What to do when the ‘nest won’t empty’

Having adult children living at home may be a mutually beneficial situation for many of us, but for others it can present real difficulties that threaten relationships and make life unpleasant. This is can be a genuine issue for many of us who are approaching or are in retirement.

Q. What exactly is a KIPPER?
A. Kids in Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings

Of course, you never stop being a parent and it is important to be supportive when one of your children, or a member of your family genuinely needs your help.

It can be difficult when financial problems or job loss may have led your adult offspring back to your doorstep, or a relationship breakdown may see them suddenly without a home to go to. In some cases they may never have left home in the first place or may be ‘boomerang’ kids who return home several times. Negotiating this situation to ensure you are all ok and your relationship survives the experience is paramount.

Q. What are Boomerang kids?
A. Children who leave home and return several times

Whatever the reason, it can be an awkward situation if the negatives start outweighing the positives and you still love them (but secretly are ready for them to move out).

Of course it is natural to want to provide refuge if your own flesh and blood is in a time of crisis, but setting the boundaries and expectations for how the arrangement will work and how long it will last is often something that is left open ended and without any discussion or agreement. This can lead to tension and misunderstanding and may be ultimately detrimental to both the host and the guest.

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Adult children overstaying their welcome can strain relationships

The situation may even escalate to the point where an adult child is unfairly taking advantage of the hospitality without any financial contribution or even a willingness to help around the home. In extreme cases there may be veiled hostility, lack of respect or even abuse involved.

So does a parent in this situation go about administering ‘tough love’ when things go off the rails?

If it costs you roughly $150 extra each week to have an adult child living at home that adds up to a whopping $7,800 per year!

Realising that it’s OK to say “no”
Technically speaking, once children reach adulthood then the parent no longer has an obligation to care for them. Of course in reality it would be unnatural to suddenly give up any sense of care about the relationship, but in the end it is a parent’s right to say whether their child should live with them or not.

Setting the ground rules
If a decision is made that an adult child is to be allowed to stay in the home then it is of course preferable if some ground rules can be set out in advance. Prevention is always better than cure. It might sound harsh at first, but a written agreement that both parties commit to is completely appropriate.

It will provide the clarity that is so vital to the arrangement being workable and it eliminates assumptions, misconceptions and misunderstanding that may occur down the track.

31% of people aged 20–34 have left home and returned 

Such an agreement should outline the limitations and expectations, including these top 5 tips:

  1. The length of stay and what they need to contribute financially during that time (e.g. contribution for rent, food and utilities).
  2. The expectations on domestic duties, such as cleaning, cooking and laundry.
  3. What happens if something breaks? Will they be allowed to use your car and if so, will their name be added to your car insurance policy?
  4. Lifestyle issues, such as rules around friends, dates or visiting partners; cooking, smoking, drinking and music.
  5. The consequences of the agreement being broken, such as how much notice is provided for them to vacate.

It may seem heavy handed to have a formalised and signed agreement, but it can actually help the relationship on both sides by identifying the practical issues and dealing with them in a cool and objective way, rather than leaving them to chance. It may well be the case that the child has not even considered such issues and they may even appreciate that their contribution to the arrangement has been spelled out.

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Setting ground rules with your adult child could improve the relationship

Of course, you never stop being a parent and it is important to be supportive when one of your children genuinely needs your help

What if you want them to leave?
The bottom line is that it always remains the parent’s right to invite a family member in or ask them to leave. It is also valid for a parent to change their mind and ask someone to leave, even if they had invited them in the first place.

Of course it is one thing to know your rights and another to actually take the sometimes difficult step of asking an adult child to leave if co-habitation becomes unworkable. Once a person decides that there is no alternative but to ask the child to leave, then it needs to be done very carefully. Making such a request in the heat of an argument or when one of the parties is not fully attentive will be counterproductive.

The best idea is to set aside a specific time to talk when things are calm and without distraction. The request should be made directly and firmly but with calm composure and free from aggression or emotion. A specific and reasonable time frame should be stated and a commitment sought, so that there are no ambiguities or misunderstandings.

Mediation is the next step
If talking directly with the child does not bring a resolution, then the next step may be to seek independent dispute resolution, which can be provided through various state and territory government agencies. Such services go under different names in each state, such as “Family Dispute Unit”, “Community Justice Centre” or “Mediation Service”.

These services offer a great alternative to resolve issues without going to court, if both parties voluntarily choose to attend. They do not provide legally binding rulings or orders, but are designed to help negotiate an agreement in good faith in a safe, neutral and non-biased environment.

Legal action is a last resort
If mediation does not produce a result then the parent may need to resort to legal action against the child. This may take various forms, depending on the severity and nature of the situation. For example, is the child a tenant, a boarder or a lodger? Have they made threats against the parent? Has any actual harm been perpetrated?

The variety of possibilities means that legal advice needs to be sought to determine the best course of action.

Once a matter goes to court then a ruling can be applied if your case is successful, such as an 'exclusion order' requiring the child to move out of the home and prohibit them from approaching the property.

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Facing up to the situation may be difficult but will be better for everyone long-term

Acting early can make all the difference
As with any family situation, clear and calm communication is the key to success. A little forward planning can eliminate a lot of pain in the future, so taking the time and effort to set up a written agreement is well worth it.

It may be difficult or embarrassing to talk about with friends or family about how you are financially supporting an adult child over an extended period of time. However, there is help at hand. If you find the thought of confronting your adult child too traumatic then consider speaking to a psychologist to help you through the process. To find a local psychologist speak to your GP and visit psychology.org.au

Have you or a relative been faced with issues of children moving back home? Share your experience below.