Your 50s and 60s should feel like a time of liberation. You've raised your children and they're off on their own now, ideally having finished college and started their careers. You can finally spend money on yourself -- take that trip to Antarctica or sign up for piano lessons.
But if you're like many millions of American boomers, your life is not unfolding as you expected: Your grown children have moved back in (or have yet to leave)!
The kids Aren't All Right
The folks at Monster Worldwide (MWW) found in 2009 that a whopping 42% of 2006 graduates were still living at home.
Have things improved much since then? Not enough.
According to Johns Hopkins University sociologist Katherine Newman, between 53% and 85% of new college grads will be moving back home this summer. According to the Pew Research Center, as of late last year, nearly a third (29%) of parents of grown children had taken them back in under their roofs due to the lousy economy.
The economy does seem to finally be rebounding, but not at breakneck speed. Back in late 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that while the unemployment rate for those older than 25 was 8.7%, it was 15.6% for those aged 20 to 24. That number peaked near 17.5%, and was 12.9% in May.
In other words, parents with 20-something housemates will probably have to continue putting off converting that extra bedroom into a home gym or craft room.
Boomers, Meet the Boomerangs
This phenomenon of grown children moving back home has been dubbed "boomerang kids" and it has all kinds of ramifications.
Obviously, many such young adults would rather be out and living on their own, with jobs. Parents would often like to be seeing what an empty nest is really like, and finally getting around to long-deferred dreams such as travel. This can lead to frustration all around.
On the other hand, though, there can be upsides, such as the two generations getting to know each other better, on more equal footing, as adults. A Pew study found that more than 75% of 25- to 34-year-old boomerangers are satisfied with their living arrangements.
There are financial ramifications, too. The kids are saving money living at home, as they're often paying no rent at all to mom and dad. Out on their own, they'd likely simply be digging themselves deeper in debt, and many college grads these days are already buried under student loans and credit card bills the day they pick up their diplomas.
For the parents, though, this is the time when they would have expected to not be supporting dependents anymore, when their incomes would be more fully their own. Instead, they may now be buying food for three or four instead of one or two, and covering a host of other expenses.
If this unexpected development has happened in your life, know that it doesn't have to be painful. A little planning can help you make the most of the boomerang phase.
The folks at AARP note that, "Every expert we interviewed agreed that it's important to have a lease or some kind of written contract that sets out your expectations." All parties involved should sign it.
Charge junior some rent. Even if you don't charge a lot, it will be good for your children to get in the habit of meeting financial obligations, as they'll have to do when they're out and living on their own. Also, if they aren't earning at least a little income, give them work to do around the house, such as routine chores or maintenance projects. They can share in cooking duties, as well, or chip in toward food expenses.
Set limits. You might limit how many friends can visit at a time, lest you end up with large parties. You might limit bad habits, too -- such as restricting smoking to outside the house or not permitting mounds of laundry to pile up. You can even limit the term of the entire agreement, perhaps stipulating that it's for just one year, at which point an extension might be negotiated.
Keep lines of communications open and be honest. If you can't afford to provide spending money, say so. If any party is annoying or frustrating the other, that should be discussed, as well.
Making the Most of It
With the economy as it is, young people living at home should think outside the box. Instead of just hunting for a job with an acceptable salary, consider seeking internships, even unpaid ones, to help break into companies or industries of interest. Living at home means that an unpaid internship is acceptable.
The 10 Best U.S. Cities for Raising a Family
Coping With Full-Nest Syndrome: When Your Grown Kids Move Home
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:24.2 (20th highest) Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 4.0 (11th highest) Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 5.9 (46th lowest) Unemployment rate: 10.0% (43rd highest) Adults with at least a high school degree: 87.6% (24th highest)
A number of features make Greensboroa first-class place to raise a family. Activities are plentiful. Its CountryParkis one of the most visited parks in the country. It also has one of the highest playground-to-resident ratios in the country. Its excellent school system includes some of the top-ranked public high schools in the country, among them the EarlyCollegeat Guilfordand the WeaverAcademyfor Performing & Visual Arts and Advanced Technology. Traditionally a center for the textile and tobacco industries, Greensboro's resurgence in recent years can be credited partly to new tech businesses opening up shop. With the local economy surging, home prices in Greensborohave risen steadily over the years, growing 4% from 2007 to 2010.
