In the past, parents whose children had left home were faced with the ‘empty nest’ syndrome. This involved feelings of sadness and loss and the realization they were no longer needed.

But now, due to a number of social and economic factors, a new phenomenon is emerging. The ‘boomerang generation’ refers to adult children who are remaining longer at home or are moving back in, often without a job or source of income.

This guide looks at the phenomenon in more detail, including the factors behind it, the impact it can have and how to cope as a mature age parent with an adult child living at home.

Why children are returning to the nest

Reasons for remaining at home or returning after time away can include;

  • Economic factors such as an uncertain job market, the COVID-19 pandemic, sky-high rental prices and exclusion from the first home buyers’ market.
  • Educational factors such as the financial burden of student loans and the unaffordability of renting while studying.
  • Personal factors including marriage break ups and financial crises.

In all these instances, it make sense to return home to lick your wounds and recover and thanks to the prevailing social and economic climate, that’s what many young adults are choosing to do.

How does this impact on parents?

After finally getting used to being able to focus on yourself and then having the former focus of your life return to the nest can have a profound impact on the parents of boomerang children.

And it can be a negative impact. It may cause financial strain as you find yourself feeding an extra mouth again and such an unplanned financial burden may even impact on your plans for retirement.

The family dynamic can also be changed, with questions arising regarding new rules and boundaries, as this child who is now an adult takes up residence in your home.

The impact on children

It’s usually no breeze for the child returning home either. They’re doing it tough because of difficult circumstances and living in their old room again at the age of twenty-five is probably the last thing they planned for.

Having no source of income and no career prospects can make anyone feel stressful or depressed. And low self-esteem and feelings of guilt may manifest themselves in irritability, impatience and anxiety about the future.

Dealing with boomerang children

Living with a boomerang child requires a different approach to the way you managed your former relationship. You are no longer dealing with a child, so the rules regarding matters such as curfews, chores and pocket money no longer apply.

You’re dealing with an adult, who has many of the same motivations and expectations as you. With this in mind, the following tips can help you establish a better working relationship.

Have a family meeting – sit them down and discuss mutual expectations. Do this before they move in, so there are no misunderstandings later on.

Be honest don’t send mixed messages. Be open about your situation, particularly if there are financial concerns, so you can both work towards a mutual solution.

Set boundaries – tell them your rules (i.e. your stand on overnight guests, parties, noise etc) and make sure they understand and agree to abide by them or risk ‘eviction’.

Determine their contribution – if paying rent is not an option, then agree on things they can do to contribute in other ways, such as mowing the lawn, helping with cooking and laundry and cleaning their room.   

Be clear about timeframes – clarify when they plan to get a job, return to their studies or save the deposit for a home. Emphasise that their stay is temporary and make sure they have a plan with a timeframe.   

Keep living your own life – don’t put your life on hold because your child is back home, but continue to socialise with friends and spend time with your spouse. Your child will probably appreciate the space this will allow them.

Protect your financial position – if your child pays rent, use that money not only to compensate for the extra mouth, but also to bolster your savings and keep your retirement on track.

Don’t bail them out – if you have the money they need to achieve their goal, resist the urge to give it to them. As a parent, you want to empower them not enable them, so consider lending them the money instead or matching their own contribution.

At the end of the day though, blood is thicker than water and as parents, we’ll do anything for our kids. So if you have a boomerang child who’s dragging their feet, be patient and console yourself with the thought that they will leave eventually. And be grateful that they like you enough to want to come home in the first place!