Easing your kids (back) out of the nest

4 min | 17 April 2023

Janice Warman
Janice Warman

There was a time when children got to school-leaving age and their parents’ work was done. They either found a job or got a student grant and headed off to university.

But along with the 21st century came a new reality: the boomerang generation. Leaving home is no longer the norm for many. And neither is financial independence. Adult children who stay on at home are commonplace, and so is returning home when the wheels come off relationships or jobs.

And then there were the kids who came home for Covid. As the pandemic broke in early 2020, it wasn’t just university students who came home. It was their older, working siblings who had been furloughed or who had lost their jobs.

Now, they may be vaccinated and able to spend their days at work again, but some have stayed on at home, enjoying the perks: saving on rent, food, and having their washing done.

And even those who have left may still enjoy financial help. In the UK, a study from the ESRC Centre for Population Change showed that people whose living arrangements changed because of the Covid-19 pandemic experienced increased stress and family conflict. These changes included children moving back in with parents during the 2020 lockdown.

Sometimes home is best

This arrangement can work for parents and adult children. If parents need to be cared for, if costs need to be shared, and if family members enjoy each other’s company, there is nothing wrong with living together. After all, extended families were historically the norm for many centuries, and the nuclear family is relatively recent.

A 2018 Europe-wide study by the London School of Economics and Political Science showed that adult children who went back home to live with their parents, the boomerang generation, caused a significant decline in parents’ quality of life and wellbeing. ONS (Opens in new window) data showed about a quarter of young adults were living with their parents, the highest number since records began in 1996.

Dr Marco Tosi, co-author of the paper, commented: "When children leave the parental home, marital relationships improve, and parents find a new equilibrium. They enjoy this stage in life, finding new hobbies and activities. When adult children move back, it is a violation of that equilibrium."

Many students have now returned to live in digs or halls. But you may be one of those parents whose adult children have stayed home or remained financially dependent on you.

If you don’t have enough money to support your adult children, you should speak to them, explain your position, and ask for their help with household expenses and chores. Even if you do have enough money, you might want to start giving your adult children more responsibility.

You may also want to help them to navigate their lives as they transition from one difficult situation to another, especially in the wake of multiple Covid lockdowns and their effects on study and work.

Help them cope

If you are concerned that they won’t be able to cope on their own, talk to them about what their needs are and help them to learn to budget and plan their financial lives. You could offer them a session with a financial adviser, or suggest they contact the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (Opens in new window) or Moneyhelper (Opens in new window) for advice.

Adult children who are too dependent on their parents tend not to thrive. It’s far better for them spiritually and psychologically to be independent. Any success they have will be their own. They need to be given the power to grow up fully, and whether they have the space to do this in your home or their own is up to you and your family. Either way you can encourage them to have more independence and equity with you.

So how can you help them? Do it with compassion. Treat them like adults. Explain to them that your pockets are not bottomless, and that you need to consider your own needs as you approach old age.

Finally, encourage them to look forward to the day they will move out into a place of their own. Then they can ask you over for supper, and you can go around their place, turn the thermostat up and switch all the lights on.

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