The Age of the Boomerang Family – When Adult Children Return Home 10 Tips for Survival


Psycho Cat’s Revenge

 Had I known ten years ago what I know now, I could have saved the expense of seven boxes of tissues and instead took a trip around the world. It never occurred to me my three, great kids would graduate high school, leave, start their own lives and then return to the parental nest.  

      I sadly, proudly, watched each child do the Pomp and Circumstance waltz down the aisle for high school graduation. College, marriage, big lofty plans, duly blessed and applauded.  It was now time for me. I called it semi-retirement.  Only it didn’t last.

      Daughter #1 returned first after her husband decided there were better fish in the sea. She returned with her two little ones, a dog and half of the marital assets.  Boxes, furniture, toys, baby items were everywhere in our small house.

     “We have to move,” I said to hubby. “There’s no way we can live here like this.”

     “We’re not moving,” he replied.  “We raised three kids in this house. It’s just daughter #1 and the two grand-kids, that brings us back to five. We’re not moving.” He apparently was oblivious to the need to turn sideways to get down the hallway to the bathroom or the inability to reach the dining room table.

     Two weeks later our house was for sale. The real estate woman asked us what we were looking for. The responses went something like this.



Lots of bedrooms, at least five

Three bedrooms is plenty

At least two full bathrooms

We’ve always been fine with one bathroom

A big country kitchen

A kitchen big enough for the table

I big fenced in yard

A small yard, I’m too old to mow all that grass

A large family room and a living room

Why? We’ve never had a family room. We did just fine with one TV set and a couch in the living room

A fireplace

You’re expecting way too much, although a fireplace would be nice

A first floor laundry

Don’t get your hopes up. Those houses are expensive

A master bedroom and bath on the first floor

There is no way you are going to find that

A nice screened in porch, maybe a gold fish pond and a swimming pool would be awesome

How in the hell do you expect us to afford all that? Do we need to do a reality check?

The house has to have a great personality

That means she wants an old house, preferably run down with a resident ghost, a couple secret passageways and maybe a body buried behind a wall

     The Realtor looked at us and said, “I think I have the perfect place.”  She left the room.

    “What the hell are you thinking?” Hubby asks, his blue eyes blazing. “We aren’t made of money, you know.”

   “They’re all coming back home,” I said. “I can feel it. I can’t explain it, but I know the other two are also coming back. We are going to have seven people trying to live together and we need one hell of a big house. They’re going to bring all their stuff. We don’t have room for all that.” He looked at me blankly. “There are babies and puppies and kittens and…”

    “Enough! There will be no babies, puppies or kittens. They’re not all coming back home. I don’t want them too. This is my time, our time. Do you realize we’ve never had a time with just the two of us? We even dated with kids.  I repeat, they are not coming back home and I really don’t think Daughter #1 is staying very long.”

        The Realtor found us a one hundred and ten year old house with five bedrooms, three full baths, a living room with fireplace, family room and dining room, a first floor master suite, a screened in porch over-looking a fenced-in yard with a fish pond and a resident ghost.

      It was perfect, except for the resident ghost(s) who I think were upset by all our activity.  After a couple years, they decided to settle down. I think they might have realized the house was too crowded and moved on.  The only thing I found in the wall was a cat collar – which made me think of Vincent Price and Edgar Allen Poe.

     Oh, and we bought a nice, extra-large, 4×4  vehicle that would fit everyone comfortably, including two car seats. I thought it was some kind of mutant Jeep.

     “It’s a mini-van,” hubby corrected me. “It’s a front-wheel-drive, 6 cylinder, the-guy-driving-this-has-no-balls, Kia, Sedona mini-van.  This is the time in my life when I am supposed to be driving a red Corvette.  I’m not driving this, unless you tell me otherwise.”

     “Well,” I replied. “I do work further away and the little red car gets much better gas mileage.  Are you sure that’s not an extra-large 4×4 Jeep?”

  Daughter #2 moved back from her home in Arizona with her two cats the first Christmas in our new home.  It was another marriage debauchery.  She did not have her own belongings, nor did she have winter clothing, medical insurance for her back injury or a job.

Daughter # 1, the kids and the dog were still with us. Instead of moving on, she decided to go to college. Something we agreed was a good idea for her and the babies in the long run.  She was going to be with us for at least four years.

Daughter #2 found a job but with all the legal expenses and student loan bills, was not enough to catapult her back out the door.  We painted her room a rich plum color, her favorite. She and the two cats were going to be with us a couple years. We bought additional dishes and a bigger living room set.

    Our son, a musician living in Boston, was the last to boomerang. His funding stopped. He had to pull himself out of Berklee School of Music which just as devastating to me as the girls broken marriages. He came home with a trap set (drums), large enough to take up a third of the family room, three guitars, one keyboard, various amps, microphone stands and electronic production studio equipment.  He also had furniture and other non-music related belongings.

