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Living with adult children

Young; people; youth; adult; living; families; family ;

Living with adult children can be really good, but it can also put pressure on families when there are several adults living together. It is even harder if you still think of your young adults as children (which is very easy to do!) 


The trend today is for young adults to remain in their parent's home longer than the previous generation and for many to return to live with parents after a period of independent living.

As well as the content of this topic you may be interested in the Parent Easy Guide Living with young people which has been developed by Parenting SA.

Young adults at home

  • It has become more common for adult children to live at home and they are likely to partly depend on their parents financially.
  • The major reasons for leaving home are to be independent, because of conflict, or to live with a partner. If none of these reasons are strongly felt and there is support, if there is a reasonable amount of independence and freedom at home, and some financial advantage, young people are less likely to leave.
  • Young adults generally say that the good things about staying at home are support, security and the company of their parents.
    • Living at home is also cheaper and so they can save for their future.
    • Living at home almost always means that some services are provided by parents, such as housework, meals, washing, ironing etc.
  • Young adults who stay at home describe their families as supportive and although it is not without arguments, they have a reasonable relationship with their parents
  • Rather than the 'empty nest' we often now have the 'never empty nest' and some of the recent ways to describe these young adults are 'fledgling', 'incompletely launched', 'near adult' etc
  • In families where adult children have not left home it is more likely that they will not have yet learned to take full responsibility for themselves, however it can be an opportunity to practise caring for their own needs by sharing chores - caring for clothes, cooking, shopping and cleaning .

Children of step-parent families and single parent families are more likely to leave home at an earlier age and not return.

Note: Some young people who live at home are violent to their parents. This violence might be physical, emotional or financial. Sometimes this may be drug related. Everyone has the right to feel safe. For more information about these see the topics Violence towards parents by young people and Young people, alcohol and illegal drugs.

Young adults returning home

  • Young adults who decide to move back to live with parents often do so as a result of a crisis,  such as loss of job, unexpected expenses, a retreat from pressures of adulthood and its responsibilities, or because of a relationship breakdown, emotional, drug or alcohol related problems.
  • Some move home because they decide to study and cannot afford to live away.
  • Young people are more likely to return to live at home in situations where parent-child relationships have been good and parents are willing to house or support adult children.
  • Parents with grown children who have returned sometimes say that they preferred the empty to the re-filled nest. Having children return often lowers parent life satisfaction, increases stress and causes conflict, because both the parents and the young people have been independent and often want to do things differently from before.
  • Where children return because things did not work out the way they and their parents hoped they would (eg career or marriage), conflict and anger are often worse.
  • Parents whose adult children move back home after marriage or relationship break-ups, and in particular if grandchildren are involved, often feel more stress.

Impact on parents

  • When an adult child remains at home the impact on the parents' lives is less than when an adult child leaves and returns. When the young adult returns, the family has to re-think all the changes they have made after she left.
  • Some of the feelings you may have when your young adult returns may include disappointment, resentment, anger, guilt, feelings of loss of privacy and increased stress on financial resources.
  • On the other hand you may see it as a good opportunity to learn new ways to relate to your young person as an adult.
  • Areas of greatest difficulties between parents and their children include everyday looking after themselves, clothing, upkeep of the house and garden, use of the family car and lifestyle, including friends, sex, alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
  • Some of these are the young person's business only, eg what she wears. Some of them are important to discuss and negotiate, eg chores.

If you and your young person are having difficulties getting on together, there is a topic on our Teen site which you could have a look at, and then ask your young person to have a look at too Relationships with parents - working it out.

What you can do

  • Growing into adulthood is an important time in young people's lives. If it works well, young people can achieve independence and be able to manage their own lives, even though they still live at home.
  • Young adults need understanding, encouragement, acceptance and respect.
  • You need to see them not as a dependent child who needs to be protected, but as an adult from whom you can expect the same as any other adult shares your home.
  • You need to let go of the parenting role, eg telling your children what to do or wear, reminding them, doing their jobs for them; but at the same time continue your friendship and support as they work these things out for themselves.
  • Clear adult to adult expectations need to be spelled out, eg who will do what, how you will speak to each other. This reduces the stress and makes it easier to live together.
  • There will be mistakes at first, on both sides. You need to be able to talk about these, hopefully laugh about them, and get on with making things work better.
  • When an adult child asks to return home, it is important to say "Yes - but we need to work out the conditions". It is easier to negotiate conditions beforehand. If this doesn't happen conflict will eventually happen because you expect things to work one way and they expect something else.
  • You need to decide such things as:
    • how much board or rent is reasonable, or if your child has limited income what he can do in the home in return for you helping them with money or board?
    • who will shop for groceries?
    • who will do the cooking and other house-hold chores?
    • are you willing to lend him the car and under what conditions?
    • what expectations you have for his friends being in your house?
    • who will pay the phone bill, and if it is you, what are the limits on calls - especially if he has friends interstate?
    • what are the conditions for respecting each other's privacy, noise level etc?
  • One of the most important areas to talk about is money. How much the young adult pays towards the cost of the household is different for each family, but some things to take into account are:
    • how much income he has
    • family income
    • household costs for the young adult, eg how much he uses the phone, does he run a heater in his room a lot, have friends over and use a lot of food etc.

What about sex?

  • As adults, your young people have the right to decide on their own sexual relationships and you have no right to intrude.
  • However your emotional comfort is your business, and you have the right to decide what is OK in your own home and whether your child may be sexually active in your home.
  • Parents are more likely to accept sexual relationships in their home if there is an intention to marry or if the relationship is long term and appears committed. If this is not the case, parents of young adults often feel less certain about allowing young people to sleep together in their home. It also depends on the age of the young people.
  • Many homes do not provide the privacy that is necessary for young couples and their partners to feel comfortable.
  • For those parents who can accept their adult child being sexually active at home, making time to be away from the house may give you and the young people the time for privacy you all need.
  • If the young adult is in a relationship and you do not allow her to have sexual relations in your home it may mean that she does not come home to visit as often, or not to stay at all.

Note: Sexual intercourse under the age of 17 is illegal in South Australia.

Drugs, tobacco and alcohol?

  • Parents have the right to say whether they feel uncomfortable with their children smoking, drinking alcohol or using drugs in their home, and it is important to let others know what you will accept.
    • It is probably not helpful to make different rules for your young adults than you do for yourself or your friends.
  • When an adult child returns and has a problem of addiction, parents often find it impossible to cope with the antisocial behaviour that often accompanies the addiction, eg lying, stealing, verbal and physical abuse.
    • You do not have to tolerate this behaviour from your adult child and your job as a parent at this stage is to request that she seeks professional help if she is to live at home.
    • If this doesn't happen parents often feel guilty about telling their young person to leave, especially if you are afraid it may put them at risk. It doesn't mean that you stop loving them but it does mean that you do not have to accept abuse by them living in your home.

Parenting SA has developed Parent Easy Guides

Preparing to talk about issues

  • After you have thought through all the possible issues, it is necessary to talk them over with your partner and jointly agree on a set of guidelines for your adult child to remain or return home. If you are on your own you may need the support of a friend, or even a counsellor to do this.
  • Then sit down and negotiate the issues with your child. Sometimes writing these things in the form of a contract which everyone signs makes things clearer and will prevent future misunderstandings.
  • Remember adult children have the right to choose how much they eat or sleep, how they dress, who they choose as friends and lovers, what occupation they pursue and how they spend their money.
  • However if any of these things directly affect your lifestyle it is time to talk with them, not about their choices, but about how they are impacting on living together and what is needed for you all to be comfortable.
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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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