An Integrated Approach to Young Adult Mental Health Rehab

Tips for Families with Young Adults Moving Back Home

Reading Time: 5 minutes

For the first time since the Great Depression, the majority of young adults are living with their parents. As of late 2020, 52 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds and nearly three-quarters of the 18–24 age group had moved back home, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s 26.6 million young people—an increase of 2.6 million from February 2020, when 47 percent of young adults were living at home. Moreover, these increases in young adults moving back in with parents encompassed all major racial and ethnic groups, both cities and rural areas, and every region of the United States.

There’s no mystery why the number of young adults moving back home went up significantly last year. Colleges and workplaces went remote. Businesses closed or laid off employees—often those most recently hired, who were more likely to be young adults—leaving them unable to afford independent life. And pandemic-related fear and anxiety sent recently launched young adults back to the comfort of their childhood homes.

Even before the pandemic, young adults were moving back in with parents more frequently, earning them the nickname “Boomerang kids.” In 2014, a Pew report found that, for the first time since 1880, young adults were more likely to be living with parents than with friends, roommates, or romantic partners. Higher unemployment and lower wages were the primary factors, as well as the fact that young people are marrying later in life or living at home while in college.

Accelerated by the pandemic, this trend may continue for some time as the country recovers from the economic fallout of the past year. As a result, individual families—and society as a whole—are confronting the pros and cons of young adults moving back home.

How Young Adults Can Set Healthy Boundaries with Parents, and Vice Versa

Living with parents as a young adult, especially after a period of time living independently, can take some getting used to, on both sides. Parents may need to adjust after becoming accustomed to an empty nest, while young adults living at home after college or after entering the workplace are used to making their own decisions about everything from what they eat for breakfast to who they invite over. Here are a few tips for creating house rules for adults living together.

  • Create a set of agreed-upon rules and expectations around practical yet potentially contentious household issues, chores, cleaning, how the shopping and cooking will be shared, whether meals will be eaten together, etc. Address trickier issues as well, such as privacy and whether parents are okay with a young adult’s significant other spending the night.
  • Talk about finances. If the young adult is able to, will they contribute to household expenses? If not, are there other things they can do around the house to support the family? It’s not a given that a young adult child should help support the household financially if it’s not necessary, but it is important to have a shared sense of responsibility and caretaking.
  • When it comes to what adult children do outside of the home, parents need to realize that they cannot make the same demands as they might have back when their young adult was a teenager. However, expectations around information can be set. For example, if a young adult plans to stay out all night, then a parent can ask for a text or call to confirm their safety, but it’s not appropriate to set a curfew.
  • Discuss expectations around COVID-19 exposure, and make an agreement regarding safety guidelines everyone will follow.
  • Substance use should be addressed up front. Parents have the right to set limits around young adult drug use in the home.
  • It may be tempting for both parents and young adults to fall back into old parent-child patterns—such as the parent doing all the laundry and even cleaning the kid’s room. It’s important to break out of these patterns and for everyone to remember that young adults can take care of themselves, and will actually benefit from doing so.
  • Set emotionally healthy boundaries with parents, as well as practical ones. Parents can share their advice when invited, and certainly if they feel there is cause for concern. But they also need to respect a young adult’s autonomy and right to make their own decisions. For parents of adult children, it’s important to find the balance so that support doesn’t tip into over-involvement. And young adults can choose not to engage in conflict if a parent disagrees with their choices.

Some of these topics may be difficult to discuss, while others may be easily agreed upon. But don’t shy away from the tougher conversations. For young adults moving back home, setting expectations and boundaries with parents allows them to continue the process of growing and maturing as an emerging adult while they’re at home. Once expectations have been set and families have developed house rules for adults living together, the key to harmony is maintaining ongoing, open, honest communication.

The Positive Side of Young Adults Moving Back Home

While the reason that there are so many young adults moving back in with parents is not a happy one, that doesn’t mean that the experience itself can’t be joyful. In fact, for young adults who had a rocky relationship with parents during the teen years, living at home can be incredibly healing. The same goes for fostering sibling relationships, whether with grown siblings who have also returned to the nest or with younger sibs who are still living at home.

Know the Facts

41% of 18- to 24-year-olds say that living with their parents during this life stage has been good for their relationship; only 12% say it’s been bad for the relationship.

Beyond stability and security, the benefits of living at home for young adults include the time and space to consider the next step they want to take in life, perhaps more thoughtfully than they might have when first getting out of school. Expectations around young adulthood include a set of societally imposed milestones—completing education, getting a job, living independently—and emerging adults sometimes push themselves toward these achievements without considering what they truly want to do next. Moving back home provides an enforced pause in which to look within while looking ahead.

For parents, young adults moving back home can offer a rare opportunity to observe what their emerging adult is learning in college and in the remote workplace. It can be illuminating and fulfilling for parents to witness their adult children achieving goals and making connections in the larger world.

This is also a great time to strengthen your bond and have fun together by collaborating on a project you both care about—making a vegetable garden, clearing out the cluttered garage, doing a daily yoga practice … the list goes on. While teens can be resistant to doing things with their parents, young adults—especially when they are feeling respected and independent while living at home—may be excited about it.

A final note: Parents should be aware of mental health concerns for young adults moving back home. Young adults are experiencing high levels of psychological distress as a result of social isolation, job loss, remote schooling, and other interruptions to their trajectory of growth and maturation. Learn the symptoms of depression and anxiety in young adults, and support them to get the expert mental healthcare they need in order to build resilience and move forward in their lives, whether or not they’re living at home.

Co-Occurring Disorders / March 25, 2021

Newport Institute

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