How to “Parent” When Your Boomerang Kids Come Back to the Nest

Empty Nest Blessed by Suzy Mighell

woman in blue dress with red shoes sitting on her front porch

Do you have a boomerang kid back in your (formerly) empty nest? I feel ya! After graduating, working, and living away from home for several months, Bob and I welcomed our 23-year-old daughter back to the nest for three months recently. Becca is a musical theater actress, and she goes from contract to contract in touring productions, and at various theaters throughout the country, so right now, she’s back out of the nest again (for the time being). We’ve also had our son, Connor, back in the nest after he finished law school as he was studying for the Bar Exam. (So we’ve done this twice!)

I’m always happy to share my life with y’all, but I’m sure you understand that I have to honor my relationship with my kids and respect their boundaries when it comes to sharing their lives. ???? They have been so supportive of Empty Nest Blessed, and so generous towards me, but I would never want to do anything to violate their privacy in any way. So this isn’t specifically a post about our daughter or our son.

Instead, I’m doing things a little bit differently today! (And I’m super-excited about it!????????????????‍♂️)

Bob and I didn’t do things perfectly, but I’m going to tell you what we did as we welcomed our boomerang kids home. I’ll share how we prepared and what our experience was like. I’m also going to bring you the thoughts and feelings of three current boomerang kids, who generously agreed to open up to me (anonymously, of course) and share their thoughts and feelings about the boomerang experience. I am so grateful to them, and I think what they shared is going to open your eyes as much as it opened mine.

woman in blue dress with red shoes standing on her front porch

How to “Parent” Boomerang Kids

Start with an understanding of the process of differentiation.

Differentiation is a normal phase our kids go through on their way to adulthood. It’s the process by which they become individuals, apart from their parents. During this process, they may question and challenge the things you’ve taught them. They have to do this in order to become their own people, and there is no short cut. They all go through this process sooner or later. Don’t panic if you see them pulling away, or even blatantly rejecting things you taught them when they were growing up. It’s a necessary and healthy part of becoming adults. Do you remember doing this with your parents? It may not have had a term like “differentiation” attached to it, but we all did it! For an excellent article on differentiation, click HERE.

1. Make a Plan (Before They Get Home) 

The first thing you need to do is to sit down with your spouse (if you’re single, ask a good friend), and make a plan for your adult child’s time at home. Include:

  • How are you going to treat your child differently than you did when they were last living at home? (If you’re not intentional about this, you may find yourself falling back into old patterns.)
  • How do you expect them to treat you differently? (You’ve also changed and grown since they left!)
  • What are your expectations for sharing household responsibilities? (Are you going to do their laundry? What about cooking?)
  • Who will pay for what? (Are you going to charge them rent?)

Bob and I sat down and talked through each of the above issues several weeks before our kids came home. We told them in advance that we thought it would be smart to have a meeting within the first two days that they were back so we could all get on the same page. I think both kids were relieved that we wanted to meet and get everything out on the table.

The discussion about household responsibilities was the easiest. In Connor’s case, he was 25-years-old, and a law school graduate with a good job waiting for him in the fall. Our daughter, Becca, was in between contracts. We decided not to charge either of them rent. In order to maximize Connor’s study time, I included him in our meals, and I shopped for him. Becca shopped and prepared her own meals. Both kids did their own laundry, kept their rooms and bathrooms clean, and more or less came and went as they pleased.

2. Acknowledge (Out Loud) That Your Relationship Has Changed

Most likely, your adult child has been either living on their own or with roommates before coming home. As obvious as it may seem, it helps to state up front that you, as parents, understand and respect that. Bob and I asked our kids to remember that, although we were going to be living with them in a roommate-type situation, their “roommates” were the people who had given birth to them ???????? and loved them more than anyone else in the world! That meant that we couldn’t help but worry! We asked them if they would let us know if they were going to be out past midnight. They both agreed to do that.

