A generation ago, one of the most pressing issues facing parents of adult children was called ’empty nest syndrome’. As the last child left the family home, parents faced a difficult period of adjustment. The family dynamic was changing from a bustling household filled with children to an empty house with only each other for daily companionship.
But now parents are discovering that their ’empty nest’ is not staying empty for long. More and more graduating college students are deciding to return home instead of pursuing an independent lifestyle. This phenomenon is called ‘boomeranging’, and it is creating a whole new set of challenges for both adult children and their parents.
Some college graduates return home for legitimate financial reasons. A combination of student loans and credit card bills can make it very difficult for fledgling adults to support themselves on an entry-level salary.
Money saved on rent, utilities and groceries can be applied towards reducing the debt-to-income ratio. Once their immediate debts have been reduced, these young adults tend to seek out affordable housing and move out within a few years. Others may have difficulty finding work in their chosen fields, so they will opt to live at home while they continue to network for employment.
Once a suitable job is secured, motivated graduates will move into suitable housing near their new employers. This is perhaps the best form of ‘boomeranger’ for anxious parents. They have not abandoned their long-term goals, but have some short-term financial situations to clear up first.
Other boomerangers may feel they are doing their parents a favor by returning home. Indeed, there may be some credible reasons for having another adult sharing a large home. Some chores may have become too difficult for aging parents to perform, or a single parent may welcome the added security of a roommate.
Boomerangers may offer to pay a portion of the mortgage or rent or contribute a fair share of the labor. The problem with this type of helpful boomeranger may not become apparent for a few years, but there is a potential problem with this renter/landlord situation. Eventually, young adults must move on with their lives, and parents need to have some time to themselves after years of childrearing.
A boomeranger who feels obligated to his or her parents may use this perceived obligation as a crutch. Even if moving into an apartment or pursuing a meaningful career remains a goal, some boomerangers may lose sight of their own needs in favor of a largely fictional dependency.
Parents who fear their adult child will remain with them forever must prove their independence and encourage their child to move on. If certain chores need to be done, parents can always hire professionals to perform them.
Some boomerangers return home for strictly selfish reasons. After a lifetime of security during their formative years, followed by four or more years of ‘probationary adulthood’ in college, they may feel entitled to return to an adolescent state of development.
They’ve caught a glimpse of life as a responsible adult and they want no part of it. This type of boomeranger may continue to pursue his or her education for years to come, enjoying the benefits of the home as they do it. As long as they are perceived as students instead of working adults, they still receive approval and acceptance from those around them.
Instead of actually working in a field of interest, they are content to remain in PURSUIT of a career. Meanwhile, parents may feel that it’s easier to put up with a returning student rather than practice tough love by setting conditions. Once this type of boomeranger feels comfortable in the household again, it may be very difficult to motivate him or her to face a world of adult responsibility.
One solution is to offer the student a partial payment towards rent on an apartment. Once that time has elapsed, they will be completely on their own with very few exceptions.
Some parents have few problems with allowing their adult children to return home after pursuing a higher degree or a dream such as the Olympics or a creative project. But there should be some boundaries and guidelines in place before a child becomes unmotivated and completely dependent.
A boomeranger needs to understand precisely how temporary this living situation truly is. Parents who want to see their children become independent adults must learn to ‘poison the well’ in order to motivate adults to move on.
Once independent living becomes preferable to usurping a parent’s generosity, many boomerangers decide to move away on their own. But some may revert to a state of perpetual adolescence, which may require some very tough love by the parents and even some professional counseling.
Most adults find themselves in need of some temporary support from their families, but boomerangers run the risk of turning a temporary arrangement into a more permanent way of life. Parents may have to make some difficult decisions where adult children are concerned, but ultimately any decision that leads to an independent lifestyle is probably a good one.