Go Back Go Ahead

Parents take pride in watching offspring spread their wings and take off to make their way in the world. But sometimes an adult child hits a detour--a divorce, job loss, debt trouble, or health problem--and lands back in the parental nest. It's a tough time for all concerned. The adult child may feel embarrassed; the parents are worried. And on everyone's mind is the question: Is it going to work to live under the same roof again?

One way to help assure that it does, with minimal pain, is to grapple early on with a key issue: money. "I would say that before the child even comes home, you have to sit down and establish the boundaries," advises Theresa Pinkham, director of housing and special projects at the Omaha, Neb., office of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS). Discuss how long the arrangement will last, what the child's income and expenses are, what he or she is able to contribute financially to the household budget, and so on.
       But, isn't it coldhearted to bring up such issues now, when your child already feels down and out? Not at all, say financial counselors. In fact, avoiding "the talk" boosts the risk of later resentments: You end up feeling used, and your adult child feels nagged.
       Broaching the subject at the outset is "one of the most loving things you can do" in these situations, Pinkham says. "Sit down and talk realistically about what tends to stress us out the most. And that's the finances." If necessary, seek professional help in guiding the discussion, such as from your credit union or the CCCS office in your area. And, if you haven't already introduced your adult child to the credit union and its services, this is a good time to do that.

Moving back
to the parental nest
should be a solution,
not a Band-Aid.
More than a Band-Aid
Discussing finances is even more important if money problems led to your child's current predicament, as is often the case, according to Pinkham. If your son or daughter doesn't learn new ways to handle finances while living with you, he or she will keep dragging money problems along from one situation to the next. Moving back won't be "a solution," Pinkham notes, "but a Band-Aid."
       In those circumstances, the parental home becomes "a revolving door," points out Lisa Cerbo, manager of education at the CCCS office in Cedar Knolls, N.J., "and the parents' finances are a wreck because they're always picking up the pieces. Nobody learns from the experience."
       Does that mean you definitely should require your home-again child to pay rent and chip in on the grocery and utility bills? "That's a personal decision," Cerbo says. "It's not a matter of should or shouldn't. It's really a matter of sitting down and making some decisions together and then sticking by the boundaries you set."
       Setting boundaries depends, however, on having a true picture of the costs of having a child move back home. "The thing we hear about most often from parents is the additional grocery money," Pinkham notes. "That can add up pretty quickly."
       While food is the most obvious added cost, it's not the only one. More use of lights, stereos, and washing machines will boost your electric bill. Perhaps your child will have to use your car to go job hunting. That will affect driving expenses and, possibly, car insurance premiums. Figure realistic amounts for all such expenses. Be honest with yourself about how much of that you can absorb before it hurts your budget.

Talk dollars and cents
Maybe you've never talked about your finances with your offspring before, which will make it harder to do so now. But adult children need to know what coming back home is going to cost mom and dad. "Talk dollars and cents," Cerbo advises. "Let the child know what it costs to run your household. You may want to make any increases in expenses the child's responsibility. You even may want to do the college dormitory thing: 'Here's your section of the refrigerator; you're responsible for it.' "
       If your child is out of a job, without a financial cushion to live on, you may believe you have to cover all of his or her expenses for a while. "That's OK," Cerbo says, "but set a time limit. Say, 'We'll help you out for the next three months until you find a job. But our finances are such and such. We're planning for retirement. We're going to need you to take care of this amount when the three months are up.' Then stick to your guidelines. If you don't, you won't be taken seriously."
       Another step to take with unemployed offspring is to "work the budget backwards," Pinkham suggests. "That will give them some idea of the kind of income they need to be working toward. So many times young people go out to get a job for X dollars an hour, when it's not even enough to cover their basics. And they're back in the hole again. So educate them about the kind of income they'll need to be able to do what they want."
       What do you do if you see no signs of progress--even though you were clear about the time frame and your child agreed to work toward certain goals to regain financial independence? Then the time is up, and nothing seems to have changed.
       "The only thing you can do about that is to sit down periodically and remind each other of the goals," Pinkham advises. "Check on the progress now and then. Doing that reinforces accountability. If your child is taking action steps, maybe this is just going to take longer than you thought. If he or she is not doing what you agreed on, you need to re-evaluate. A little tough love may be in order."
Adult children
need to know
what coming back home
is going to cost
mom and dad.

Family dynamics a factor
No hard and fast rules exist for handling finances when an adult child returns home. Much depends on your finances, your values, and your child's situation. Another factor that enters into the equation is past history.
       "A lot of this will have to do with the way finances were handled when the child was growing up at home," Cerbo points out. "If yours was a household where the children were taught financial responsibility, and they always contributed in some way, then this will be an easier adjustment."
       On the other hand, if the parents did everything for the children when they were living at home, "They may come back home in that same mind-set," Cerbo says. "They may expect mom and dad to pick up where they left off."
       But those old assumptions may no longer apply, and old behavior patterns may be due for an overhaul. That's why it's crucial, no matter what your relationship history may be, to talk through each others' expectations. As Cerbo points out, successfully working out an arrangement "is not just a matter of finances; it's a matter of your whole family dynamics."

GO TO Table of Contents       Family Leave       Home-Again Kids
      Vehicle Delivery       Fast Cash       Fast Facts
©1997 Credit Union National Association, Inc.