As important as it is for you to see your child as an adult, it’s just as vital that they understand that your life has changed since the last time they lived at home. In our situation, I had started Empty Nest Blessed, so unlike the last time they were living at home, this time, I had a full-time job! That meant I couldn’t always answer questions or talk when they wanted to. We agreed to respect each other’s work time and to ask, “Is this a good time?” before interrupting each other.

3. Tell Them You’re Going to Do Your Best, and Humbly Ask for Their Help

It helped to be honest about the fact that the situation was going to be an adjustment for all of us, and frankly that it was going to be weird! Bob and I pledged to do our best and acknowledge the fact that not falling back into parenting mode was going to be something that took work. We were upfront about wanting to move our relationship to an adult level.

Bob and I shared with them that it was always the goal of our parenting that, as adults, they would see us as trusted counselors and confidantes. We wanted to be friends with our adult kids! We hope all of our adult kids see the value of having friends who have known them all their lives, and who could bring that unique viewpoint to anything they choose to share with us.

4. Schedule a Follow-Up Meeting

After our initial meeting, we scheduled a time to meet again in a few weeks to touch base, talk about any issues that arose, and assess how it was going. This helped us all make adjustments, talk about challenges we were having, and even apologize if need be.

woman in blue dress with red shoes standing on her front porch
This cinched-waist long-sleeve shirtdress is perfect for this time of year! Links are at the bottom of this post.

The Boomerang Kids Speak

What’s it like to be a boomerang kid after living away for a significant time? I was fortunate to find three past or current boomerang kids who agreed to open up and answer a few questions for me. I’m so grateful for their help and willingness to be vulnerable.

Q: Why did you boomerang back home?

A: In the case of my three boomerang kids, each had a unique reason. One had a job with a start date that was several months away. Another graduated from college but decided to pursue additional education at a university near home. One had a college degree but was struggling to find a job.

When I asked them why they thought their peers boomeranged, they all three agreed that it was primarily for financial or practical reasons. (Not laziness or a situation out of the movie Failure to Launch!)

Q: What has it been like to boomerang back to the nest?

A: All three said it was comforting and a relief at first. But then they realized that things were different than they remembered. They realized they’d changed and their parents had changed. While acknowledging that this was normal, they all said it came as somewhat of a shock. Here’s what one of them had to say:

The relief and relaxation I felt when I first came home has turned into doubt and self-criticism at times…I feel like many of my peers are independent and providing for themselves, or engaged/married. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the classic “living in the parent’s basement” scenario, even though I know I am trying to do my part and will eventually move out..I felt initial relaxation, which turned into doubt and anxiety about my stage in life.

Q: Even though you’re back in the nest, has your relationship with your parents shifted now that you’re an adult? 

A: All three of my boomerang kids said that their relationship with their parents was definitely different and that their parents expected them to manage “life” on their own (including medical issues, scheduling, meal prep and shopping, and even social life). But all of them agreed that they found it challenging to set boundaries with regards to privacy. Here’s what two of them said:

As a young adult, I’m figuring out how to achieve a sense of balance in my life. (My friends who don’t live at home are doing the same thing, so that’s not necessarily unusual.) But it’s challenging to figure that out while under my parents’ roof. It may not be completely true, but I feel like they’re always observing (at best) or judging (at worst) everything from the food I eat, to when I go to bed, to how I spend my time. That’s tough.

Things changed a lot for my parents when I left! My mom went back to work, my parents started going out to dinner almost every night, and they started doing a lot of other things together. When I got back, it seemed like they resented me for being back, even though we all know it’s temporary. It feels sort of like it’s me against them, and even though they probably don’t mean to make me feel like it, I feel a little ganged up on at a time when what I really need is a lot of support. I think they know they aren’t supposed to “parent” me anymore, so instead of telling me what they think, they ask loaded questions. I wish they would open up a dialogue so we could talk honestly about it.

Q: What advice would you give to parents who have a boomerang kid living back in the nest?

