More fiftysomething adults are finding their homes full of grown children who have moved back in.
What makes this new reality so tricky to navigate is the emotional component. Your kids are the center of your universe. There's nothing you wouldn't do for them, right? That's where the problems can start. Your blind devotion to those you love can often cause you to make some financial and familial missteps.
Midlifers whose kids have boomeranged back into their homes need to create a family plan for negotiating this new situation.
The full empty nest
Given the high cost of housing, low starting salaries, and the reality of leaving college saddled with thousands of dollars in student debt (the average is about $20,000 for a bachelor's degree), it's no surprise that there's been a sharp rise in the number of young adults moving back in with their parents.
For some, it's just a temporary stop until they snag their first post-college job. For others, it's a lifestyle choice: Why share a cramped and expensive rental with three roommates when your room is waiting for you at Mom and Dad's - often rent-free and with full laundry service provided? For still others, it's a safe place to land after a busted relationship.
Regardless of why the kids are back, the absolute worst move you can make is to welcome them without any financial expectations. Quite honestly, if your kids expect free room and board, I have to hold you accountable for not raising them to be more financially self-reliant and responsible.
That's the most powerful gift parents can bestow on their kids, yet all too often I see parents who think it's their role to always take care of their kids rather than teach them how to take care of themselves. Indulging 22-year-olds like 12-year-olds is a disservice to them.
Exactly when do you expect them to grow up? And exactly when do you expect to finally do your job by showing them how it's done?
No time like the present
There should be no free ride, period. This isn't punishment - it's great parenting. If your kids move back in because they can't afford a place just yet, your goal is to help them save up enough money to eventually move out.
Charge rent. Insist that they set up an automatic payment from their checking account into a special savings account you set up. That savings account becomes their housing account. You aren't pocketing the money for yourself - you're helping (OK, forcing) them to save for a goal: being able to buy their first home, or more likely, at least have enough of a housing fund to cover some of their rental costs.
As for how much to charge, it should be a percentage of their take-home pay - at least 25 percent. What drives me crazy is when kids move back in after college, live rent-free, and blow all their money on clubbing, mall splurges, or nice weekend getaways.
I'm not suggesting they fork over every penny to you, but until you demand that they act like adults with their money, they're just going to continue to be your financially dependent kids. Don't you want more for them?
You should also set a timeline for when they'll move out. Don't wait until you're at the breaking point. You don't want to have this conversation when everybody's nerves are frayed.
If part of the plan is for you to subsidize some of their housing costs, that also needs to be talked through ahead of time. Keep reminding yourself that you're helping them navigate the transition to self-sufficiency, not setting yourself up to be their permanent financial fallback.