5 Ways to Deal with Kids Returning to the Empty Nest

By: Katie Lambert

There can be challenges and rewards to having an adult child move back home for a brief period. Just be sure to outline the ground rules ahead of time.
There can be challenges and rewards to having an adult child move back home for a brief period. Just be sure to outline the ground rules ahead of time.
Michael Blann/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

After the door shuts behind the last kid leaving for college, the house is quiet. Many parents feel lonely for a while, but after a period of adjustment, almost all come to enjoy the "empty nest." It isn't empty, after all -- it's a chance for a couple to get to know one another again without the distraction of kids, or an opportunity for a single parent to enjoy new freedoms.

Sometimes, however, kids don't stay flown. If the job market's in the dumps, they may not be able to survive on their own -- and their first call is going to be to mom and dad, asking to come home.


But things have changed since they've been gone. You've gotten used to a life the way you want it, and so have they. And, likely, yours doesn't involve taking care of kids anymore.

Here are some tips on navigating life with your "boomerang child."

5: Charge Rent

First things first: Your kid has to pay rent. Seem harsh? Remember that the goal is to get Mikey or Jenny back on his or her feet and out the door, and that means accepting adult responsibilities. The dorm wasn't free. The apartment wasn't free. Your house shouldn't be, either.

A child's reaction may be anger and surprise. This is where they grew up, and they may have been hoping for a place to lick their wounds and be a child again. But while you can provide that support emotionally, financially is another matter.


You don't have to charge the market rate for rent -- after all, your kid is probably at home due to a financial slump. It's more of a symbolic gesture that lets your kid keep some self-respect and keeps you from feeling taken advantage of.

4: Make a Timeline

In American culture, many people look down on a healthy adult who hasn't left home. For your child's self-esteem, he or she can't stay with you forever.

Make a plan of action and a timeline together. If you can do it in a supportive way, it should energize your child -- we all like to have a plan of attack.


Come up with measurable goals: Send the resume to three people for feedback. Attend one networking event per week. Sign up for one class or workshop a month to add some extra shine to the resume -- Adobe Photoshop certification, for example.

Help your kid set a date for planning to move out, and goal dates for finding a roommate and a new place to stay.

Having a checklist and a goal to work toward will give your young adult a sense of purpose and direction -- and will make sure no one is shuffling into your kitchen at 1 p.m. asking if you've bought any Lucky Charms.

3: Divide Up Chores and Responsibilities

You're the landlord, but you're also now a roommate. And good roommates divide up the chores.

It should go without saying (it should, but we've known too many grown men whose mothers still do their laundry when they're home) that your kid washes his own tighty whities or vacuums her own room, but the common areas should be split up.


It's best to have a schedule. Every Sunday, for example, the living room has to be dusted and vacuumed and all wood surfaces polished. You could either switch off weeks or assign the task exclusively to one person. (If one of you really hates cooking but doesn't mind doing dishes, it doesn't make sense to rotate the cooking duties.)

Running a household is a lot of work. Your kid can take care of the grocery list this week and run some errands while he or she is out pounding the pavement. Consider it (and treat it as) training for the future in what it means to be an adult homeowner and member of a family.

2: Talk Guests and Behavior Expectations

Yes, at her own place, it was OK if your daughter came home tipsy and with a gentleman friend, but how do you feel about it?

Behavior expectations are tricky, because, as your son or daughter will quickly point out, they're paying rent. That should entitle them to some sort of privacy -- or, at least, an adult discussion with you.


The key is working out some sort of compromise. If you're not comfortable with your son bringing home overnight guests, then it's only fair to hold your tongue if he chooses to spend the night elsewhere -- as long as he texts you to let you know if you should set the house alarm or not.

What is your comfort level with drinking in the house? Smoking? Late hours? Try to approach this more like a roommate than with a "This is my house" attitude. It is your house, of course, and you get the final word, but having these difficult conversations with your child is how your relationship matures.

1: Change the Dynamic

This is what all those other tips have been leading up to: changing the dynamic.

It's so easy to revert to the roles we're used to -- child in need of rescuing, parent on the way to save the day. But there comes a time when a child has to learn to rescue him or herself, and you have to stand back and watch the struggle.


It can be tough -- really tough -- to get out of those roles, and at times you might have to literally bite your tongue to keep from yelling, "Stop whining and find a job! Any job!" But realize that your frustration comes from your worry. Your child has the same fears, in addition to the fear that he or she will disappoint you.

You might want to avoid each other for a while, but this can also be a really rewarding time. You finally get to start knowing each other as adults. You've been watching your child develop all along, but to him or her, you've probably just been mom or dad. When you're able to put those previous dynamics aside, however briefly, you can meet as friends -- and before you know it, you'll have the nest to yourself once again.

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  • Goudreau, Jenna. "Networking Survival Tips." Forbes.com. Jan. 6, 2010. (May 23, 2011) http://www.forbes.com/2010/01/06/networking-event-conversation-forbes-woman-net-worth-relationship.html
  • Ludden, Jennifer. "Boomerang Kids Drive Rise of Extended Family Living." NPR. March 18, 2010. (May 16, 2011) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124787436
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