By Charles B. Stockdale, 24/7 Wall Street
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:13.5 (42nd highest) Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 3.5 (15th highest) Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 2.6 (13th highest) Unemployment rate: 8.5% (33rd lowest) Adults with at least a high school degree: 92.8% (8th highest)
Boise is one of the safest cities in the country, and it also holds education as a high priority. According to the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, half of Idaho's general fund is allocated to education.The city has an especially high number of playgrounds for children to enjoy, and for the older kids, among of the highest numbers of skateboard parks per capita in the country.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents: 21 (25th highest) Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 3.4 (20th highest) Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 4.9 (33rd lowest) Unemployment rate: 4.5% (2nd lowest) Adults with at least a high school degree: 88.2% (21st highest)
Omaha's unemployment rate for 2011 was the second-lowest among major U.S.cities, at an astonishing 4.5%. The city has a bustling economy, with a large insurance, health care, and finance presence. FiveFortune 500 companies are based there, including Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway. The city also has a relatively impressive high school graduation rate. Pediatric coverage is good in Omaha, as the city has a number of top-ranking hospitals, including the Children's Hospital and MedicalCenter.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:15.4 (36th highest) Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 2.6 (35th highest) Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 1.8 (7th lowest) Unemployment rate: 7.5% (22nd lowest) Adults with at least a high school degree: 93.3% (4th highest)
Many cities in Texas would rank among the exceptional places to raise a family if it weren't for high crime rates. Affluent Planodoes not face this problem. Its rate of violent crime is the seventh-lowest among all major cities, and Forbes recently rated Plano America's safest city. It also boasts a top-notch school system. Due to the city's strengths, its population has more than doubled in recent years. Among the many side effects of that growth has been an increase in home prices that outpaced the rates in most other big cities.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:72.2 (3rd highest) Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 1.4 (18th lowest) Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 1.5 (6th lowest) Unemployment rate: 6.3%: (7th lowest) Adults with at least a high school degree: 95.9% (the highest)
Scottsdalehas emerged as one of Arizona's power cities. It has an extremely low rate of unemployment -- less than 6.3% for 2011 -- and an extremely high median household income of nearly $69,000. It also has the sixth-lowest rate of violent crime among major cities. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Scottsdalehas the highest rate of educated adults among all major cities. The city has the third-largest amount of parkland relative to population. It is home to McDowell Sonoran Preserve, the fifth-largest city park in the country. Scottsdalealso has among the most baseball diamonds relative to population.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:24.8 (18th highest) Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 3.3 (21st highest) Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 4.8 (32nd lowest) Unemployment rate: 3.7% (1st lowest) Adults with at least a high school degree: 92.9% (6th highest)
Like neighboring Omaha, Lincoln's economy has done exceptionally well through the recession. It avoided major swings and the unemployment rate for 2011 the lowest among all major cities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment there hasn't exceeded 5% in the 21 years since the department began tracking it. The city also has large amounts of land dedicated to parks and playgrounds, including the nearly 1,500-acre WildernessPark, offering plenty of places for families to spend quality time outdoors.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:36.5 (10th highest) Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 2.8 (29th highest) Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 0.6 (5th lowest) Unemployment rate: 6.7% (13th lowest) Adults with at least a high school degree: 95.7% (2nd highest)
Irvineis a perfect city for parents who want their children to enjoy the outdoors. The planned community was developed with a focus on greenbelts, and features many bike paths and parks, including the recently established OrangeCountyGreatPark, which is still under construction. Irvinehas one of the lowest rates of violent crime among all major cities. Its unemployment rate for 2011 was relatively low, at 6.7%. Like much of OrangeCounty, Irvinesuffered far less than other areas from the housing crisis.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:30.8 (14th highest) Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 2.2 (49th highest) Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 4.1 (24th lowest) Unemployment rate: 7.2% (17th lowest) Adults with at least a high school degree: 91.7% (12th highest)
Raleighis one of the strongest cities in North Carolina, economically speaking. Its high-tech and biotech industries are growing quickly, keeping unemployment low. The city has a top-notch school system that includes the highly ranked RaleighCharterHigh School. Children are also surrounded by highly educated adults, as Raleighwas recently named the third-most educated city in the United Statesby Men's Health. Children have ample opportunities to enjoy activities, especially basketball: The city has one of the highest rates of basketball hoops per resident in the country.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:77.7 (2nd highest) Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 5.0 (6th highest) Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 1.9 (8th lowest) Unemployment rate: 6.1% (5th lowest) Adults with at least a high school degree: 93.1% (5th highest)
Virginia Beach is extremely prosperous, due in large part to the presence of several military bases in the area. It has the eighth-lowest rate of violent crime among major cities and the fifth-lowest unemployment rate. It also has the second-largest acreage of parkland per capita, behind only New Orleans, which has suffered huge population losses in recent years. Virginia Beachalso has one of the highest numbers of playgrounds per capita in the country.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:22.3 (22nd highest) Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 7.0 (5th highest) Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 3.9 (21st lowest) Unemployment rate: 5.1% (3rd lowest) Adults with at least a high school degree: (3rd highest)
Madison's economic boom started in the 1990s and has just kept on going, largely avoiding the recent national recession. In 2011, its unemployment rate was 5.1%, far less than the national rate of 8.9%. Among the engines powering the city's economy are the state government, the Universityof Wisconsin- Madison, and its growing health and biotech industries. Madisonis also a great place for recreational activities, with large amounts of land dedicated to public parks. Families can also take part in many water activities, as it borders multiple lakes.
Finally, boomerang kids should have an exit plan. They'll need to save money for when they're able to move out -- not just for their first and last months' rent and security deposit, but also for furniture, furnishings, renter's insurance, and other expenses. It could be smart to find a compatible friend to share the dwelling and costs.
Grown children moving back home can disrupt everyone's plans, but it can also be a big blessing for all involved. Set some ground rules, and then enjoy getting to know each other more, now that the time of fighting over curfews and homework is over.
You can follow Motley Fool contributor Selena Maranjian on Twitter. She holds no position in any company mentioned.