I frequently have parents ask me if it’s wrong to allow young adult children to move back home with them after they have moved out or following graduation from college. In some countries around the world it is perfectly normal. In others, it is a sign of unreadiness and immaturity.
There are obviously varying opinions on the topic.
The Wall Street Journal reminds us, “More than one-third of young adults—those between ages 18 and 34—lived at home in 2015, up from 26% in 2005, according to census data. Many parents don’t charge rent to their returning progeny, but some financial experts say they should pay their share of the real estate. ‘By collecting rent you’re teaching your kids to budget, to prepare for life,’ says Kim Luu-Tu, a private wealth advisor with Ameriprise who specializes in generational wealth planning.'”
Dartmouth College professor Jason Houle says that culturally, children who return home are often judged as lazy or entitled. Houle has studied “boomerang children” and finds this view irritating.
“It’s a tired old trope” that older generations apply to younger generations, Houle says. “It’s completely unfounded in the data.” What’s more, boomerang children typically stay for short periods of time. “Most people who end up on their parent’s doorstep tend to do so for a year or two,” he says. “They’re just getting back on their feet.”
Is Moving Home Wrong? Is Charging Rent a Punishment?
Charging rent does not need to punitive. It is not necessarily a reaction to an entitled, lazy young adult as long as the parent sees their son or daughter acting responsibly. When both my son and daughter moved back home after graduating from their respective universities, we set up this arrangement:
- They could live at home for a set number of months for free, as they got on their feet and implemented their plan. This gave them time to look for work and establish themselves. Criteria: they had to have a plan.
- After that time period, we expected them to be employed, ready to move into their own place and begin their careers. They had saved some money and would have enough to get started. Criteria: they had to have savings.
- If they needed to stay longer, we would meet to discuss the amount of their rent. It could either be a set affordable amount or a percentage of their income. We wanted them to “taste” what it was like to begin “adulting.”
It was easy to see that it accomplished two goals:
- It communicated they have crossed the rite of passage into adulthood. They will not be treated like children but grownups. It calls them upward to the next level of life. Relationships with kids are different than those with adults.
- It establishes dignity for them. They feel as though they are mature and growing since they’re expected to pay rent to cover their room and board. I could see it help my son especially as he grew in his masculinity.
When I graduated from college thirty-five years ago, there was a stigma about moving back home after college. If you did so, you certainly didn’t talk much about it. It was a bit embarrassing. Although the economy was still struggling, recovering from the last years of the 1970s, the vast majority of my peers would not entertain the idea of returning home.
That stigma is no longer around for most young adults.
While I am glad the shame is gone, I believe we need to communicate belief in today’s young adults—that they have what it takes to make it, even though the early years of their career may be lean. It is part of the process. I was married when I graduated and my wife, Pam, and I didn’t own much. We had a cheap couch, a small black and white TV that sat on cinder blocks and a table that had been given to us by friends. But it was all good—because we were doing it ourselves. We were on our own. Both of our parents would have gladly helped us, but they didn’t as they watched the two of us establish our identity with honor and learn self-sufficiency. Living with less made us appreciate all our families had done for us and gave us a goal to aspire to one day.
Between 1965 and 2016, the number of 25-35 year olds who live with their parents has nearly doubled. I say it’s OK only if they are saving for a significant goal like paying for a wedding, or buying a home, or something like that. It is not OK (in my opinion) for them to move home, live rent free so they can spend money frivolously on more video games, cruises, luxurious dinners out, getting pedicures, etc. These are OK only when responsible money habits are established.
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