Return to the Nest

This is the time of year when parents eagerly await their grown children returning home from college. What if the return is for more than the idyllic, and finite, time period of summer vacation?
05/21/2013 05:32 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2013
Young man standing in front of whiteboard
Young man standing in front of whiteboard

This is the time of year when parents eagerly await their grown children returning home from college. There are only a few precious months of re-bonding and nostalgia before the kids return to school and the extra bedroom reverts back to its recent status as guest room, exercise room or man cave. What if the return is for more than the idyllic, and finite, time period of summer vacation?

What if your child has graduated and moved back in until further notice? According to Twentysomething, Inc. 85 percent of college grads return to the parents' home to live after graduating.

Alternately, what if your college student never left the nest in the first place? According to a study from the largest student lender, Sallie Mae, more than half of the students surveyed lived at home while attending college. This figure is up 9 percent from the previous year -- with most of the rise coming from families with over $100,000 in yearly income.

There are all kinds of blended families. In addition to the return of the recent grad, the economy, unemployment and underemployment have all contributed to adult children returning to the nest. Sometimes this means children in their 20s or 30s, with young children of their own. It can also mean middle-aged children taking care of elderly parents in varying stages of health.

Like any other arrangement between people, living together takes some getting used to and results in the formation of a new family model -- close to equal but still recognizes the parents' valuable life experiences.

There must be rules.

They can't be the same rules that you used when your kids were minors and you were completely responsible for them -- and they can't exactly be the same as a contract between roommates. Your kids aren't your roommates -- it is still your house. You need some combination with some extras thrown into the mix.

There are two issues to be dealt with and you need to make sure that both are clarified right from the start.

1. Who pays for what?

Whether your grown child moves back in while job hunting or because of some financial hardship and needs some help to get back on track, you have to tailor the financial arrangement appropriately. You goal should be to make it easy enough that your child will be able to save up enough to start over (or dig out of debt), but without providing a free ride. You have to take your own financial needs and abilities into account. Don't extend yourself more than you can. Be sure to check with a tax expert, but you may be able to claim your child as a dependent on your income taxes.

How much does your child need? Your goal is to help them get on their feet so that they can start out (or start out again) with a solid chance of success. As a family, you need to come up with a dollar figure that will serve that purpose.

How much can your child expect to contribute? This figure is fluid and will change with changing employment status. Consider:

  • Earning now.

  • Expected earning in six months.
  • Expected earning in one year.
  • This gives you something to go on. Assess your situation and come up with a figure that your child can contribute to household expenses. Remember, the more your child is able to put aside, the earlier a target departure date -- but the more you'll have to contribute. This is a negotiation, and you have to figure out what works for your family.

    There is also the question of whether your contribution during this period is to be considered a loan or a gift. If it is to be considered a loan, decide if you will charge interest, and how much. Also, consider a reasonable loan repayment schedule.

    If you have decided to live as an extended family because you all like the idea -- you're close and you believe it's the best way to live -- then living expenses should be apportioned in whatever ratio they're incurred.

    2. Whose House, Whose Rules?

    If your offspring is moving back in temporarily, you need to make it clear just what the rules are. They probably can't be the same rules as when they were children, but rules for our kids are always changing and evolving with age and trust. It's your house and your rules -- which can be negotiated but must be clear and agreed upon.

    I don't recommend a curfew for your 23-year-old, but calling to let you know he won't be home when you were expecting him -- perfectly reasonable. We never stop worrying about our kids' safety.

    For me, there will never be an age when calling in isn't a non-negotiable demand. By the way, you will probably find that this rule works both ways. Leaving for a weekend in Bermuda without telling anyone isn't a good idea. Don't worry your kids by not checking in if you're expected home -- this is common courtesy.

    Setting rules is the key to a successful "crowded nest." However, if you suddenly spring them on your child without warning, it can cause hard feelings. These things need to be discussed explicitly in advance.

    Rules are important if the move home is temporary - -mandatory if the return home is long-term. These are potential mine fields. You have to work out your own list -- but you have to do it or it will explode on you.

    Parents, forget those paint swatches and hold back on ordering that new treadmill. That extra room might not be vacant for a few more years!

    Please share your empty nest stories with us in the space provided.