WASHINGTON — Once your children launched, you thought you were free, right? They were now out of your pocketbook, and your parenting duties were done.

But for many parents, that freedom has yet to arrive. Their adult children are moving back in for financial relief.

Others boomerang feeling entitled to access their parents’ resources. A recent survey by Bankrate.com found that 51 percent of Americans are sacrificing their retirement savings to free up money to assist their adult children.

A Pew Research Center analysis of census data found that in 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.

What’s causing this trend? Several factors:

The high cost of housing

Burgeoning student debt

An increased cost of living in many areas

Slow or stagnant wage growth

Poor job opportunities – even for adults with a college degree

So, the question for many parents is: Should they welcome back their grown birds into the nest?

This was a question that came up during one of my recent online discussions. Here’s the situation: “Adult daughter and her husband are going through a life transition,” a reader wrote. “She will be teaching school and her husband has a physically strenuous job, which he needs to leave. Fortunately, son-in-law has some good ideas. They have a starter townhouse they can sell or rent. If they move in with us parents, they can save money while he looks for the new job. He can do temp work in the meantime. Thanks to the teaching job, she can cover their insurance costs. Both are highly motivated and hard workers. In spite of the terrible economy when they graduated from college in 2009, they found work, just not the kind that will sustain a family. Is it crazy to invite them to stay with us?”

It’s not crazy at all. It’s a caring offer to welcome them into your home so that they can reposition themselves financially. But, if I may, I’d like to offer a word of warning taken from the poem “To a Mouse” by Scottish poet Robert Burns. The English translation reads:

“The best laid schemes of mice and men

Go often askew,

And leave us nothing but grief and pain,

For promised joy!”

Before your adult child or his or her family move in with you, I recommend doing the following:

Set an initial timeline. Looking for and finding a job can be a lengthy and frustrating process. How long are you willing to host the couple? What if the job search takes a year – or two? If the son-in-law finds a job, is the expectation that they would move out right away?

You can always revisit any timeline you set, but at least be clear on how much time they have.

Monitor the job-search process. This is going to be tricky. I would want updates on how the job hunting is going. But you also don’t want to be annoying. Work out how often you want to hear about the employment situation and what information you’d like to receive.

Be clear about their financial responsibilities. If you aren’t going to require rent – and, in this case, that’s understandable – you still need to work out who pays for what in regards to the household bills. If there’s a significant increase in the utilities, will you want them to pay the extra amount? Will they be responsible for buying their own food?

You don’t want to nickel and dime the couple, because they are trying to save. However, unspoken expectations of expenses you think they should pay can make things tense in the home.

Talk about their discretionary spending. It’s bound to happen: They go to the movies too much or on shopping sprees. They’re eating out quite a bit. They take a Caribbean vacation. Then you feel resentful because you’re footing the majority of the bills while they appear to be living a little too well.

Don’t be timid about saying that, if you see reckless financial behavior, you will not be happy. You should tell them it could even result in a change in your agreement (such as charging them rent).

Leave nothing unsaid. If you have any reservations or concerns about anything, bring it up before the move.

No matter how responsible and hardworking your adult child, the best-laid plans can go awry. To mitigate the issues that will come up, establish some boundaries for your boomerang adult.

Michelle Singletary can be contacted at c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, DC. 20071 or [email protected]


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