Your 50s and 60s should feel like a time of liberation. You've raised your children and they're off on their own now, ideally having finished college and started their careers. You can finally spend money on yourself -- take that trip to Antarctica or sign up for piano lessons.
But if you're like many millions of American boomers, your life is not unfolding as you expected: Your grown children have moved back in (or have yet to leave)!
The kids Aren't All Right
The folks at Monster Worldwide (MWW) found in 2009 that a whopping 42% of 2006 graduates were still living at home.
Have things improved much since then? Not enough.
According to Johns Hopkins University sociologist Katherine Newman, between 53% and 85% of new college grads will be moving back home this summer. According to the Pew Research Center, as of late last year, nearly a third (29%) of parents of grown children had taken them back in under their roofs due to the lousy economy.
The economy does seem to finally be rebounding, but not at breakneck speed. Back in late 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that while the unemployment rate for those older than 25 was 8.7%, it was 15.6% for those aged 20 to 24. That number peaked near 17.5%, and was 12.9% in May.
In other words, parents with 20-something housemates will probably have to continue putting off converting that extra bedroom into a home gym or craft room.
Boomers, Meet the Boomerangs
This phenomenon of grown children moving back home has been dubbed "boomerang kids" and it has all kinds of ramifications.
Obviously, many such young adults would rather be out and living on their own, with jobs. Parents would often like to be seeing what an empty nest is really like, and finally getting around to long-deferred dreams such as travel. This can lead to frustration all around.
On the other hand, though, there can be upsides, such as the two generations getting to know each other better, on more equal footing, as adults. A Pew study found that more than 75% of 25- to 34-year-old boomerangers are satisfied with their living arrangements.
There are financial ramifications, too. The kids are saving money living at home, as they're often paying no rent at all to mom and dad. Out on their own, they'd likely simply be digging themselves deeper in debt, and many college grads these days are already buried under student loans and credit card bills the day they pick up their diplomas.
For the parents, though, this is the time when they would have expected to not be supporting dependents anymore, when their incomes would be more fully their own. Instead, they may now be buying food for three or four instead of one or two, and covering a host of other expenses.
If this unexpected development has happened in your life, know that it doesn't have to be painful. A little planning can help you make the most of the boomerang phase.
The folks at AARP note that, "Every expert we interviewed agreed that it's important to have a lease or some kind of written contract that sets out your expectations." All parties involved should sign it.
Here are some suggestions for how the period of cohabitation might be set up:
- Charge junior some rent. Even if you don't charge a lot, it will be good for your children to get in the habit of meeting financial obligations, as they'll have to do when they're out and living on their own. Also, if they aren't earning at least a little income, give them work to do around the house, such as routine chores or maintenance projects. They can share in cooking duties, as well, or chip in toward food expenses.
- Set limits. You might limit how many friends can visit at a time, lest you end up with large parties. You might limit bad habits, too -- such as restricting smoking to outside the house or not permitting mounds of laundry to pile up. You can even limit the term of the entire agreement, perhaps stipulating that it's for just one year, at which point an extension might be negotiated.
- Keep lines of communications open and be honest. If you can't afford to provide spending money, say so. If any party is annoying or frustrating the other, that should be discussed, as well.
Making the Most of It
With the economy as it is, young people living at home should think outside the box. Instead of just hunting for a job with an acceptable salary, consider seeking internships, even unpaid ones, to help break into companies or industries of interest. Living at home means that an unpaid internship is acceptable.
Grown children moving back home can disrupt everyone's plans, but it can also be a big blessing for all involved. Set some ground rules, and then enjoy getting to know each other more, now that the time of fighting over curfews and homework is over.
You can follow Motley Fool contributor Selena Maranjian on Twitter. She holds no position in any company mentioned.