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Want Your Empty Nest Back?

What happens when your child moves back home.

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illustration of parents and adult child sitting crowded in a house
Jin Xia
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Adapted from AARP’s You and Your Adult Child: How to Grow Together in Challenging Times (Simon & Schuster, April 18, 2023,)

One of the most common questions parents ask me is: My child has moved back home, but it’s not working out. What should we do?

First, let me assure you: If your children move back home, you’re not alone. As of 2020, more than half of people ages 18 to 29 in the United States were living with one or both parents. The trend has been more or less universal: male and female, all ethnicities, in both metropolitan and rural areas, and in different parts of the country.

Second, know that your kids may be no happier than you are. Regardless of whether the reasons for returning were beyond their control—say, their company folded or laid off workers—it may feel to them like a step backward. Neither of you knows for sure when they’ll once again be able to afford to feed and house themselves. This uncertainty can create a lot of anxiety for everyone, because no one wants the arrangement to continue any longer than necessary.

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SIMON AND SCHUSTER/AARP


In many cases, the move back home goes smoothly, but not always. Discontent often results when you both don’t discuss expectations before the move takes place, or when these conversations yield plans that don’t go as expected. Or maybe you feel your children aren’t doing what’s necessary to enable them to leave the nest.

You’ll need a combination of vigilance and patience to help ensure your kids are doing things that will help them get the job or financial footing they need:

  • You’ll need to monitor their activities without becoming a nag. It’s fine to ask how their job search is going every once in a while, but not multiple times each week. If the job market is tight, it may take time to find a decent job.
  • Ask if there’s anything you can do to help, but be sensitive to their response. “No thanks” may mean “I’ve got it under control,” but it can also mean “Mind your own business.”

If you think they’re saying they have it under control, you can respond with, “That’s great, but if you ever need an extra pair of eyes, I’m happy to help.”

If they’re suggesting you mind your own business, you need to figure out whether they’re doing what’s reasonable and not having any success or they’re genuinely not trying hard enough. If the former, you can express sympathy and say, “Yes, it’s not my business, but that doesn’t mean I can’t ask how things are going. I am just being courteous and expect the same in return.” If you believe they could try harder, say something like, “When you first moved back, you said you would spend all your free time job hunting. If you’re at a point where there aren’t any prospects, we can find things for you to do to help out around here until the job market improves.”

  • After several months, if you feel it’s time to reconsider the arrangement, sit down with your child and engage in “collaborative problem-solving.” This process involves discussing the problem, brainstorming possible solutions to it, making a tentative plan to solve it, and after some time (like a couple of weeks) evaluating whether it’s working. As part of these conversations, establish some sort of timetable for your children to find a new place to live. You may not find it easy to loan them money to move out, but this could be the best solution in the short-term. If you can’t subsidize them, you can assist them with finding employment.
  • If your children have difficulty moving out because of a mental health problem or addiction, help them get appropriate treatment.

Regardless of whether things are going terribly or swimmingly, while you and your child are living together, keep the communication channels open, and you’ll experience a positive side to stage of your relationship. On national surveys, most young adults who’ve moved back home say that they and their parents get along fine. During the pandemic I taught several senior seminars by Zoom, in which many of the twentysomethings in my classes had been forced to move back home and attend class from their childhood bedroom or kitchen table. Most of them wished they were still living on their own, but just about all of them said that living with their parents had strengthened their relationship; helped them get to know their parents better as people, not just parents; and made them even more appreciative of everything their parents do and have done for them.

Adapted from AARP’s You and Your Adult Child: How to Grow Together in Challenging Times, by Dr. Laurence Steinberg (Simon & Schuster, April 18, 2023)

Dr. Laurence Steinberg, one of the world’s leading experts on adolescence, is a Distinguished University Professor and the Laura H. Carnell Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Temple University.

Americans more likely to say it’s a bad thing than a good thing that more young adults live with their parents

Have any of you had an adult child move back home? How did it go? Let us know in the comments below.

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