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5 Tips for Having an Adult Kid at Home Again

Nov. 13, 2012
Personal Finance
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At this point we’re supposed to be dealing with empty nesting, not the prospect of the kid-living-in-the-basement syndrome coming back to haunt us. But here we are, with a good part of our working life behind us, dealing with an adult offspring who says he really needs a place to stay.

The closer you are to retirement, the more perilous this situation can be. When you should be concentrating on making your last few years at work meaningful (and getting credit for doing so), not to mention beefing up that 401(k), the last thing you need is the hassle, distraction and possible financial strain of an extra tenant. But this is your kid, and he needs help. In fact, having him back after he’s been out in the world a bit can be an enriching experience for everyone; with the air cleared, you may be able to discuss things that you never quite got around to before, and to view each other with a new appreciation.

So let’s end that hassle and distraction before it gets started.

One thing to remember is that your son or daughter is really an adult – and not just in the sense that they’re over 18. One way or another, they’ve had the experience of living on their own: having bills to pay, running out of money and getting along with people with different sets of expectations. In fact, they’ve had enough real-world experience to appreciate the value of some these basic approaches – strategies any parent can employ when they’re facing the prospect of a long-term houseguest with a debatable set of privileges.

And they are guests; they haven’t been re-born, at age zero, into your household with no responsibilities other than letting you know when they’re uncomfortable. You’re all adults now, and the owners of the house have as much say about what pleases them as anyone else.

What can you do to make sure that things turn out to the satisfaction of everyone?

Propose a time limit. How long is this visit going to last? What will bring it to an end? For the kid, maybe that will be three or four months while she gets her finances together. For you, it may be six months at the most – and sooner if you start to feel uncomfortable in your own home.

Discuss goals. Assume that this stay is a step toward a specific purpose. You can’t dictate that purpose, but you can insist that there is one. Maybe it’s saving up some money for an apartment; maybe your home will be a safe haven while the kid looks for a job. Without a milestone of some sort, how can you tell when the stay will end?

Get some commitments. What can your kid do to make himself useful? Keep up the yard? Do the wash once in awhile? Take on a specific construction project? Again, this is an adult, so it’s best to have the suggestions come from them. But get it in writing.

All of these strategies reinforce the idea that your child (no matter what their age) is a responsible member of society – a person who can enter into a contract and honor it. Of course, you may have to issue a few reminders to keep things on track.

Charge rent. This is optional, of course – unlike these other suggestions, things aren’t likely to turn bad if you don’t feel comfortable following it – but, again, it fosters the perception of your home as a part of the real world that your kid will be re-entering at some point. Parents have the option of putting the proceeds into a separate bank account that can be used to help offspring move into their own places.

Agree on some rules. There’s no point in putting this off; with another adult living in the house there had better be some concrete understandings in place from the beginning. But the ideas shouldn’t all come from you. You’ll want to mention your concerns regarding guests, parties, coming in late, and drug and alcohol use, but your kid will appreciate knowing that a closed door means her privacy will be honored, or that she has access to the car at specific times. Like other agreements, these are good to get in writing – and if parents don’t issue reminders when they’re ignored, things can only get worse.

With a little work up front, you both may enjoy this visit. As Vicki Nelson of College Parent Central says, “Your student will certainly benefit from the safety net that you provide – both emotionally and financially – but you will also benefit from getting to know them as an adult. You may be pleasantly surprised at how much you like this person, and how much you enjoy having her around.”