NEW YORK (MainStreet) – When Jayne Pearl graduated from college in the 1970s, she didn’t have a job lined up. So she did what many graduates in her situation do: She moved back in with her parents to live rent-free.
The honeymoon period didn’t last long.
“I partied for a couple weeks, then my parents handed me the New York Times classifieds and said, ‘Here’s some train money. Don’t come back without a job,’” she recalls.
These days, parents can count their lucky stars if their adult child is only home for two weeks. The Great Recession caused job prospects for young adults to plummet, with the unemployment rate among Americans aged 20-29 currently standing at 12.5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As one might expect, that has caused unemployed and underemployed 20-somethings to take shelter from the economic storm with their parents, and the spectacle of young college graduates returning home en masse to live rent-free has given rise to the term “boomerang kid.”
While many parents welcome the return of their graduate after four years with an empty nest, a boomerang kid can quickly wear out his or her welcome. So if your kid has boomeranged back home and is showing no signs of leaving the nest, how can you put him or her on the road to independence – and on the road out of your basement?
Draw Up a Contract
With college graduation season almost upon us, you probably have a pretty good idea of whether your newly-minted graduate will be boomeranging back home or not. If they will indeed be returning to the nest in the next couple of months, there are steps you can take now to ensure that it doesn’t become a permanent arrangement.
The first is to clearly communicate that you’re only accommodating them temporarily until they get on their feet.
“Parents should say, ‘We’re happy we can help you through a difficult time, but now is a good time for us to sit down and talk about parameters – how long will you need to stay here?’” says Pearl, author of Kids, Wealth and Consequences. “It’s about setting expectations.”
To further hammer home the point that the move is meant to be temporary, Pearl and others recommend drawing up a contract from day one that lays out the conditions of the child’s stay. While it doesn’t need to be as formal as a lease agreement, it should make it clear to the child that this isn’t a vacation.
“When you have the child move in, you have to set up a contract,” says Thom Fox of Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp., who is working on a book about the boomerang generation. “Go in there with a plan – establish how long they’ll be staying, what kind of chores are expected of them and how much they’re required to donate to monthly obligations.”
That last point about monthly obligations is crucial, since it establishes that the boomerang kids aren’t getting a completely free ride. It also provides a disincentive for them to overstay their welcomes – if they’re forced to pay rent at home anyway, they’ll be more inclined to get their own place when they’re able to.
Of course, how much a child is actually expected to contribute will vary depending on his or her job situation and the parent’s own budgetary needs. Like any contract, it requires some negotiation, and the number can change depending on what sort of employment they can find.
Whatever you do, don’t just make it a token amount – Pearl recommends charging rent equivalent to 25%-30% of their wages.
“They should feel it,” she says.
Lend a Helping Hand
Of course, charging rent may not be an option if your child is completely jobless, as is often the case in these situations. In that case, your best bet for getting them out of the house may be to lend a hand in their job search. How much you actually get involved is up to you.
“I think that the best role for a parent to play in the job search is as a coach or mentor,” says Pearl, suggesting that parents can give feedback on cover letters and role-play in practice interviews. “Parents can also help out with networking.”
Fox also suggests that networking may be the parent’s greatest contribution to the job search – after all, a new graduate may have the qualifications for a given job, but hasn’t cultivated the professional network necessary to get their foot in the door.
“Parents are in a really good position based on the network they have,” he says. “And if the parents are working professionals, they can help their young adult develop a LinkedIn page.”
Still, it’s possible to get too involved in your child’s job search. Boomerang kids are often mentioned in the same breath as “helicopter parents” who stunt their kids’ development by becoming overly-involved (or “hovering over them”) in their lives. If your adult child is jobless because he or she was never allowed to be independent and develop life skills, writing a resume for your child isn’t going to address the underlying problem.
In theory, your child shouldn’t need to be incentivized to find a job and get their own place – those things should be incentive enough. Still, letting them know that they won’t be completely cut off when they move out will make them more comfortable with the transition.
Liz Kitchens is a partner at The Kitchens Group, a Florida-based public opinion research firm that recently found that more than half of baby boomers still financially support their adult children. She also has some personal experience in the matter, providing varying levels of support to her adult children over the years.
“I have a 31-year-old daughter living in Baltimore, and while I don’t feel primarily financially responsible for her, I still pay her cell phone bill and for her ADT home security system,” she says. “It’s something I can do that helps her so much.”
The knowledge that entering the real world won’t immediately bring a torrent of bills can certainly make your child more willing to move out; and if the child has been paying rent at home, you can use some of that cash to help them out when they leave the nest. But others suggest not disclosing what you plan to contribute to the cause, so as not to disincentivize them from saving.
“Put some or all [of their rent money] away without telling the child, then when they move out, they’ll have first and last months’ rent,” suggests Pearl.
Whether or not you choose to tell them about what you’re saving on their behalf, helping them pay some of their bills when they first move out will make the transition go more smoothly. And perhaps best of all, it will put your own mind at ease that you’re not casting them out to sea without a life preserver.
Typically when people talk about boomerang kids, they conjure an image of a freeloading college grad mooching off his put-upon parents. But it’s a two-way street, and some experts say that doting parents may be enabling their children and unconsciously keeping them from moving out.
Paul Hokemeyer, a marriage and family therapist based in New York, suggests that an adult child returning home could be the result of deeper issues on both sides.
“There could be emotional issues in the family and the child is coming home in an attempt to stabilize things, or the parents want the child to come home for the same reason,” he says.
If there’s any concern that this could be the case, it’s important to acknowledge it upfront before it makes a difficult situation worse. The last thing you want is to sabotage your child’s quest for independence because having him or her home is temporarily acting as a stabilizing influence on your marriage.
“The first thing parents have to do is recognize that they could be part of the problem,” he says.
Kitchens likewise advises mothers to consider whether they’re part of the reason the child is still living in the basement.
“It may not just be the kids wanting to move back,” says Kitchen. “Maybe us boomer kids are encouraging them to move back because we enjoy spending time with them.”
Kitchens say she feels that baby boomer women in particular are inclined to want their children to move back in as adults. She reasons that they’re the first generation of women to enter the workforce in droves, which in turn led to a certain degree of guilt over not being there enough when the child was young.
“I think there is some guilt and regret that comes with those decisions you made,” she says. When the child comes back to the nest, the parent unconsciously views it as an opportunity to make up for lost time and provide the nurturing she didn’t give the first time around.
She urges parents to consider alternative outlets for your parenting energy, noting that she’s taken to teaching pottery to children at the local Boys and Girls Club to sooth her empty nest syndrome.
“It helped me let go,” she says. “We have to find replacements for that need to nurture.”
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