     If you are counting, that makes seven people, three cats and two dogs. This does not include everyone’s dates, friends and strays who have found a home here (this includes kittens, puppies, a frog, extended family members and a couple stray college students who lost their way).

     Needless to say, coordinating sanity through all this has been both a blessing and a challenge. Statistics are showing that more families are becoming boomerang families.  There are some valuable lessons we gained in making this work. Talking with other successful boomerang families has shown me, these tidbits work equally well for other families.


10 Tidbits to Help Curb the Insanity of Today’s Boomerang Generation  

1. Up-date your relationship status: You call them kids, they call themselves adults.  Falling back on the old parent-child dynamic that used to work will work no more.  They have lived on their own and have their own ways of doing things. It’s family meeting time. You are going to have to explore, get to know your adult-child and negotiate how to best blend yours, theirs and ours. Your adult-child is going will also need to do this.

2.  Rules: They maybe back but it’s still mom and pop’s place and the kids are only there (typically) temporarily. Make sure everyone knows how you want and expect the household to run. It’s okay to throw out old rules like curfews, or no dinner if you’re on the phone too long. They usually don’t apply to adult-children.

3.  Logical consequences: You have rules, now you need logical consequences for the, in the event of….  Going to your room or time out is probably not very effective. When I say logical consequences, don’t do something asinine like, I’m kicking you out because you left a dish in the sink. Be real. Be specific, realistic and make sure everyone knows. Think about sitting down as a family to iron out the consequences. Any ownership you can give the adult-child will make things better. Whatever you decide, put it in writing – contracts are great! No one can come back and say, but you didn’t say… I didn’t know…

 4. Future goals: Are they going or planning to go to school? Getting a job? Saving money? What are they doing? If there are future goals, the adult-kids are less likely to sit in front of the TV set day after day watching reruns of Saved by the Bell.  Keep a check on this, NOT nagging, to make sure they’re goals are obtainable and their morale is upbeat.

 5. Rent, money and household responsibly: This has to be addressed family by family. (REMEMBER, if they could pay the average going rate for rent, they would not be living with you. Most adult-kids really don’t want to be living with their parents. It’s just not cool.  I can tell you what parameters successful boomerang families have used.

If they are in school full time, no rent.

Rent is based on the adult-child’s income and expenses. Again keeping in mind they need to relax, get themselves things and save for getting out of your hair.

Depending on the situation, parents may choose to hold rent money in an account and given it back for an adult-child’s  big- ticket, purchase or down payment.

If they can’t pay the rent: Sit and discus this. Is it poor money management? Unanticipated expenses or hours cut at work? Options are either cancel the rent for that month or tack it        on, over time to the other months.  If it’s decided that the money is being forfeit, negotiate        with that adult-child to compensate the family (more responsibly perhaps). Push for open       disclosure if they know a money crisis is coming. It’s better for you and them.  Proactive is       always better than reactive.

Bank of Mom and Dad is open for emergencies (health, car repairs, tuition) or not. Every family has to decide what they consider an emergency and how much, if any, the bank of mom and dad can help. Let the adult-child know up front.

Money borrowed from the Bank of Mom and Dad should be returned, like a loan payment. The money lent can be returned on a particular payback schedule or all at once. All this info needs to be made known before the money is borrowed. Make a contract and everyone involved signs it.

Everyone is responsible for their personal areas, their dishes, clothing, cars and whatever else you have discussed as an adult-child contribution.

6.  Boundaries: Under what circumstances can adult-children borrow parental items? Who gets say over the TV set and when? How much of a closet or bathroom storage space can a person use? Doors closed and locked or open door policy? You want to set up for any situation where there could be conflict between the daily operating system of the family. Who gets the shower first? What day can what person use the laundry?  Can an overnight guest stay? How long?

     Depending on how many people are in your family will determine how specific boundaries need to be. DO NOT assume the boundaries you used when the adult-children were growing up are remembered or still apply. Don’t assume anything! Have a family meeting about this and get it in writing.

      The most typical offence in our house is taking things like stamps, pens, brushes, make-up and other small things without asking or putting them back. The other really big offense is eating someone else’s food.  There is nothing like five grown adults arguing over who brought home the bacon, literally.  So, our food rule is, if you don’t want to share for whatever your reasons, write your name on it. If you see a name and it’s not yours, leave it alone.

 7. Grandchildren and pets: You will have to decide how much of your time and money you want to devote to any grandchildren and pets living with you. Just make sure the parent of those kids knows what to expect as a general rule. Also, VERY IMPORTANT, these are your GRANDCHILDREN, not children. They have a parent (unless your adult-child is incapacitated and you are in charge of the grandchildren).  

