college grad has moved home to parents and now running up debt

An Essential Guide to House Rules When the Adult Kids Move Back

It used to be that kids reaching adulthood could not wait to leave home to be on their own. At the same time, their parents longed for an empty nest and quieter lives. But like homing pigeons, young people are spoiling these plans, proving that life can be difficult in a crowded nest if there are no house rules for adult children. But it doesn’t have to be complicated—actually, it can be quite lovely even peaceful.

college grad has moved home to parents and now running up debt

According to a June 2020 analysis by Zillow, roughly 2.7 million adults moved back in with their parents due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are now 32 million adults living with a parent or grandparent, the highest number on record. 

Many American homes have become crowded nests. While parents are asking themselves what went wrong, the “boomerang kids” seem to be adjusting quite nicely. Any why not? Many boomerangs get a boarding house without the rent, a laundromat with no slots for coins, and a mini-storage facility, otherwise known as your garage.

No one doubts that current economic conditions make it nearly impossible for kids to make it out of the nest for good on the first try. That’s fine. Just remember you want to make this a short-term layover. Eventually, you want leaving to be easier than staying. And I’m talking about them, not you.

You first

This house rule for adult children means first in the shower. Your parking spaces are sacrosanct. It means securing your own retirement before you take on their student debt. It means paying off your mortgage before helping with theirs. Remember this: The best gift we can give our children is not to become a burden to them in our sunset years. The way to do that is to take care of yourselves first before helping others.

Financial contribution

Insist that adult children, often called “boomerangs,”  pay rent or make some other form of financial contribution. At the very least, they buy groceries, pay utilities, or pay some specific amount of the mortgage payment. This is, after all, the real world.


Boomerangs have to respect their parents and their rules. Period. Yes, they are adults, but in your house at this time, they are subordinates.

Gainfully employed

If not employed upon entry—also known as income-producing—actively looking for a job must be part of your House Rules.


This should be a one-time event with both a start and an end date—not subject to renewal.


Resist all temptation to do the boomerang’s laundry. No. Matter. What.


Boomerangs will undoubtedly arrive with bills. Do not pay these. Do not even think about it. Boomerangs must take full responsibility for all bills and debts, even if that requires a second minimum-wage job.


Living privileges should not extend to your car. Nor should you drive said boomerang around the way you did many years ago. Boomerangs are on their own to get around.


Make it very clear what the parking arrangements are. Boomerangs, by all rights, should park on the street, not occupy the primo garage or driveway space, if that requires the parents to park on the street.


Do not leave this matter undiscussed. While the Crowded Nest Diet (wherein no matter how much you spend on food, it disappears faster than the national surplus) has been known to result in weight loss for the host parents, it does nothing to encourage boomerangs to move along to a better pasture.


Boomerangs need to be involved in the house. In determining who does what and when, err on the side of being overly detailed and specific.


Transfer your house rules for adult children to a simple contract that everyone signs. Remember, this is the same kid who was the master at finding loopholes, and not so many years ago.



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6 replies
  1. Pamela M Gray says:

    How times change. I’m in my 70s now, my parents were both born in 1915. They lived thru the depression and my father spent time working in the coal mines (south western Pennsylvania). Here was the deal according to my parents. I could attend the state university which they would pay for; I could stay home and get and job a pay rent until I was 21 at which point my sorry backside was getting booted out of the house; or I could leave at 18 and try to make it on my own, your mother isn’t doing your laundry, we’re not paying for ANYTHING. My appearance notwithstanding, I am not stupid. I went to university. Hated it. Dropped out. Got a clerical job at the university computer science dept. Learned how to write code. THAT was my God given career, found my one talent by accident. I was a software developer for over 30 years, earned 6 figures, loved every minute. Thanks Dad. Miss you more than I can say.

  2. Daria Doering says:

    Thank you Mary for this piece on rules for boomerangs! These specifics are so needed!!! And we can blame you, haha 🙂

  3. Lauren P. says:

    Great list! How about a column on when aging PARENTS must move in with their kids? I’m sure we’re not the only folks who have an elderly parent living with them, dependent on transportation, meal prep, general help and supervision due to failing health, eyesight, hearing, etc. :o)

    • Cally Ross says:

      Yes! good list to have
      My 80+ year old parents still live alone but can’t see/drive, hear very well, or walk far… they will stay in their own place as long as possible, but, then what!? I’m a new widow just trying to learn how to take care of myself.


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