For the current crop of recent college graduates, moving back home with mom and dad is so common that they’re called the boomerang generation. According to the Pew Research Center, 15 percent of millennials ages 25-35 moved back home in 2016 — that's a far higher percentage than previous generations when they were the same age. While this can be an amazing opportunity for empty-nesters to reconnect with their children and for those children to regroup, save money and plan for the future, it can also become problematic. This guide looks at the good and the ugly of moving back home after college. Whether you’re the graduate moving back home or the parent welcoming their child back home, get expert tips on how to make this a smooth transition and ensure it’s just a temporary situation.
No matter how strong the relationship, healthy cohabitation between parents and graduates takes work on the part of both parties. It will take some getting used to no matter what, but the entire process can be easier if both child and parents are proactive. Here are some tips to help you along the way:
In households with a high-schooler, it's common for parents to command and kids to rebel. But this doesn't work after college. If the transition to moving back home is going to work, both parties must open new channels of adult dialogue. "Communicate clearly and respectfully," Sandy says.
For Sandy, clarity in terms of what is expected from both parties can go a long way to preventing problems. "Have a conversation where you ask your child how they envision this time at home, what expectations they have of you and what their long-term plans are," she says. "Be sure to also convey your expectations of them and cover the house rules. And when issues come up, have another conversation."
Emma concurs. "Respect your child's independence and be aware that your household dynamic will be changing," she says. "Having a discussion on habits, rules and expectations for both sides can really help."
It's incredibly important for both parties to discuss and agree upon a clear timeline. While it doesn't have to be a hard-and-fast "out in four months no matter what" type of scenario, an open-ended arrangement often disincentivizes action on the part of the child. A timeline also provides light at the end of the tunnel for both parties when the going gets tough, which is bound to happen from time to time.
If you've got a diploma, a cap and a gown, congratulations — you did it. But your folks are the ones being asked to carve out a chunk of their world for you to sponge from. The ball is in your court to take the steps to make things easy not just for yourself, but for mom and dad too. Here’s what you can do:
You may feel like a teenager every time you set foot in your parents’ house but if you’re going to live there as an adult, you’ll need to figure out how to act like one. "Start out by talking to your parents, sharing your plans, letting them know what support you’d like from them and offer to contribute to the household in whatever way you can," Sandy recommends. "Then continue to act like an adult, accepting not only the freedom and privileges that come with it, but the responsibilities as well."
You have a shiny new diploma, but your parents have decades of life experience — try to look at them not as guardians, but as mentors. Emma points out that parents can be a valuable resource for young adults who are still trying to figure out this thing called life. "Your parents' experience and methods for finding a job and housing may be older, but that doesn't mean the skills involved are irrelevant," she says. "If you don't know where to start looking for an apartment, or fully understand taxes or managing a budget — ask them. They've been doing these things for a while and probably know tips and shortcuts that you won't find on the Internet."
You can also avoid friction with transparency and communication. "Make sure at some point to sit down with your parents and discuss how daily life is going to work, as you're used to doing more things independently now and they likely have expectations for you as long as you're living in their house," Emma explains. "The sooner you do this, the more misunderstandings and arguments can be headed off at the pass."
Even if your parents don't demand it, contribute as much as you can wherever you can. Don't sponge, don't freeload, don't force them to pick up after you and don't make your footprint any larger than it has to be. Make your presence there something they will later remember fondly.
Parents, you’re not off the hook. Successful and healthy cohabitation is a two-way street. Here are some of the things you can do to avoid complications:
When the inevitable friction arises, both parties should be mindful that the situation is probably less than ideal for the other. But parents in particular can help by exercising some patience with the graduate, who is likely having difficulty adjusting to the enormous and often stressful change in life circumstances. "Emotional support may be required as it sinks in that college is actually over, and there may be some verbal and emotional flailing as the child fully processes that," Emma says.
Sandy was happy that her kid was moving back in, but she was also perfectly aware that she's not a kid anymore — and accepting that reality made all the difference. "First, if you haven’t truly done it yet, start treating them like an adult," she says. "Be sure they are carrying their own weight, contributing to the bills if they have a job, sharing in household chores and shouldering responsibility for their own life. Treat them like an adult. They should pay room and board if they have a job. If they don’t have a job, then they should be job hunting regularly as well as shouldering a large amount of the daily chores in the household. Let them do their own laundry, cook their fair share of the meals, run their own errands and live without pocket money if they don’t have a job."
Sandy may have let Emma get away with not doing her own laundry or cleaning up her own messes in high school, but those days are over and she eased the transition after college by making that clear to her daughter. Sandy knew, however, that if she was going to insist that her daughter act like a grownup, she had an obligation to treat her like one. "Let them make their own decisions and set their own schedules," recommends Sandy. "Curfews and similar rules go out the window and common courtesy becomes the standard of conduct."
According to Sandy, parents should smooth the transition first by resisting the urge to regulate their children and steer their every move, the way they may have — for good reason — when the child was in high school. "Be patient but allow them the gifts of responsibility and failure," she recommends. "Let them make choices, take actions, enjoy the rewards and clean up the messes. Let them know you are there for them and believe in them, then let them do it."
Once you’ve worked out the kinks and found a good rhythm, it can be easy and even safe to just continue living at home. But even if both parties feel that things are going great, this shouldn’t be a permanent situation. Here are some strategies to avoid failure to launch and ensure young adults make it out of the parental unit’s house and become self-sufficient:
As cliché as it may sound, it’s still often true – you are the company you keep. If you’re hanging out with friends who are spending all day doing nothing and aren’t planning for the future, there’s a good chance you’ll lose sight of your own goals and stay stagnant. It’s important to surround yourself with people who are focused, driven and advancing in life. Seeing the people around you move forward and achieve their goals can motivate you to do the same.
“The one who is most organized usually wins in this process,” says Neha Gupta, founder of College Shortcuts. Gupta recommends that students who are disorganized start by creating a checklist but also seek outside help. “I recommend creating an Excel document, getting a filing box and taking good notes. It’s just like an added course on a typical high school course load.” However, she points out that, unlike a typical high school class, there is no teacher reminding you of upcoming deadlines or pushing you to stay on track. “That’s why most students procrastinate,” she says.
For many, moving back home can feel a lot like going back in time, especially if your parents’ house and your old room look exactly the same. Redecorating your room can give you a sense of ownership and also help you feel less like a teenager living at home. Changing these visual ques and surroundings can also help put you in the mindset you need to get your ducks in a row.
Accountability can be a huge motivating factor. To ensure you don’t get too comfortable at home and overstay your welcome, give yourself a deadline to move out. Write it down, circle it on a calendar, set a mobile alert and tell all your friends and family. Setting a firm move out date and making it well-known and visible often makes it harder to ignore and can force you to do what it takes to keep your word.
Don’t allow yourself to get too comfortable or lazy. Once you have a move out date, map out the steps you need to do to make it happen and come up with daily, weekly or monthly goals to keep you on track for the big day. For example, you could have a goal of sending out at least two resumes every day or putting a certain amount of money in a savings account each week to save up for an apartment.
Sandy reminds parents to remember that when it comes to their children's lives launching or not launching, their fingers are on the blastoff button, too. Relentless pressure isn't helpful, but neither is no pressure at all. It's up to the parent to remind the child that they're not there to party, play video games and hang out all day. Nagging rarely works, but nudging is often necessary. If the child loses focus, the parent shouldn’t ignore it and instead remind them that this time is precious, valuable and limited. And if they’re struggling or feeling overwhelmed, good advice and encouragement can help lift their spirits and get them back on track again.