The kids have moved back home and can't find a job. What's a parent to do?

I’ve received several phone calls from parents asking this question and it seems to pop up a lot this time of year. What do you do when your 20 or 30 something kids move back home and don’t know what they want to do with their life? They can’t find a job, can’t afford an apartment, and seem to be floundering. What can you, as a parent, do? Charge rent? Kick them out? Do you help them find a job? Do you even dare offer advice? 

I have had a little experience with this myself. My daughter and son-in-law moved back in with us for a few months a couple of years ago. They had just returned from living and working overseas and needed time to find jobs and save some money. In their case, they both had settled on a career path and just needed space to get things started. That is true of some adult children who move back in. 

Other adult children move in and really have no idea what they want to do with their life.  Do they want to go to grad school? Find a job close by? Move away? What kind of job do they want? What career skills do they have?  They have a degree in anthropology but may have no idea how to craft a resume, apply for jobs, or kickstart the career finding process

It’s a trend that can be seen across the country.  According to the Pew Research Center, over 31% of young adults, ages 18-34, live at home with their parents. More young adults live with their parents than in any other living situation. Only 29% are married or living with a partner. Over 60% of college graduates move back home for at least a few months, according to U.S. census stats. Seven in 10 seniors graduate with debt, averaging about $29,000 per borrower, according to the most recent data from the Institute for College Access & Success. The combination of crushing student loan debt, skyrocketing rents and low entry level salaries can dishearten even the most optimistic. 

As a parent, this can be an interesting place to find yourself. You want to help your kids out, but you don’t want them to be living at home forever. Minor conflicts may escalate into angry silences until you’re not even sure if you can ask how the job search is going. What’s a parent to do? Here are a few tips.

  1. Give the kids a break. The world is a different place than it was when we as parents graduated. In that day, entry level salaries were enough to cover rent on a small apartment. Today, there is a huge gap between entry level salaries and the cost of living. Plus, the job market is TOUGH. It often takes six months or more to find a career path job (i.e. not working fast food or retail). And even though the economy has improved, it’s still hard to break into many professions.  And then there are student loans… So, give them a break. Skip the “when I graduated” stories and recognize that life is different now.
  2. Embrace the time together. There may be a time when your kids find a job, but it’s half way across the country.  They move away and then you only see them 2-3 times a year. Remember my daughter and son-in-law? They found jobs, locally for a short time, and then my son-in-law was offered an excellent career track job in a city almost 10 hours away. So enjoy being with them. Consider it bonus time - extra time with these people you love. Use the time to develop an adult relationship with them. Rediscover their personalities and interests. Find an activity you like to do together. You may have a new hiking buddy! 
  3. Discuss expectations and boundaries. You are still the parent- but your child is not 16 anymore. The old roles and rules don’t fit. Having an in-depth conversation about expectations can go a long way toward creating harmony in the house. Do you expect everyone to sit down for dinner if they’re home? Are you sharing a car? What about chores? Do you expect them to do the dishes? Mow the grass? Get clear about expectations up front. 
  4. And what about the money? Should you charge rent?  There’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer to this question. It depends. Does your adult child have any income? Are they working part-time while looking for a professional job? Can you afford the extra expense of additional household members? Can they take over lawn care and cleaning in lieu of rent - or will that create more drama? Some parents choose to charge rent and deposit it into a savings account to be used for deposits on future housing when the kids are ready to move on. Others may charge a minimal rent to offset the increased grocery and utility bills. Think creatively and think win-win.  How can you use this time to improve their financial situation and your own? 
  5. Discuss the job search process. Do you expect to be kept in the loop about the job hunt?  Resist the temptation to micromanage but do offer to use your network if possible. You want them to be self reliant but the reality is that most jobs, especially good jobs, are gained by using a network.  A cold resume is much less likely to make it to the interview than a resume passed along by a respected colleague or even a friend of a friend.  Comic strip Dustin is enjoying living a do-nothing life back at home, but most young adults are anxious to find good jobs and move on to live independently. 
  6. Hire a career coach. Yes. I am a career coach and you can certainly hire me but this is not a self-serving post (not totally anyway.) The reality is that many 20 somethings don’t know how to find a job. They may not know what they really want to do. They probably don’t know how to write a resume that will illustrate the employability of a bachelor’s degree in history and work experience as a summer life guard and a barista at Starbucks. A good career coach can ask the tough questions, answer questions about resumes and cover letters, and help them get started on a career they can be excited about. Spending some money on a good career coach may save you more money down the road - and get your empty nest back! 

Anita Flowers is available for coaching with young adults or with parents who need to talk through these issues. Contact her here for a free initial consultation.