways,” she added. “Paying attention on how to move the relationship to the next stages is going to be the foundation for the relationship going forward.”
With a crop of recent college graduates settling back into their old rooms, here are five things families should do.
Set expectations as adults
The first rule is that graduation from college has to mark the point where children are officially grown-ups, even if they are living at home, Ms. Martinez said. That means that parents and children need to treat each other as adults.
“Sons and daughters need to realize they’re now adults,” she said. “They can’t push their parents away for their own space — that’s a child’s behavior. They need to realize they’re being welcomed in that home but they don’t have the same rights they did before.”
Once that’s established, both sides need to set expectations. On the relationship side, there needs to be an understanding of how family life is now structured, as well as the desired outcome of the return home. That naturally involves a discussion of future plans.
As part of the financial conversation, families need to strike a balance between the adult child’s obligations and the parents’ assistance, as well as determining how long the stay is going to last.
Establishing these guidelines involves conversations that are uncomfortable for both sides, which is generally why the wealthiest parents bring in moderators. For everyone else, though, it’s about setting expectations.
Both of Maria Marquez’s children returned to their home in San Francisco — Paige last year and Christian a month ago. Ms. Marquez, who works in finance, and her husband, Rod, an engineer at a tech start-up, had poured money into private school, academic tutors and sports coaches before paying for four years of private college so their children could graduate debt free.
Yet the couple were not surprised that their children returned home, given the exceedingly high cost of living in their hometown. San Francisco is the second-most expensive city in the United States, behind New York, according to the personal finance site NerdWallet.
Ms. Marquez said she communicated her expectations to both children. “The issue is productivity,” she said. “If I’m coming home from a long day, I don’t want to see someone sitting idle.”
Understand the context of the return
Other experts in family dynamics said guidelines for a return trip needed to be understood in the context of different situations: the quick stay, the prolonged stay that needs some nudging and a stay that has underlying medical issues, like addiction or depression. Throw a family business into the mix and the guidelines become more complicated.
The quick stay can be thought of as a time to solidify plans, save up some money for an apartment and get started on life. That was the experience Ms. Marquez had with her daughter, Paige, who is now getting her master’s degree in the nursing program at Columbia University.
Paige, who was a biology major and played basketball at Smith College, said she had begun taking nursing school prerequisites at a community college two weeks after returning home last spring. By December, she knew she was headed off to graduate school.
Christian said he knew his parents’ expectations. “I’ve been waking up early, working out and then job-searching,” he said. “I’m getting into a schedule. I’m spending a good amount of time searching for jobs.”
But his mother added that he did not have to leave even if he found a job. “We’re not standing there with your suitcases to say, ‘Hurry up and go,’” she said. “But you will pay rent.”
Don’t enable bad behavior
Matthew Wesley, director in the Center for Family Wealth Dynamics and Governance at Merrill Lynch, said many of the wealthy families who sought his advice misunderstood the situation. Adult children slip into prolonged stays — if they have any desire to leave at all.
Their rationale is understandable. Life at home is better than what they’re going to get on their own. Few starter apartments, shared with roommates, have the amenities of a large home on many acres, with household help and maybe even a pool, tennis courts and a home theater.
Yet wealthy parents, who may have retired early or have more free time than their middle-class counterparts, often enable this behavior.
“Oftentimes, parents are invested in having their kids dependent on them,” Mr. Wesley said. “Dad likes having his son to play golf with him, or Mom likes going shopping with her daughters. Parents need to do some self-examination and take a long, hard look at their motives.”
In other words, they may need to accept some of the blame for the situation, after being “helicopter parents” who swooped in to help their children or “snowplow parents” who pushed all obstacles out of their children’s way.
The difference between being helpful and enabling can be slight, said Mindy Kalinowski Earley, chief learning officer at the Family Office Exchange, a membership organization for wealthy families. “It’s not ‘How can I set up a lunch for you?’” she said. “It’s ‘Here’s the number, and I’ll tell them you’ll be calling.’”
Otherwise, she said, wealthy parents are robbing their children of something crucial — what she calls “the developmental demands of reality.”
Get counseling for serious problems
There are times when adult children do not need guidelines or a nudge; they need counseling for health issues like anxiety and depression. In these cases, turn to mental health professionals, not a checklist.
“The inability to get up off the couch and find a career is the effect, not the cause,” said Peter F. Culver, a longtime financial adviser and a founder of the Family Legacy Council, which works with large, wealthy families. “There is something deeper going on there.”
He recalled one child in a family who did match the drive and ambition of his three siblings. He was smart and capable, but scarred psychologically by his parents’ brutal divorce. “If you asked him objectively, he wanted to get out of the house, but he needed real help,” Mr. Culver said.
“Certain guidelines are fair, but if there are certain deeper issues, that’s a problem,” he said.
Separate family life from the family business
Guidelines between parents and their adult children have been promoted for family businesses for decades. But following them is easier said than done.
Stephen G. Salley, a partner at BanyanGlobal, which advises family businesses, said families and their businesses had long been at odds in their basic structures. In a family, parents are expected to nurture and guide their children. In a business, the leader is expected to maximize profit and reward the people who do the best. That star performer may not be related to the family.
“In its ideal form, a family business does two things,” Mr. Salley said. “It gets work done and makes a profit for the business, and it makes a family member able to grow into management and finally ownership. That is the ideal.”
But, he added, “what normally happens is all of those get mushed together.”
When family businesses struggle, nonfamily advisers come in to guide the company or take it over. But when a child starts adulthood, the advisers are often the parents who need to retrain themselves to discuss and counsel, not lecture and punish.
Changing roles can be more difficult for parents than for their children, who are starting fresh.
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