Boomerang Kids

by Prof. Harold Senkbeil

More young adults are moving back home after college. What are some helpful guidelines to keep your family intact in the midst of these life changes?

Call it a social trend. Call it an economic reality. Any way you label it, there’s something new on the horizon in American households: Increasing numbers of young adults are moving back home after leaving for school or to find work. Surveys indicate that in 1980, 11 percent of adults aged 25–34 were living with their parents. According to a parenting blog operated by the The New York Times, by 2008, that figure had risen to 20 percent. The lingering recession has compounded the situation. In 2010, 37 percent of 18–29-yearolds were unemployed or no longer looking for work.

This “boomerang” phenomenon presents parents and their adult children with new sets of problems, likely never before anticipated. Just what is the new normal in reconstituted households? Who does whose laundry? Who makes meals? Who takes out the trash? What’s reasonable when it comes to socializing with peers and the extended family? New questions pop up daily, and, thanks to sin, every one of them is a potential landmine.

Christian families are composed of sinners. And before we start arm wrestling over the details of putting adult kids back in their parents’ home, we need to tackle that problem head on. Left unaddressed, sin can wreak horrible havoc in our lives and in the lives of those we love. Jesus said the place to begin is with ourselves: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3).

You can lay the groundwork for a smoother transition to a reconstituted household if each person tends to his own faults first before being critical of others. If we detect selfishness or pride gaining the upper hand in our own hearts and minds, that calls for honesty before God and those we love. “I’m sorry” goes a long way when it gets an “I forgive you” in return instead of a “That’s okay.”

Sinners are never just “okay.” In Christ, they are forgiven. So rather than offering an excuse for our hurtful words or actions, we need to confess them. Name the sin; say “I was wrong when I said (or did) ____, and I’m sorry.” Because the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s son, cleanses all sin (1 John 1:7), we can forgive one another just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32). That’s essential whenever adult children move back home.

But there’s more. There are decisions to be made and responsibilities to be shouldered. Someone does need to take the garbage out, after all. While no two households are alike, these general guidelines may be helpful:

    1. Keep your vocations straight. Parents remain parents and children remain children, no matter how old they become. Children owe their parents honor and respect all their lives, and parents retain the same responsibility for the love and nurture of their grown children that God gave them when they were little. It’s just that the responsibility takes on a different shape.
    2. Allow breathing space. Just as parents need to be careful not to exasperate their children when they are young (Eph. 6:4), they need to remember that their adult children are adults with lives of their own. Likewise, adult children should honor their parents’ long-established routines and habits.
    3. Keep the household intact. For several generations now, Americans have gotten used to living separately as adults. That kind of independence is not universal. Certainly intergenerational households were the norm in biblical times, and they are still common in many parts of the world. When your kids move back home, don’t let your home become a rooming house. You’re not roommates; you’re family. Define together what family means at this stage of life.
    4. Establish some mutual expectations. Not all adult children pay rent, for example, but some do. Anyone who has some income can reasonably be expected to contribute to the household expenses. How much will that be? Adults don’t impose curfews on other adults, but certainly parents and adult children can inform each other where they are headed and when they’ll be back.
    5. Keep talking. Don’t fall into bad communication habits. Look at this as an adventure; here’s a chance for parents and kids to become reacquainted, this time on an adult level. Set up family nights; turn off all electronic devices and eat together around the kitchen table, sharing a simple meal and conversation. Revive (or establish) a family altar by taking turns leading devotions around God’s Word and prayer.

Above all, celebrate your family! It’s the only one God gave you, and—though living arrangements may not be what you expected just now—you can all adjust by His grace as you await the next chapter in the life He has given you together.

About the Author: Prof. Harold Senkbeil is executive director for spiritual care for Doxology: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel in Brookfield, Wis.

Did you know? “13% of parents with grown children say one of their adult sons or daughters has moved back home in the past year” (Pew Research Center).

June/July 2011

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