     DO NOT PARENT THEM!!!!!!!!!!! DO NOT DISCIPLINE them unless you have very, very clear directives from the parent or the parent is not home and there is no choice. PLEASE, PLEASE figure this out in advance. Why?

     Your adult-child may not be raising their children the way you raised them. They may have different rules, consequences, be stricter or more lenient.  What they feel is important as a parent maybe different from what you felt.

     There are several Oh NOs! That can happen if you disregard this tidbit. The grandchildren get very conflicting messages and can’t cope and act out. They don’t know who their allegiance should be with and who to listen too.  Your attempt to correct up and above what your adult-child is doing tells the grandchildren to sidestep the parent’s authority. A parent, even one you think is not doing the greatest job, should have the authority.  

     By parenting the grandchildren you are also sending a message to your adult-child that says, basically I disagree with your ways and/or I think you can’t do this. It forms animosity and strife.  Unless you live in a sprawling mansion where everyone can have their own wing, you really don’t want animosity and strife.

     If for some reason, you really have a hard time with your adult-child’s parenting, sit them down (without the grandchildren) and talk about it. REMEMBERING your adult-child is the parent in this conversation. You are the grandparent.

     While you both are talking, find out what methods of correction are seen as appropriate by the parent.  ALWAYS, if the family is together and a child needs correcting, ALWAYS bring it to the attention of the parent!!!!!  For example: “Hey Sweetie, do you know your son is eating cat food out of the box. You might want to look into that.”  Obviously, if the child is in danger, take care of it. Don’t be a ding-a-ling.

     If the parent has set up rules and now you are watching the grandchildren, keep to the rules. When Johnny says, “Grandma, can I have ice cream?” The answer is, “Mommy/Daddy says no or wait till your mother/father get home.”

    If grandchildren are living with you, discuss medical and school arrangements. There will probably be times when you will be watching a child and need to take them to the doctor or pick them up from school. If your adult-child has not listed you or other family members as primary people, your hands are tied, even in an emergency.


8.  Don’t argue; communicate instead: Having the adult-child return home is stressful. It will continue to be stressful. The best defense against this is open communication. I can’t stress this enough. Keep the relationships strong, supportive, and ALWAYS evaluate yourself before you address an issue. The question to ask yourself is:

      Is what I’m about to do or say going to help this problem and my relationship with son /daughter/spouse? Or will it push us apart?

      If the answer is pushing us apart, re-think your strategy before proceeding.  Also, remember there are more ways to do something than your way. Can this issue be let go? Pick your confrontations and turn them into opportunities to deepen your relationships, not tare them down. No one wins when loved ones are pushed apart.

     Another communication devise is the central messaging system. The more complicated the family’s schedule, the more important this is. We use a dry erase board and strategic notes left by me on the front door or kitchen where I know everyone will see it.  Here are some examples of central messages. Who will be home for dinner? Who is getting the grandchildren? Your dad wants everyone to have their cars out of the drive by 5:00 pm.

     I am also known to write impromptu notes around the house such as: “If you don’t have time to clean your dishes, you don’t’ have time to cook. Eat someplace else.” I don’t have to find the culprits. It’s a blanket coverage note. It always works.


 9. Don’t get involved in their drama: You can’t fix your adult-child’s lives or the negative reactions of their actions/decisions.  It may be tempting to do this. Isn’t that the way a good parent behaves? Yes, when the children are growing up not when they are grown up. Be there for them if they need you. Listen and share your worldly wisdom if asked. Try to stop yourself from giving unsolicited advice.  Tell them you will do your best to help them figure things out but ultimately, it is their issue, their problem.

 10. Take care of you and yours: This is a very hard and vulnerable time. If you are in a relationship with a significant other this will test your resolve.  Make sure you eat nutritionally stable meals, get enough sleep, get out and have fun at least once a week. If you are in a relationship, have a weekly date night, either the two of you or with friends. You don’t need to spend money to do this. Be creative. But get away from the house and try to keep from discussing home issues while out. Take a bit of time, daily if possible, to catch up on the news of the household so you are both in the loop.  If you are not in a relationship, find a friend who is a good listener and can let you hang out. Everyone needs someone to bounce things off of. 

     Boomeranging can be stressful but a lot of fun and rewarding. Once settled in, you will find family relationships can be richer. There is normally someone home to help another family member when needed. If there are grandchildren, you get to enjoy them up-close. You get to experience all the joy of grand-parenting with the ability to yell upstairs, “hey adult-child, Ghost Hunters is on. I’m done, take the kids back.” 

     Enjoy your time together and be happy.




About Debbie Hill,

Wellness Counselor, Author, Photographer, Interested in living a balanced, compassion centered life, travel, spiritual/supernatural issues, history, all things Disney. If that's not eclectic, I don't know what is.

Posted on February 27, 2013, in An American Family Moment, Relationships, The Therapist is in and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

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