By: Gregory Popcak
It’s official. Adult children are living with their parents longer than ever. According to US Census data, 56 percent of men and 43 percent of women ages 18 to 24 today live with one or both parents. Some never left, while an estimated 65 percent of recent college graduates have moved back in with their parents. The phenomenon of so-called “Boomerang Kids” is so common that it has even spawned a major motion picture, Failure to Launch. But you don’t have to see the movie. You can witness the drama unfolding in a home near you. Maybe even in your home. Whether or not your own Boomerang story has a happy ending is largely dependent upon the expectations and boundaries you employ with your adult children. How do you respect their independence while requiring that they contribute to the common good of family life? Here are some tips for negotiating some of the stickier points of the multi-generational family.
The Question of Rent
Some parents choose to charge their adult children rent. This can be a useful option when parents are attempting to help their adult children ease into the financial responsibilities of adult life. It can also be an important way adult children can contribute to the common good if the financial picture for the family-of-origin is tight. That said, it could be possible that more can be lost than gained from charging rent. When children begin paying for the privilege of staying at their childhood home, they often begin to see themselves as consumers rather than contributors to the common good, and parents often become reluctant to set appropriate boundaries on an adult child’s behavior because they see themselves more as landlords than parents. So, while charging rent is worth considering, parents should keep in mind the relational costs that may be incurred along with the financial benefits.
Instead of rent, or even in addition to rent, it is important that adult children be treated as family members, and not as houseguests. It is a basic principle of Christian family life that each person in the home should receive according to his level of need and contribute to his level of ability. The adult child-at-home can be a real blessing if that child truly commits him or herself to serving the family in whatever ways are needed or useful. As parents, you should not feel at all awkward about requiring adult children to do their share of the cooking, cleaning, and home maintenance.
While adult children have a right to have time for themselves, their friends, and their personal/professional pursuits, their decision to live at home means that they have an obligation to contribute not only to the material good of the family, but also to the emotional good of the home. Don’t feel uncomfortable about insisting that your adult child participate in regular family rituals, including things like attending Mass as a family, family prayer times, and participating in a weekly “family day”, or a family game night. Adult children’s participation in these activities is an especially important encouragement to younger children in the household, who learn to see how truly important these activities are for fostering a sense of family identity and togetherness. Of course, exceptions can be made when urgent work or social situations come up for the adult child, but it should be understood that these are exceptions, not the rule.
The one thing that is absolutely essential is that adult children must support the family’s moral ideals. This is especially important to the younger children in the household who will look to the adult child as a role model. If the adult children are exempted from moral expectations, or simply ignore them, the younger children in the household will come to see morality as something that can be opted out of once they reach majority. While it may not be practical or prudent to require adult children to maintain a curfew, they should be expected to be home at a reasonable time each night, maintain family standards regarding modest speech and dress as well as upholding exemplary behavior regarding sobriety and chastity. Parents must be absolutely clear on this point; adult children will either contribute to the moral good of the home, or they will not be welcome to live at home.
Happily Ever After?
While conventional wisdom suggests that having adult children at home is the next best thing to having your teeth drilled, your actual experience will actually depend upon the leadership you take as parents. Be clear about your expectations from the outset, and continue to insist that the adult child is welcome to stay at home as long as the adult child is actively working to contribute to the common good of the family.