How To Cope When Your Adult Child Returns To The Empty Nest

When your children move out and you suddenly have an empty nest, it’s strange – but it can be hard to adjust if they come home again, too.


“Well,” said my husband, looking around our eerily quiet home. “It’s just us now, then.” I nodded miserably, still tearful. We’d just returned from the UK after leaving our daughter there to continue her studies. The littlest bird had flown, and we had an empty nest.

That was two years ago. Six weeks ago, she came home. Ok, at 18 she’s only just an adult, and she’d been home for holidays. But we’d still had time to adjust to life as a couple again (plus assorted furry animals). Delighted as we were to have her back full-time, it meant another shift in our lives.

Adult children returning to live with their parents is a growing trend. They’re known as ‘boomerang kids’. Rising rents and exorbitant house prices, relationship breakups or lack of employment mean that, for many, it’s the only viable option. I know one couple whose 30-year-old daughter still lives at home; she tried a flat-share for a year, but simply couldn’t afford it. Another friend’s son moved back in with his parents after university and didn’t leave until he got married at the age of 36.

No matter how delighted you might be to have your child home again, you need to set some ground rules. They’re used to their independence now, and so are you. It’s a whole new ball game, and the last thing you want is conflict.

Set your boundaries

What happens if your adult child wants to invite friends round, or bring someone home overnight? What are your rules about smoking or playing loud music? It’s a good idea to discuss situations like this so everyone is clear on what is and isn’t acceptable.

It’s not appropriate to set a curfew – your son or daughter should be able to come and go as they please. But it’s reasonable to ask them to be as quiet as possible if they get home late and you’re asleep in bed.

No freeloading allowed

If your child has a job, agree between you how much rent they should pay. Decide whether this includes a contribution towards utility bills and other costs such as food. They need to understand this is a responsibility they must stick to. Obviously, you’re not going to kick them out if they’re late with the rent, but they can’t take advantage either and blow all their money on socialising.

Find other ways for your child to contribute if they don’t have an income. Agree on set chores, such as mowing the lawn, cleaning the windows or washing the car – all things that could save you money.

It’s not a hotel…

As a member of the household, your child should contribute to keeping it running smoothly. Loading/unloading the dishwasher, being responsible for cleaning their own room, helping out with housework, doing the laundry – these are all jobs they should help with. In our case, our daughter also has to take her turn on the dog-walking rota and cook dinner at least one night a week.

Nor is it a restaurant

Food doesn’t magically appear on the table three times a day, and your child shouldn’t automatically expect you to provide an evening meal. Will they cook for themselves, or are you happy to cook dinner each night? If it’s the latter, they need to let you know when they have plans and won’t be home to eat. Don’t forget breakfast and lunch, too; in our home, everyone is responsible for sorting out their own.

You’re not a cashpoint

If your child is going through a rough patch, it’s tempting to help them out. Now and again there’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t make a habit of it. Your child needs to become financially independent, not rely on The Bank of Mum & Dad all the time. Have a chat about financial discipline if you need to.

Don’t tell them what to do

They’re adults now. It can be hard to watch them make what you feel are poor decisions, or do things you think are wrong. But it’s up to them. Don’t offer advice unless they ask for it, but make sure they know you’re always there if they need a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on.

Talk to each other

It’s a good idea to have regular family discussions to make sure everyone is happy with the arrangement. This is especially true in the early days. If one of you harbours resentment about something, it will only fester and lead to problems later on.

Be honest with each other. If something is working or not working, if rules are not being stuck to or new ones need making, talk about it together. Your child needs to respect they are living in your home. And you have to accept they are grown-up and free to make their own choices.

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