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How to Live in Harmony With Your Boomerang Kids

Advice for handling Millennials' move back home

By Diana Reese

She’s back.

My daughter, who graduated college in May, has joined the more than 20 million Millennials returning home to live. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 30 percent of young adults ages 18 to 34 live with their parents.

Driving that trend is the unemployment, and under-employment, of many Millennials, who were hard hit by the Great Recession. They’re struggling with more than $1 trillion in student loan debt. Some are accused of delaying adulthood and of having a sense of entitlement.

This phenomenon of boomerang kids returning home isn’t always easy for the parents, who may find themselves members of the sandwich generation, caring for elderly parents, too. Finances can be tight as we save for retirement.

Seeing this growing trend in their practice inspired marriage and family therapist Phyllis Goldberg and psychologist Rosemary Lichtman, founders of, to write Whose Couch Is It Anyway?

“There are a lot of conflicting emotions,” says Goldberg. “What roles do we assume? Who takes out the trash? Am I back to making dinner every night again?”

They address these issues in the book by telling the stories of five composite families. Through those stories — an entertaining way to share information — they manage to cover the problems of the sandwich generation, blended families, intergenerational living, helicopter moms, divorce, substance abuse and the death of a parent.


So who does take out the trash? Is Mom back to doing everyone’s laundry and putting dinner on the table each night?

Just as condo associations have CC&Rs, or covenants, conditions and restrictions, families need their own CC&Rs, says Lichtman. But in their case, it’s “communication, cooperation, which often includes compromise and respect.”

It’s best to set up parameters before your child returns home, if possible, to avoid conflicts and confusion. Who pays for what? Who does what chores? And what rules, such as a curfew, are there? Most crucial: Establish an end date, with one year being the optimum stay at home time for getting a job, saving money and developing the skills and strategies to move toward independence.

“The goal of parenting is to raise children who can manage on their own,” says Goldberg.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Use family meetings, as often as once a week, to discuss everything from goals to grievances. Try changing the leader or facilitator of the meeting each time, so other family members don’t feel like mom or dad is shoving an agenda at them.

Be sure everyone practices active listening — that means listening without passing judgment or placing blame, and repeating back what was said to be sure it’s understood. Each person has the chance to speak his or her piece.

Reassess boundaries, expectations and goals periodically as circumstances may change. “Plan B is always important,” says Goldberg.

Evolving Moms

Moms are the focus of the book, as they’re often the ones most affected by the “re-feathered nest.” Just at a time when a woman may be enjoying her new-found freedom and establishing her identity outside of motherhood, she’s thrust back into the role of mom with the return of an adult child.

“As women, we’re always the caretaker,” says Goldberg. “Do you go back to the old roles or set up new parameters?”

An example used in the book is loading the dishwasher. “Everyone has their own way of putting dishes in the dishwasher,” explains Lichtman. Give up control and have each person just do it so you don’t have to.

“It’s a good lesson for mom,” says Goldberg. “Letting go is an important lesson for all of us.” Don’t fall into the trap of smothering your adult kid with “helicopter” parenting; instead, make time for yourself and work on developing your new identity.


“Learn to nurture your children without starving yourself,” stresses Lichtman.

Couples, Interrupted

The book begins with the story of Susan and Jim, planning a romantic getaway to Paris, when unemployed son Cody shows up during their steak dinner bringing home a duffel bag full of dirty laundry.

Susan moves immediately into mom mode, while Jim seethes at the interruption.

“Take time to nurture the marriage, whether it’s a date night or some activity you don’t normally do,” says Goldberg.

Lichtman suggests recalling those early days after you first had children. “What brought you together then may again,” she says. She warns that husbands sometimes feel jealous of the attention moms give the new baby, and the same thing can happen when mom focuses on the adult child who comes back.

Family Dynamics

The return of the boomerang kid can disrupt relationships among parents and other siblings as well. How we treat our 23-year-old daughter differs from the boundaries for our 17-year-old son.

If you meet with resistance from any of the kids, Lichtman suggests asking, “If you were the other child, what would be appropriate? Ask them to think about understanding the differences.”

Or try role playing, says Goldberg: “Put yourself in each other’s shoes. If you were me, what kind of decision would you make?”

New Opportunities

“It can be fun to have a full house again,” says Lichtman. It can also be exciting, providing an opportunity to build a stronger relationship between parents and adult children. Kids can learn leadership and problem-solving skills — and help you out.

Guess who’s cooking dinner for the family while I write?

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kansas who blogged regularly for the Washington Post's She the People. Follow her on Twitter @Diana Reese. Read More
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