Ashley Grande tried to make it in Boston, the city of her dreams. She worked in town as a restaurant shift supervisor, earning $10 an hour for 40 hours a week, no overtime permitted. She lived humbly, sharing an apartment with three others her age. Each of the roommates paid $450 a month before utilities, heat, food and other costs. Ashley, the math shows, couldn’t make ends meet, and after two years of struggling she moved back home. Sadly, she moved back to the country, and into her old room in her parents’ house. She says, “I didn’t want to move home because I felt like that was a fail.”
Can’t Afford to Live Alone
It’s a familiar story to many parents. Many young adults, whether just out of school or returning from the military, simply can’t support themselves on the jobs there are, particularly interim service jobs.
And then there are those who can’t find work at all, or are hoping—at best—to land an unpaid internship that might lead to better things. The unemployment estimate for college grads varies from 20 percent to 54 percent, and this population has staggering student loans to pay off.
Ashley Grande is but one young person coping with grim prospects nationwide. According to reports published in May 2011, some 85 percent of college graduates were planning to return home after landing their degrees. That’s 5.9 million young adults racked up as “boomerang kids,” according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Financial concerns are a valid reason to share housing, but it can be a difficult choice to have to make.
So what’s a parent to do? On one hand, you want to support your child if you can. On the other hand, living under one roof again is bound to create some friction. How to manage this relationship? Make your boomerang kid your housemate. Shift the paradigm. You’re no longer responsible for their maintenance, laundry or social calendar. You’re no longer dealing with children, but rather young adults. Expect them to assume responsibility for their presence at home—and their effect your life.
Things to Discuss
When you know your child is moving back home, sit down with them and have a frank and productive conversation about the following eight areas in which housemates need to reach a clear agreement in order to live together comfortably. As with any housemate, you need to be clear about your needs and preferences. Listen to their concerns and suggestions with an open mind, because you’re all in this together:
- Noise in common rooms (TV, radio, music, games);
- Kitchen use;
- Guests (overnight and otherwise);
- Tasks; and
It’s likely that the rules of the house are well established for the first three areas: cleanliness, neatness, and noise. But if anyone has a different expectation, iron it out before it leads to trouble and bad feelings.
As for the remaining five categories—kitchen use, routines, guests, tasks and bills—that’s going to take some negotiation. Here’s a guide to help you and your new housemate get off on the right foot:
Will you take meals together? When? If so, who cooks? How often? Who shops? Who decides the menu? Who cleans the kitchen? Do you share a diet? If not, how will you manage buying and storing food? Some housemates keep all food separate, while others pool their resources. Some divvy up cooking by the days of the week. There are infinite variations. Maybe even you will eat on different schedules. The important thing is to be clear.
How do you live? Do you have routines that are important to you for your own health and happiness? What’s your work, sleep, fitness and social schedule, and how might having a housemate impinge on these routines? Young adults tend to stay awake later than their parents, especially if they don’t have to get up as early the next day. If either of you needs to wake early, then you should make sure your housemate knows it, and keeps the noise down accordingly.
Is your adult child welcome to have friends over every evening? Do you want time to visit with your own friends alone? What are your boundaries about guests? How do you feel about overnight guests? This needs to be discussed before it becomes an issue.
Anyone who has a home knows that chores are par for the course. Unless you hire a housekeeper, it’s the residents who will wash the kitchen floor, scrub the toilets, clean the clothes, and haul out the trash and recyclables. If you’re lucky, your adult child will be eager to contribute, but he or she may well be new at this, and will need guidance. Work together brainstorming a chores list, and post it on the wall for all to see. Agree on who’ll do what, and when. You’ve had years of experience with these responsibilities; your boomerang kid might not know what it takes to run a house. Demonstrate the tasks if need be, but expect your housemates to pull their weight.
Should you charge rent? Clearly, if your child is unemployed, the answer is no. But if he does work, negotiate on the best way for him to chip in. (And even if he’s poor as a church mouse, he can contribute in other ways—extra cooking or cleaning, or something else of value.) Paying his way is healthy, and will give your child a sense of purpose, inclusiveness and accomplishment. How much you ask your child to contribute depends on everyone’s financial circumstances.
Your Family And Your Housemate
Discussing everyone’s interests in living well together is vital for you and for your adult child. It could be easy for your family to slip into old, familiar roles, but this is a mistake that will work against everyone. Negotiating roles with your boomerang kid respects their adulthood—and your new role as landlord—and will require you to think of each other in a new way: as housemates.