Have Your Young Adult Children Moved Back Home?

Tips for coping with the return of young adult children during the pandemic.

Posted Sep 08, 2020

According to a new Pew Research Center analysis of monthly Census Bureau data, in July, 52% of young adults resided with one or both of their parents, up from 47% in February. The number living with parents grew to 26.6 million, an increase of 2.6 million from February. The share of young adults living with their parents grew across the board for all major racial and ethnic groups, men and women, and metropolitan and rural residents, as well as in all four main census regions. Growth was sharpest for the youngest adults (ages 18 to 24) and for White young adults.1

In past decades, White young adults have been less likely than their Asian, Black and Hispanic counterparts to live with their parents. That gap has narrowed since February as the number of White young adults living with their mothers and/or fathers grew more than for other racial and ethnic groups. As of July, more than half of Hispanic (58%) and Black (55%) young adults now live with their parents, compared with about half of White (49%) and Asian (51%) young adults. The narrowing of the gap is probably due to a disproportionate percentage of white college students returning home.

How are parents and their young adult children coping with their unexpected life together during the pandemic? Some families are suffocating from the forced intimacy and isolation. Young adults cannot go out to bars or friends' houses as a way of maintaining their independence. Parents cannot go to the office or out to dinner in order to get a breather from their children. But other families are thriving by getting to know each other better on a new footing.

Here are some tips for parents of young adults to help them maintain their boundaries and also minimize the amount of conflict during this stressful time.

Tips for maintaining boundaries

Creating a division of labor: Create a list of all the household responsibilities and then identify what you alone can do and what can be outsourced to your children. Examples: cleaning the bathrooms; grocery shopping; preparing meals.

Focus on the fact that it's temporary: Adult children who are boarding with you may have regressed into dependency. Talk about plans for their relaunch when school begins or once there is a vaccine and they can return to work.

Remember that commitments can be renegotiated: Promises made in March, before we realized how long the pandemic might last, may no longer be feasible. You are allowed to change your mind. You can always say, “Just because we agreed to something when this began doesn’t mean we’ve agreed to it for life.”

Tips for minimizing conflict

Overlook things: If you can't overlook it, perhaps you can forgive it and let it go without a confrontation. If your daughter returns from college and doesn't make her bed, you can either get into a power struggle with her or simply overlook it. She will not be home forever. You can just close the door.

It's their life: If they want advice, they'll ask for it. Your daughter may discipline her children in ways with which you disagree. Remember that she is the mother, not you. If she wants feedback from you she will ask you.

Be enthusiastic rather than critical: It's hard to watch your young adult children maintain relationships that are flawed or make career decisions that you have concerns about. But unless the relationships or decisions might result in actual harm, it is best not to intervene. Encourage their independence and ability to make decisions until and unless they open the conversation.

It's better to be liked than right: Living in close quarters during the pandemic may reignite old habits that are frustrating, annoying, and hurtful to our loved ones. When you are tempted to argue because you know you are right about something, ask yourself whether the issue is worth having a fight about. Can you tolerate it for the sake of keeping the peace during this difficult time? (For a further discussion of being right vs. being happy, click here.)

We are all living through a period full of anxiety and distress. Having young adult children return home after you've adjusted to the "empty nest" can add to the stress. But maintaining clear boundaries and minimizing unnecessary conflict can help you manage the situation more comfortably and perhaps deepen the bond between you and your young adult children.


1 https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/09/04/a-majority-of-young-adults-in-the-u-s-live-with-their-parents-for-the-first-time-since-the-great-depression/