The (Not So) Empty Nest

08/05/2011 10:38 am ET | Updated Oct 01, 2011

Scene 1: You've done a great job as a parent. Late night feedings, teething, the terrible-twos, first day at school, car-pooling, doctor and orthodontist appointments, teenage years, cars, proms, killer college tuition, graduation money gifts, maybe a wedding; it is all behind you now. You and your spouse are empty-nesters and happy to be so. You can stay out all night if you want or pick up at a moment's notice and go where you want. You have earned your freedom and privacy!

Scene 2: Just as you're getting into the happy groove of your new life, your adult child shows up at your door asking to return home. What do you do?

The subject of returning adult children is an ever increasing problem for the baby-boomer generation. Still young enough to enjoy being a couple again and, starting what can be the best phase of their relationship together, mom and dad greet the return of a child, now an adult, with mixed feelings.

Divorce, loss of jobs, relocation all play major roles in adults returning to the family nest. Their options may be limited as far as money and housing go, so their former "home sweet home" looks very sweet indeed.

Sometimes it's not just your own child returning. If he or she has a spouse or a spouse and children, and they are in need of a place to stay, you may find yourselves saddled with permanent houseguests. This is not a welcome scenario.

Even if your house is spacious enough to accommodate them, it is a difficult situation. The rules of childhood to which your children once adhered don't apply to them anymore and certainly don't apply to their spouse. You're an adult dealing with other adults. It's a whole new ballgame with new and complicated rules. The situation can turn into a nightmare episode of The Twilight Zone.

So the pressing question is: How can you handle the problem of adult children who ask to live at home once again without having your own personal world turned upside down? There are several ways to deal with this sticky situation.

The number one issue at this time is money. If you are at all able to help your child financially, do. Offer to pay part of the rent on an apartment or mortgage on a house. Having them live in a separate place that is partially subsidized by you is considerably better than having them move back home. However be careful and be aware of what you are getting into with this offer. Don't sacrifice your own peace of mind; think of yourself first. If this financial arrangement will be a burden to you, don't even offer. Do not put yourself into debt or financial distress. You will end up being the one suffering, possibly for years to come.

Be very honest and open in any conversation you have about preferring that they not move back home. State the reasons why you feel this way. Listen to what they have to say and exhaust all avenues and outside resources including any employment available. One set of parents was shocked to learn that their son had turned down two job offers because neither were "really what I want". He would rather live off his parents and wait until the "right job comes along." This despite the fact that he was forty years old, had car payments, credit card debt, and was in danger of losing his house!

Show a united front. Both parents must be on the same page about anything to do with the issues of financial help or having their child move back home. Having Mom say no but seeing Dad hesitate will not help your situation and will cause discord in your own marriage.

Don't allow your emotions or guilt feelings to overcome good judgment. You're not a "bad" parent simply because you want a life; you deserve good and happy years. Even though this person is your child, remember that you are dealing with an adult, not your little boy or girl.

Parents who are not married may seem fair game to their adult children. Their offspring use persuasive arguments to return home, one of which is that their single parent is alone and "needs" company. Another persuasive tactic is telling the parent that the child will eventually help with household expenses. Be very careful with these promises.

One woman capitulated and allowed her daughter and son-in-law to live with her while they looked for a house. They were supposed to share expenses. No money was forthcoming, and, eventually, the financial burden forced her to go to court to get them evicted. Don't let pressure take the place of common sense and your own comfort.

Unless there is a radical reason for an adult child to return home, such as severe illness or a dangerous, abusive relationship, you should think very carefully about how it will impact your life and weigh all options before agreeing. You may have the title of Mom or Dad for life but that does not mean you have to sacrifice your own happiness and well-being.

You are entitled to your own life and your own nest. In nature, baby birds are encouraged to fly away and leave the family nest to build their own. Adult children may want to take a hint from nature. Mama and Papa Bird will agree.

To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at and visit her Keys to Happiness blog. You may email her at Unhappy? Read the book critics call "sane and savvy advice for all", "And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First."