A:  I’ll let my three boomerang kids answer in their own words:

I really appreciate that my parents let me come back and live at home, but it does seem out of the “natural” order of things. Parents should know that sometimes it can feel like they’re low-key judging their kids for things, and sometimes, we hear subtle criticism in things they say that don’t seem overtly judgy in themselves. It could be that we’re being super-sensitive because we’re not happy about our situation, but sometimes it can look like parents are subtly trying to continue parenting. My parents and I never talked about how things were going to be when I got home, and I wish we had. It would have made communication easier now. 

Parents need to remember that their kids are used to being on their own and making their own decisions about everything. When parents treat their adult kids like the people they were back in high school, it just makes them not want to tell you things. If you want a close relationship with your adult child, you need to do more open-minded listening and less of telling your adult kids what you think. Most of us are still in the process of figuring out who we are and how to “adult” and when our parents keep jumping in with advice it makes us feel like you don’t believe in us. I want my parents to be proud of me, but this can build a wall between us, and neither of us wants that. 

Understand that, unless they are a terrible person, your boomerang child is very, very grateful for you allowing them to return home in this transition period. There will be times when we are irritable or don’t act as grateful as we should be. I truly believe this comes down to our own insecurities – usually about this weird period in our life. We appreciate everything our parents are doing for us, but we also crave independence and freedom, and it is possible that we don’t know how to communicate this properly. Try your best to have a talk about boundaries or responsibilities, something my parents and I didn’t really talk about, but I wish we had. Do not be afraid to stand your ground and remind your children that you had a life before them and that you are also transitioning to a new period of your own life and you want the freedom to do that as well.

Many, many thanks to my boomerang kids for their honesty and openness! Good stuff, right?

Have you welcomed a boomerang kid back into your empty nest? How did it go? What worked and what didn’t work? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Want more info on parenting adult kids? Check out these other posts I’ve written:

Need more help? At the bottom of this post, I’ve gathered some resources that Bob and I found helpful, along with some that trusted friends recommended.

Blessings,

 

 

 

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Suzy Mighell

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6 Comments

  1. This was terrific Suzy! Although we don’t have a boomerang situation in our family, I still received some great parenting suggestions. I will offer my opinions a little less to my grown children. Sometimes I forget they are adults! PS, I bought the adorable dress you are wearing too!

    1. Suzanne,
      Thank you for your comment! That means the world to me! I’m so glad you found this helpful! (And you are going to love this dress!!!) Thanks for shopping with my links!
      xoxo Suzy

  2. Thank you Suzy – very timely! We have 3 adult boys who are doing great on their own – this weekend one little family (with a 19 month old grandblessing) will come and live with us while they put their house on the market for their growing family. It will be different for my husband and me and of course for them, but we are excited to help out in all the ways we can!

    1. Paula,
      This is going to be interesting! I am so very thankful you had the opportunity to hear my three boomerangers share in their own words what they felt about their time at home. I hope it is helpful to you as you enter this precious time with your son and his family! Thanks for letting me know!
      xoxo Suzy

  3. Suzie, thank you for this article. We have a son who returned home in the fall from doing 5 years in the military. He went in right after high school and due to the type work that he did in the military he was unable to work on his degree during active duty. So now that he is out he is in school and decided to live here at home at least for the first two years. Things have gone well. However, we are aware of the need to parent differently, however, you article made me aware of some moments that he might actually be feeling like he went backwards for a little while in the are of independence. He has led men in combat and brought them all back safely and done great things, but I think in this space he feels a little different.
    So thank you. This will help us and help him. Blessings!

    1. Carolyn,
      Your precious comment made my day! Thank you! I am so proud of you for raising such a good man who served our country so admirably and courageously. Wow! I’m also impressed that he is committed to getting his degree now. Maybe we could arrange a marriage and he could marry my daughter! ????)
      I’m so happy you found this helpful – I’m so grateful to the boomerang kids who stepped up and shared their heart with me!
      You sound like such a great mom! I’m so honored that you read Empty Nest Blessed!
      xoxo Suzy

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