Woman moving home
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Job losses, mounting student loans and high costs of living—how can young adults get ahead in life? According to new research studies, more adult children are heading home sweet home to Mom and Dad during the recession.
As economic times get more difficult for all Americans, the recession is no doubt leaving its mark on young adults trying to build lives for themselves. A survey conducted in October 2009 by the Pew Research Center found that about one in 10 adults ages 18 to 34 are moving back in with their parents because of the state of the economy.

Because this living situation can get tricky fast, it's important that, as a parent of what social scientists call a boomerang child, you work with your grown child to help get her back on her feet. Susan Morris Shaffer and Linda Perlman Gordon, co-authors of Mom, Can I Move Back in with You?, offer advice to help make the living situation as pain-free as possible. Plus, they share ways you can help your child grow.

Prior to an adult child's return, it's important to make sure you are communicating your needs with your child. Discuss both your expectations and responsibilities and your child's, Shaffer says. "Really negotiate collaboratively—don't tell your kid the way in which you want him or her to behave," she says. "[The situation] really has to be very purposeful, but also enjoyable for both adult children and their parents."

Also, work out any kinks in your parent-child relationship before you once again share the same address. "If the relationship has some baggage, which, if you're raising teenagers, it's hard not to have baggage, you have to understand that it's not going to be slipped under the rug," Shaffer says.

How the living situation affects Mom and Dad

When an adult child moves home and you were an empty nester, you might be upset about your loss of privacy. But you need to stay optimistic and make the most of your living situation. "Look at it as a new opportunity to spend time with your adult children when you don't have the angst of living with teenagers," Shaffer says.

"Understand that you have an emerging adult living with you, not the teenager who left before college," Gordon adds.

But what is your role as a parent in this living arrangement? It's to support your child as she becomes incrementally more mature and help her better manage her own life, Shaffer says. "Make sure you're not enabling further dependence, but giving them real opportunities and coaching and mentoring them to become mature adults," she says.

It might seem difficult to gauge an adult child's growth, but Shaffer and Gordon have developed a new standard for measuring maturity that's more applicable for today's young adults.

Some signs of maturity include your adult child's ability to:
  • Display empathy
  • Have opportunities to show personal responsibility and demonstrate personal responsibility
  • Become as financially independent as possible
  • Set and maintain appropriate boundaries, set her own course and show respect for others' privacy
  • Develop respectful interdependence. "We want to stay connected to our children, but we want them to become independent and become individuals while staying connected," Shaffer says.
When you see your boomerang child failing to meet these emotional standards, it can be difficult not to step in. However, Shaffer says to rescue with caution. "Don't do for them what they can do for themselves, and listen before responding to them," she says. "Realize that making things easier for them doesn't not necessarily prepare them for real life."

Also, allowing your adult child to fix her own mistakes shows her that you have total faith in her. "If you're constantly fixing things, that erodes their self-esteem," Shaffer says.

What living at home means for an adult child

According to the Pew Research Center's study, the current economic state is not only forcing some young adults to move back home, it's also forcing them to put their lives on hold. Fifteen percent of single adults younger than 35 said they have postponed getting married because of the recession. In addition, 14 percent of all young adults have delayed having a child because of their financial situation.

But Gordon suggests that young adults have been putting their lives on hold before the recession began. "If you look at the age that girls and boys are getting married, it's substantially up compared to their parents," Gordon says. "It is taking longer to launch. It really does take more money to be able to put a roof over your head, an apartment and sustain yourself, and more people are waiting so they can be more economically solvent."

Another factor is that more young women are working and pursuing their own careers. "It's not just boys out there looking to make their way in the world—you've got girls pursuing their lives beyond wanting to become mothers and homemakers," she says.

It's also important to note that it's more difficult to stay at one job for an extended period of time. "Before, there were many job shifts that 20-year-olds had," Gordon says. "You can't expect to retire in 50 years with a gold watch anymore. There's way more mobility."

Not only has the career landscape changed, but when your adult child moves back home, her personal life changes as well, Gordon says. Certain issues, like going out at night and having relationships, can be difficult for a young adult she's under your roof, but the most important thing is for you and your child to maintain respect for one another. "While your 20-something might have much more of a night life than you have, you expect that kid to come home and not make noise when you have to get up in the morning," Gordon says. "It's the same kind of respect that you would give a roommate. So there are all kinds of mutuality and interdependence that have to be spelled out and clear when your child moves back home."

But when you disagree with your adult child's lifestyle, it's important to deal with these issues as they happen and not to bottle them up. "You can sustain a certain amount an acceptance of something if you only see it three times a year," Shaffer says. "It's very different when you're dealing with something on a daily basis. Then you can't be disingenuous. Rage, aggravation, disappointment—all of those emotions are going to come out."

Ways to help your adult child grow

While an adult child is living at home, you should give her opportunities to become more responsible and develop the skill set she needs to be able to manage her own life. So does that mean it's okay for you to charge your adult child rent? "There are lots of different ways to contribute to the household," Shaffer says. "Paying rent is only one of them." She suggests activities such as helping out with younger siblings or grandparents, doing the grocery shopping or making dinner as other ways your adult child can be valuable.

Another way you can help your child save money is by having the young adult give money to you to put it away for her. Perhaps you can help her restructure her debts. "The most important thing is that you insist on children taking on responsibilities," Shaffer says.

Instead of picking your child up after she stumbles, try to step back. Gordon explains that when her 20-something children moved back home, she understood that she had to let them make their own mistakes. "We didn't have to save them anymore," she says. "We knew they better learn the consequences because later it would be way worse. Our perspective was that we knew it was another shot at parenting from afar and parenting by doing less rather than doing more. It was an absolute joy."

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