Boomerang Kids vs. Parents: How to Minimize Conflict

What parents should know before their college grads move back home.

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Some people believe those issues can be avoided if the parents ask the child to sign a contract that lays out the rules for living under their roof. Paul Markowich, a certified financial planner at Firstrust Financial Resources in Philadelphia, recommends a formal agreement to help ensure both parties are on the same page. "Children will eventually sign a contract for renting an apartment. This shouldn't be any different," he says.

Even if a contract isn't used—Gordon thinks it's a good idea, but says few families will actually make one—it's important to have a conversation that specifically highlights the expectations. Nemzoff advises families to discuss even the minutia, such as how long the kid can leave their laundry in the dryer.

[Read 14 Things Parents of Boomerang Kids Can Do to Minimize Problems.]

Where to draw the line. Simply because some twentysomethings think they're in charge doesn't mean the parent has to put up with their attitude. Parents should feel comfortable denying certain requests, according to Gordon. She says it's OK to say no to footing the bill for a gym membership, for example, or to bankrolling a night at the bar. Kids should also be expected to clean up after themselves and help around the house. "They're not a guest," says Coleman of the CCF. "They're still a contributing member of the family."

Unless the kid has a source of income, it's wise for parents to keep an eye on how their child spends money, says Mike Blehar, a principal and financial advisor at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh. He says if parents give their kid money to cover basic living expenses and then watch them squander it, they shouldn't show sympathy when the kid comes back and says he doesn't have enough money to live independently.

Another common concern among parents is they'll have to stay up late, wondering when their child will be home. Many experts say that parents shouldn't set a curfew, but that it's reasonable to ask for an approximate time when they'll be home so they don't lose sleep.

With most kids, those guidelines won't ruffle feathers. However, whether a parent charges their kid rent is a decision that can have a significant impact on the relationship. Adam Levine, a 2011 graduate from Ohio University, paid his parents $200 a month when he moved back home. As the costs for food and other living expenses increased, they raised his rent to $400. "The point of living at home is oftentimes to save up to move out of the house, and when you're being charged rent, that makes it a little more difficult," Levine says.

A parent charging rent doesn't always lead to tension. Michelle Rome, who graduated in May with a master's degree from Quinnipiac University, says it doesn't bother her that her parents charge about $100 a month for food. She's just happy she was able to negotiate the price. "They originally wanted me to pay more for food, but then I explained to them exactly what I eat, so they lowered it," she says. 

[See 10 Ways to Save on Food Costs.]

Many parents charge their kids rent, usually to avoid strain on the family's finances and to stay on target for their savings goals. In fact, the Pew survey released in March reports that 48 percent of boomerang children have paid rent to their parents. Financial planner Markowich points out that parents only get one shot at planning for retirement: "A kid can get a loan for a house or a car, but parents can't get a loan for their retirement."

When to step back. While some parents charge rent, others oversupply their boomerang kid with money. Markowich says such parents are "enablers" in the sense that they give their kid such a cushy lifestyle that they may never want to leave.

Parents who take care of their kid's laundry and make their bed every morning may be undermining their child's self esteem. Gordon refers to them as "helicopter parents"—parents who treat their kids like they're in elementary school and not like young adults. "Kids need to know and feel that they are self-sufficient," Gordon says.