Relating to adult children — 27 June 2004
How to deal with “Boomerang Kids”

Adult children, who return to live with their parents after having left home for work, college, military service or marriage, have been termed “Boomerang Kids”. The new family constellation of adult children and parents living together creates many joys and some challenges for both generations.

Recent Census figures indicate that 56 percent of men and 43 percent of women between the ages of 18-24 live with their parents. Some never left. Others, an estimated 65 percent of recent college graduates have returned home.

The reasons for “Boomeranging” are most commonly economic. Limited work opportunities for college graduates, high cost of housing and low pay of first positions, divorce, or single parenthood, all create a need for financial assistance.

Most parents are willing to help their adult children and facilitate their efforts toward a planned independence. Most Boomerang Kids appreciate the financial and emotional support their parents are willing to offer.

In many circumstances, the reunited family is very satisfying to both the senior and junior members. Some parents delight in being able to continue active parenting for a while longer. Some enjoy the vitality and energy the younger people re-introduce into their lives. Others relive their own youth through their children’s experiences. For yet others, the introduction of grandchildren invigorates them and allows them the daily contact they would otherwise miss if their children lived elsewhere. Some parents, especially single ones cherish the companionship and camaraderie of their children that refill their empty nest.

The young adults often see this as a temporary phase of resuming nurturing and help as they pursue their quest for autonomy. It is so nice to eat Mom’s delicious cooking again and feel loved and protected. It is so easy to re-enter the routines of old and receive again without hesitation. At Mom and Dad’s house everything is shared lovingly and being home again feels so safe and comfortable.

Families who find this new status most rewarding have established a system of interaction in which all parties are clear and respectful of each other’s needs. Studies report that this new living arrangement works best when: the parents are in a long term relationship, the return is a one time not a repetitive event, when the adult child is positive and contributes to the household in a tangible way and gets along with Mom. (Relationship with the father was less of a significant factor in successful returns to the nest.

When boomerang kids and parents are less than happy together, it is often due to the complex psychological issues of restructured relationship between them.

Some parents view their children departure from home as evidence of a task well accomplished. They feel satisfied with seeing their children launched into adulthood and pride themselves in a job well done. The return of the adult children may be viewed as a failed mission. Though logically the reasons for the comeback are clear, emotionally some parents feel disappointed and sad about their children’s failed attempt at autonomy. This view may hinder their ability to treat the Boomerang Kids with respect and trust needed for their self-esteem.

The parents’ role is another issue that complicates the relationship between them and their adult children. Are the parents to be helpful friends or guiding, caring and providing nurturers? What decisions should be made by the parents and what are the ones their adult children should make? Can the parents not worry about the children being out late and can they withhold their disapproval about other decisions their offspring make? What expectations do the parents realistically have of their Boomerang Kids? These are just a few of the questions parents struggle with in the re-defining of the relationship with their young adults.

The Boomerang Kids in turn have their own struggles with autonomy and dependence. If they are being supported and helped does that restrict them from freedoms other young adults who live on their own have? How do they deal with having their own love relationships, friends, and activities without violating any of their parents values? Are they adults or still children in view of their economic dependency?

The nature of maturation requires the freedom to learn through experience and face the consequences of one’s errors. Boomerang Kids miss that step in emotional and practical growth due to their need to return to the nest. It is actually a `regression from the forward motion of personal growth and is a temporary setback.

To facilitate the Boomerang Kids return home and not burden the parents unduly; one needs to consider the following:

  • The phenomenon of “Boomerang Kids” has been exacerbated by recent economic conditions and is not necessarily a reflection on effective parental success.
  • At best, adult children and parents living together is a compromising state for both generations.
  • To facilitate the emotional dilemmas parents need to be very clear about rules, expectations and freedoms for their children.
  • The Boomerang Kids must contribute to the household in some clearly specified pay and/or work.
  • The length of stay at home needs to be associated with a clearly devised plan toward financial autonomy.
  • The Boomerang Kids need to be pleasant, cheerful and cooperative.
  • Both parents and adult children must be able to talk about any dissatisfaction and remediate them promptly. Accumulated resentments serve no one; they only damage the relationships.
  • All temporary inconveniences can be overshadowed by the joys of family, companionship, love and sharing between parents and their Boomerang Kids.

June 20, 2004

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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