Recently, Suzanna De Baca wrote an excellent article for Time Magazine titled “Your Adult Child is Moving Home: Should You Charge Rent?” You can read the article here: http://healthland.time.com/2012/06/13/your-adult-child-is-moving-home-should-you-charge-rent/. While De Baca ultimately concluded whether to charge rent to be a personal decision, she made several good points worthy of further consideration.
From the Parent’s Perspective
Just as there is no “right way” to parent, there is no “right way” to feel when your adult child moves back home. While De Baca couched this phenomenon with examples of students returning home after college graduation, she cites a study that gives a much broader possible age range. Therefore, it is important to realize this could happen regardless of your child’s job prospects upon graduation. Financially draining life events such as a divorce, being laid off, poor investments, and many other scenarios can lead a thirty year old adult child come back to the nest just as easily as a freshly minted college graduate without a job. The following advice can help you plan, prepare, and perhaps even enjoy having your child back home with you.
- Talk To Your Child Before They Need to Move Back, if Possible
When your child earns more money and has a nicer house than you do, it can seem silly to talk to them about what would be expected of them if they move back in. However, this is actually the perfect opportunity to start this dialogue because both you and your child can be open and honest about reasonable expectations should the adult child ever need to return home. This works for both parties. Children who do not plan to move back will likely be more willing to listen and accept your financial position than children who are in desperate need. Likewise, parents will feel more able to be open and honest about their financial ability and willingness to help when their children are doing well than when their adult child shows up with nowhere else to go.
In addition to adult children who have already graduated college, this talk should almost universally happen with college juniors and seniors. This is true even if they are moving into a lucrative field or have a job in hand at graduation. Laying down your expectations before graduation can help alleviate some of the anxiety your child may feel about asking you to move back in if they need to. Furthermore, it may help motivate your child to continue the job hunt or search harder if they find things will not go “back to normal” if they return home after graduation.
Finally, if your adult child moves back and you have not talked about your expectations, do so as quickly as possible while still respecting your child’s emotional state. As De Baca indicates, it is important for all parties to have a timeline and set boundaries. Reasonable expectations need to be addressed as quickly as possible to prevent future misunderstandings. Parents will usually know when it is most, and least, appropriate to have this conversation. It may be a good idea to have the talk within a week of your adult child moving in, but not the day they move in. This will allow enough time for your adult child to begin the process of settling in, but will minimize any hardships your child may be inadvertently imposing.
- Make a “Roommate Contract”
This idea incorporates many of De Baca’s suggestions from the Time article, but takes it a step further. Roommate contracts, while typically not legally defensible, are none the less a written account of the expectations and penalties each party agrees to when living with someone else. Discussing the roommate contract with your adult child, and involving them in the “drafting” process, can help clear the air and provide a good opportunity to address many unspoken assumptions each party brings to the table.
As De Baca suggests, the roommate contract should set forth the expenses you will take care of, and the expenses you want or need your adult child to help with. It is important to peg these expenses to a reasonable standard if at all possible. For example, you can get your grocery bills from before the move in and compare them to grocery bills after the move in to help validate and explain charging for board. If your child is unwilling or unable to pay certain expenses, suggest activities they can do to “earn their keep”. These can also be pegged to market rate to help show why one hour of mowing the lawn does not equate to a week’s worth of groceries. If you do choose to charge your adult child rent, you can look at rental prices online in your area for an idea of a reasonable fair rental price for the square footage the child uses.
- Respect Your Child’s Autonomy
Remember, your adult child is just that, an adult. It is humbling enough for a child to move back in with their parents without them worrying about curfew, being grounded, or loosing certain privileges normally associated with a younger child / parent relationship. While you do not need to give your adult child “free reign” to do whatever they please simply because they are older, you need to understand and respect they are adults that have fallen on hard times. Talking with your adult child about certain possibly uncomfortable topics such as having significant others spend the night, smoking and drinking, noise, nighttime activity levels, is very important and should be done as quickly as possible. You may even choose to include certain provisions, such as no smoking in the house, in the roommate contract. If conflict arises, remember you are dealing with a roommate, and their punishment will not be the same as disciplining an unruly child. Finally, remember respecting the autonomy of your adult child as much as possible will help them retain self-esteem, a critically important job hunting trait.
Few adult children want to return home unless they have to. Unfortunately, the tough economy and substantial debt loads of many adult children leave few alternatives. Follow these suggestions and you may find the benefits far outweigh the hardships when you child moves back home.
Patrick R. Norris, J.D., Norris Legal, L.L.C.
Thank you for reading this article. The information contained in this article is for discussion purposes only. The information contained in this article is not legal advice upon which you should act and simply reading this article does not make you a client of Norris Legal, L.L.C. or any other law firm. Thank you again.
 De Baca, Suzanna. “Your Adult Child Is Moving Home: Should You Charge Rent? Tips for dealing with an adult child who’s moving back home.” Time Healthland – A Healthy Balance of the Mind, Body, and Sprit. 06 13 2012: Web. 17 Jun. 2012. <http://healthland.time.com/2012/06/13/your-adult-child-is-moving-home-should-you-charge-rent/>.