How to Live with Adult Children


Multigenerational households are in vogue. For various reasons, adult children are making the trek back to their parents’ homes. But is it best for everyone involved? What are the challenges that parents face? And how do you work through them?

When living with an adult child, boundaries and expectations must be set. Establish an adult relationship between the parent and the adult child. A contract of responsibilities must be developed, as well as the adult child’s exit plan. This diminishes the possibility of an imbalanced existence.

Living with an adult child is rewarding. It offers the opportunity to build an adult relationship. But there are challenges as adults are merged and feeling their way to this new existence. I’ll discuss how to make this exploration less bumpy and turn it into a fulfilling experience. 

Living with an Adult Child

Whether the adult child boomeranged back or never left, it can be both challenging and fulfilling to live with them. Keep in mind; this isn’t a high school kid who is dependent on you; they are an adult. It’s a new dynamic in the relationship that you and your son or daughter need to consider.

Boundaries and expectations need to be established. By expectations, I mean both day-to-day living under the same roof and financial expectations.  Nothing should be free. And acceptable adult behavior on both sides is required.

What are the Rules of Living with an Adult Child

A parent is not responsible for an adult child. The adult child must make their own decisions and conversely pay the piper if there are consequences. As long as they’re not doing anything illegal and showing respect toward their parents, an adult child can and should live their own life.

But there are some rules that need to be in place to make life smooth and livable under one roof.

Treat an Adult Child Like an Adult

Treating an adult child as an adult may seem obvious, but it’s easy to slip into the parent teenager mold. This is not a teenager; this is an adult. I can’t stress this enough. The parent is not taking care of a teenager. And although a parent might be providing a temporary sanctuary, the adult child must not be completely emotionally or financially dependent.

Temper tantrums should be non-existent. If the adult child wants to be treated like an adult, then they need to act like one. I’ve seen adult children turn into 13-year-olds around their parents. And who’s fault is that? I’m going with the parent.  At any age, there are buttons that an adult child knows how to push. Disconnect the power source to those buttons. That power is provided every time you give into another adult’s whim or tantrum.

Walk away and later remind them that both of you are adults and you’re ready to discuss this as an adult, are they? Finally, if 13-year-old behavior continues, then acknowledge the arrangement isn’t working out and insist other plans be made. 

On the other hand, watch the buttons you push. They are not teens, and you shouldn’t be treating them like they are. Respect their privacy and don’t pepper them with questions about everything they do. No adult wants to be accountable to another human being for everything they do.

Boundaries with Adult Children Must be Established

Just like strong fences make good neighbors, boundaries between a parent and an adult child make for a strong relationship.

I was watching YouTube recently. A young adult woman was recording a video in her bedroom with the door closed. She was discussing moving in with her parents and going to school. In the middle of the video, without knocking, her father opened the door and stuck his head in. He just wanted to know what she was doing. The woman explained she was making a video and he left without a word.

Obviously, there were no boundaries set between this father and his daughter. He invaded her privacy. She seemed good natured about it, but if he’s walking in her room uninvited, what other private matters does he feel are his business. Does he demand to know where she’s going when leaving the house and who she’ll be with? These are intrusive questions and, frankly, none of his business.

Now, based on the daughter’s reaction, it can be assumed that she probably doesn’t respect boundaries between her and her father either. They don’t have an adult-adult relationship. Dad still thinks she’s 13 and the daughter accepts it…at least on camera.

Expectations Must be Stated and Adhered To

Businesspeople don’t work out a deal on the price of goods, shake hands, and then after the fact, say they want a different agreement. The deal is agreed to. There’s an expectation that everyone involved will stick to it.

When combining households, expectations, or a deal, needs to be made upfront. This entails everyone sitting down and discussing the living arrangement. This is the time to go over various issues like:

  • Housekeeping
  • Laundry
  • Financial responsibilities
  • Guests
  • Overnight guests (if applicable)
  • Personal space
  • Parking
  • And anything else relevant that could cause angst

The bottom line is to make sure everyone is on the same page. If parking in the garage is important to you, establish that up front. And if you’re uncomfortable with your daughter having her significant spend the night, now’s the time to speak up. Better to hash it out in the beginning instead of when everyone is standing around with their pajamas on.

How Long Should an Adult Child Live with Their Parent

Regardless of the circumstances, there should ultimately be an exit plan for an adult child living with their parents. The exception is if the parent is infirmed and needs help. But in most cases, an adult child should make a plan before ‘move in day’ as to when they will be moving out.

Adult Child Needs Time to Save Money

If the plan is to save money, then how much money? A specific number should be on the table. An adult child must take a hard look at what is needed financially to buy that house or come up with a rental deposit. It must not be ambiguous.

A part of saving money is being responsible with money. If the adult child is having expensive dinners out every night or buying the latest iPhone, that’s not being responsible. There needs to be an honest effort to save. And if there isn’t an effort, that’s not holding up their end of the bargain. The exit plan needs to be adhered to.

Living at Home While in School

Some adult children are finishing school. But at what point after graduating are they moving out. Establish this upfront. It could be as simple as three to six months. A fixed amount of time must be designated.

If it is difficult to find a permanent job, flexibility may be warranted. But an all-out effort in looking for a job must be shown. There’s nothing wrong with having a temp job to contribute to household expenses while looking for a permanent job.

Living With an Adult Child can be a Challenge

Although living with an adult child can be a challenge, it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable one. Treat each other as adults. This is a new dynamic for both of you. The 13-year-old is gone. You are both adults with grown-up needs and wants.

Establish boundaries and respect them. Respect is the key. As a parent, you want to know everything about your child, but that’s not your place anymore. They deserve privacy and so do you.

The bottom line is treating each other as mature adults and most of the time, it will go smoothly.

Anne Johnson

Anne is both a writer and a Nana. She attended University of Akron and went on to have a career in television sales. She now writes and promotes the multigenerational lifestyle. Currently she resides in South Carolina with her husband, two cats, a horse and fabulous grands.

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