For many, moving out of the family home is a rite of passage, a sign that adulthood is just about to begin. Equally, however, there are plenty of reasons why somebody might move back in with their parents: after a break-up, to save money, for health reasons, or to care for ageing or unwell relatives. Anecdotally, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have been another reason for such a move, with articles proliferating on children once more living with their parents and offering advice on how to deal with it.
But how do such “boomerang kids” frame their decision to move back home, and how do they ensure it goes well? A new study published in Emerging Adulthood finds four strategies young people use to make the transition back into the family home as positive as possible.
Participants were 31 young adults, aged between 18 and 35, who had moved back into the family home. Researchers interviewed the participants on their experiences, before conducting an analysis of the data to pull out the key themes.
The analysis found an overarching concern for boomerang kids: framing their move as an “investment in the future” rather than something to be ashamed of. Multiple participants acknowledged the stigma of moving back home, with one expressing that it “made me feel insecure in my success… that others may judge me for it”.
This stigma, however, was frequently turned on its head and reframed as a positive decision for the future: participants mentioned the financial security it had given them, the increased likelihood of returning to university or graduate school due to this security, and the opportunity to get advice and support from parents.
The team also pulled out four communication strategies that participants used to navigate the move back home in a way that both reduced the experience of stigma and allowed them to have adult relationships with their parents. The first was to develop clear expectations with their parents in order to assert boundaries and set out what living together would look like in reality. Those discussions revolved around topics like curfews, meal times, chores, and other responsibilities.
Similarly, all participants saw contributions to the household as an important factor in destigmatising the move back home and making sure relationships worked well. These contributions included cooking, running errands, paying rent and doing other practical tasks, as well as making emotional contributions by listening to parents and sharing feelings.
Participants also indicated that it was important to make sure that parents knew the move was only temporary, and in some cases they shared a specific timeline. One participant noted the importance of “having a next step”: “I told them it would be a two year commitment and we’re pretty much on track for that.” This also helped with cultural stigma and shame: seeing the move as a time-bound transition period helped participants accept their move and frame it as a logical step.
Finally, participants stressed that engaging in “mature, responsible, adult behaviour” was key: waking up early, setting and keeping to routines and responsibilities, and functioning independently. For some, this stopped them from reverting back to their “child identity” when living at home, and established an adult relationship with parents that differed in dynamic from child or teen years.
Although family relationships will clearly differ from unit to unit, particularly when factoring in different geographies and cultural expectations, overall the interviews provide good insight not only into the reality of moving home, but into how to actually navigate it as well. Future research could look more closely at the differences in people’s experiences, and how this relates to personality type, background, and other individual factors.