Learning how to cope when your empty nest becomes full again
As many adults return to live with their parents — or don’t ever leave — experts tell Lisa Salmon what potential problems might arise and suggest solutions
Increasing numbers of adult children are still living with their parents, or are so-called 'boomerang kids' who return to live with mum and dad after university.
But while keeping a family unit together may have many benefits, there can also be huge problems, both financially and emotionally.
The parenting charity Family Lives says: "Living at home might sound like a great idea at first, particularly for parents who are still trying to adjust to the empty nest, but this situation can put additional financial and emotional pressure on families.
"It can also delay children becoming independent and taking real responsibility for their adult lives."
Here are the common dilemmas families face - and some suggestions that could help restore harmony.
Is living at home too easy?
While some children stay at their parents' home, or return after college or university because they have huge debts and can't afford to rent or buy their own place, research suggests many choose to live with their parents simply because they like it.
A thinkmoney study found one in six adults aged 18 to 34 who lived in the family home did so because it gave them an easier life, with their doting parents still doing their washing, ironing, cooking and cleaning. But Family Lives says it's reasonable to expect grown-up kids to pull their weight around the house, and parents shouldn't feel obliged to do their chores.
Should parents ask for rent?
Almost half of the young adults questioned by thinkmoney admitted they paid no rent, even though the majority of them worked.
Family Lives says some parents feel guilty about asking for rent, but new research from comparethemarket found 74% of parents feel there just isn't enough information about how much to charge adult children for living at home, despite over half of parents (53%) admitting to charging.
The poll showed parents request an average of £68 a month towards their mortgage or rent, £31 on bills, and £33 for food, from each child. But more than half of parents said they weren't sure what they should charge, and 19% were too embarrassed to ask kids to cough up.
However, an ungrateful 12% of children have actually refused to contribute towards household bills.
To help guide parents, comparethemarket has created a tool which calculates how much parents could be charging, based on factors including local rent, food, gas and electricity prices.
Is it causing arguments?
As well as financial confusion, having grown-up offspring living at home can cause tension between all family members.
Rows can start when boomerang kids, who return to live at home after university, expect things to be as they were before they went away.
Parenting expert Sue Atkins explains: "As well as potentially causing problems between parents and their grown-up kids, it can also cause rows between the parents themselves. Everyone needs to have a good chat about ground rules, without getting moody or shouting."
Six rules for living with grown-up kids
Family Lives, together with Sue Atkins, make the following suggestions:
1. If your child is earning, insist they pay rent
"Don't be ashamed of needing to ask them for money, because they will learn many lessons from it, like being independent," says Atkins. "Don't get yourself into debt for your children. Lots of parents feel guilty about asking for rent, but they shouldn't. You're educating them - you taught them how to cross the road and now you're teaching them how the world works and that there's no such thing as a free lunch."
2. Be prepared to ask them to leave
If they refuse to contribute, suggest it's time they moved out. "It's called tough love for a reason," she says.
3. Always find ways for them to help
If your child isn't earning, find other ways for them to contribute, such as cooking meals or babysitting.
4. Communication is key
Encourage regular communication, even if just by text, to avoid misunderstandings. If they've lived away from home, they may have fallen out of the habit of accounting for where they are. Communication is the oil that lubricates every good family, Atkins says.
5. Set clear rules
Establish clear rules to ensure adult offspring help with chores and the upkeep of the house. Jot down a few ground rules you think would make things work - you might discuss having a kitty for food or how bills are paid - and then say to your kids, without getting cross, that these are the problems, what can we do about them? Then they have responsibility and have ownership of the problem," explains Atkins. "Create the right environment, have a few plans and have the intention of finding a solution amicably."
6. Don't treat them like children
Atkins says: "The relationship has to change, and some kids don't understand that. Some still think you're the bank of mum and dad, but it shouldn't work like that. The power balance has shifted. Sometimes it's about mum and dad learning to accept the change, and that they're not needed in the same way they were. You're their parent, not their friend, and you owe it to them to teach them how life works."