Returning to the nest: Boomerang kids

May 2, 2021

More adult children than ever before are returning home to live with their parents again. Economics, failed relationships and health crises are a few common reasons. Not wanting to appear unloving, the parents open their arms in welcome. As the months pass, however, the welcome often turns to resentment. With careful planning, clear communication and expectations, and healthy boundaries, this can be avoided.

Be a support, not a saviour

The worst thing a parent can do is rush in and “make everything better.” This kind of reaction just confirms that the adult child is inadequate and needs their parents to take care of them.  Rather than seeing their adult child as a dependent who needs to be taken care of, the parent needs to see them as an adult − one who might need some help, but nevertheless, an adult. Like toddlers learning to walk, some kids need to take several tries at leaving home before they’re steady enough for full independence. For them, separating from their parents is an ongoing process that may take a little longer but will eventually be achieved if independence is reinforced and supported.

Adult expectations

To help get their adult child ready for another attempt at independence, the parents need to duplicate a real-world situation as much as possible by having the same adult expectations of their child that the world outside has. Some of those expectations would be that the adult child:

  • takes responsibility for own needs such as sleep schedule, food, clothing, health care, etc.
  • solves own personal problems.
  • is thoughtful and respectful of others’ needs and privacy.
  • will share household chores and responsibilities.
  • commits to educating self or seriously searching for a job to ensure they are capable of supporting self.
  • manages own finances including contributing a share of their earnings to cover household expenses.

When kids boomerang home, it’s easy for parents to get sucked back into the role where they nag their kids to clean their rooms, tell them when to cut their hair, disapprove of their friends, etc. However, in the adult-to-adult relationship that needs to be developed, this kind of behaviour is inappropriate and undermines the development of the skills required to live independently.

It’s your house

That said, parents do have the right to determine what is acceptable within their own home. For example, it’s not a parent’s right to say how their adult child spends their money, but it is the parent’s right to insist that financial contributions to the household are made. The young adult may not like living under the parents’ rules and may long for the day when they can have a place of their own again and do as they please. This is a healthy motivator to keep them moving toward independence.

Set clear boundaries and expectations right away

When deciding on the conditions of your adult child’s return, it’s also helpful to agree on a timeframe. For example, “You are welcome to return home, but we expect you to have found a new job within three months and be moved back out on your own within six months.”

It’s important for the boomerang kid (who is only back temporarily, after all) to adapt to the new order of things at home. Things like use of the car and where they’ll bunk are negotiable, but other family members should not be put out because they’ve returned.

Not only do adult children return, but they often return with their own offspring in tow, adding another layer to the experience. Have the parent of the child set out the guidelines for how they want their child raised (e.g. no spanking, healthy nutrition, attention to schoolwork). Then, together, discuss how you’re all going to implement those guidelines.

Crisis support

Sometimes adult children return home in a state of crisis. While it’s important that families be there to give support, it’s equally important that they don’t linger there. As the boomerang child starts to regain their strength, increase your expectations of them. Ask them to run errands or fold laundry, prepare a simple meal or do some spring cleaning. Whatever they are capable of, they should be doing. It’s important to their self-esteem and they’ll need to feel good about themselves if they’re going to fully recover.

Addictions and abuse

Adult children addicted to drugs, alcohol or an unhealthy lifestyle frequently attempt to return home. If you allow them to live at home without being enrolled in a drug treatment program or taking visible action to turn their lives around, you are supporting them in their addiction.  Remember that closing the door to your home does not mean you are closing the door to your heart. Setting and holding clear boundaries about the type and amount of support you can provide is the greatest support you can give toward their recovery journey.

Navigating the return of an adult child can be a challenge for families. If you’re experiencing the boomerang effect and need some guidance, Manitoba Blue Cross's counselling services are available to all Manitobans, regardless of whether or not you have coverage with Manitoba Blue Cross. Find the available support that's right for you here. (Sign in to mybluecross® to confirm your coverage with Manitoba Blue Cross.)