- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2000

Robert Schmidt, 22, has been residing in his parents' home in Gaithersburg for three months and it's just now beginning to sink in.
"It's very hard to get used to," he says of his move back home. "When I was living in Georgia with my older sister, on a whim, when I wanted to do something, I pretty much did anything I wanted to do. It didn't matter."
Now, he's not only living under his parents' roof, he's living with a father who happens to be a minister.
"I have a very easy family to get along with," Mr. Schmidt says. "It's a very good family. But I think the key is not making [living back at home] a permanent thing. I don't think I could stand it, or they could stand it."
Many adult children do make it permanent. According to the Census Bureau, about 18 million adult children, ranging in age from 18 to 34, lived with their parents last year. In 1970, 12.5 million adult children did.
And that doesn't include adult children who live away from their parents but whose lives are subsidized, either totally or in part, by the First National Bank of Dad.
"We are getting more and more calls from parents who have grown children living with them, and they want them to be able to move on and move out," says Terry Rudman of Manassas. She and her husband, Ron, helped start local groups for Toughlove International, which assists parents of troubled young people.
The growing problem of "boomerang children," as adult children who move back home are often called by parenting experts, even prompted Toughlove to start a support branch in 1997 for older parents seniors in their 60s, 70s and even older.
"We're dealing with behavior, and that has no age limit," says Karen Granat of Toughlove, who began the senior program.
Boomerang children return home for different reasons. Many, like Mr. Schmidt, are simply trying to get back on their feet. Some have lost a job, a house or a spouse. Some have returned home to take care of aging parents, but these issues of adult-child independence explained here don't apply directly to them.
Some, like many of the children Toughlove parents have, simply refuse to leave the nest. Paul Attewell, a sociologist at the City University of New York who has studied boomerang children, calls them "incompletely launched adults."
Larry Stockman, a family therapist in St. Louis who co-wrote a book about boomerang children called "Grown-Up Children Who Won't Grow Up," says he first noticed the boomerang phenomenon in the mid-1970s, but the seeds for it were sown back in the '60s.
"When the baby boomers were in college, they wanted their freedom and movement in their lives," Mr. Stockman
says. "They were coming back home for all sorts of things, and a lot of their parents began to feel the guilt of working too hard and too long, being away from home, not giving their kids the attention they had received in the '30s and '40s when they were kids.
"So when the boomers became parents, it was part of a pattern that had been present from about 1968 to '75."
The incredible wealth the boomers acquired gave them the financial ability to take their children back when they returned, too.
"A lot of them were able to keep supporting their kids, so they would scratch their heads and say, 'What is the loving thing to do?' " says Cynthia Graves, who co-wrote the book with Mr. Stockman. "Parents with pure intentions do the wrong things a lot of times because they don't know what their choices are."
Whatever the background that prompted a child to move back home, experts say the first and most important thing parents can do is set ground rules for the return.
"Whatever is going on, we say to parents, 'If your child is planning on coming back home, and that's OK with you, you need to establish rules before they walk through the door,' " Mrs. Granat says. "Otherwise you may be stuck with them.
"And we find that it really needs to be defined for both people, because things that are left kind of loose out there just get muddied. We look at things like 'What do you want? What are you willing to put up with?' Are there any nonnegotiable rules, such as 'My place will not be used as a hotel. If you're going to live here, as part of a family, I'm expecting certain things out of you.' "
Mrs. Rudman says setting rules is hard for parents and children because the returning children, in many cases, haven't had to follow any for a long time.
"The kids coming in are not kids, and they don't expect to have to follow any rules, because they haven't," Mrs. Rudman says. "But living in someone else's home, it creates all different kinds of things. It's tough for everybody involved.
Mr. Schmidt's father, Bob, the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Rockville, says he and his wife, Janis, quickly set ground rules for Robert when he moved back home last year.
"There were certain expectations that come with the territory," Bob Schmidt says. "If you don't live at home, there are certain things you can do that you can't do if you live at home … certain vices that young people can get into."
But he says one of the biggest adjustments for him and Mrs. Schmidt when Robert moved back home involved their two younger children Anna, 18, and Micah, 16 both of whom are in high school.
"The younger kids look at him and say, 'He can do things I can't do.' There were ground rules everybody had to accept when, as my wife says, you put your feet under our table. They were expecting their family relationship with him to start up where it left off. But three years have passed. He's different. He's grown up some. He's a little more mature. He's looking at life from a different perspective."
Robert Schmidt has more liberal rules than his younger siblings, but he still has rules he has to follow at home.
The alternative to no rules or planning is seldom pretty. David Dondero, a financial planner in Alexandria, says he has counseled couples whose children never could get on their feet and who worried about taking care of their children even after they were gone.
"You're talking about [financial] trusts and passing money to children through mechanisms where they wouldn't just blow it when they got it," Mr. Dondero says. "Something whereby they can provide for their children's welfare and not just to be frittered away. It's sad to see.
"In my opinion, you have to do whatever you can as quickly as you can to get a child on their own, for everybody's well-being," he says. "That may mean helping with additional education, and the quicker you can accomplish that, the better off you are."
Mrs. Granat says she has seen many senior parents who have never been able to take a vacation because they were constantly bailing their children out of crisis after crisis. Some even had to resort to selling their own homes to get their children out of their home.
"The problem is that I see more adult children wanting everything right off the bat," she says. "To do that, they've got to move home instead of renting so they can buy their first house early."
There are a host of reasons why boomerang children scenarios seem to be on the rise. In his profession, Mr. Dondero says, he has seen many young adults who are not very sophisticated about money and finances because they didn't have to worry about it until the credit card debts began to pile up and they found themselves having to move in with their parents.
"Many young people got big-paying jobs quickly and managed not to have to worry about anything," he says. "But then they get to be thirtysomething, and they're making good money, but something is drastically wrong. Other than their retirement plans, they've got zip, so when they have children, they're stuck. And many of them move in with their parents."
In their book, Ms. Graves and Mr. Stockman detail three unhealthy parenting styles that often lead to boomerang children: permissive (letting children get away with everything), authoritarian (bailing children out but lecturing them angrily afterward) and overprotective (not allowing children to make their own decisions and suffer the consequences).
Mr. Stockman says the key for parents to help their children avoid becoming "boomerangs" later in life is to teach them from an early age to be good decision-makers. And he said the key to that is asking good questions and listening attentively.

More Info

"The Postponed Generation," by Susan Littwin, Morrow, 1986. The author explains how and why many younger adults today are putting off the responsibilities of adulthood. The book could help older parents understand their children's perspective.

"Boomerang Kids: How to Live with Adult Children Who Return Home," by Phyllis Jackson Stegall and Jean Okimoto Davies, Little, Brown and Co., 1987. This book discusses in-depth how to set rules.

"Teaching Your Child to Make Decisions: How to Raise a Responsible Child," by Gordon Porter Miller and Bob Oskam, Harper & Row, 1984. This book helps parents teach crucial decision-making abilities to their children before they become "boom-erang children" later in life.

"Grown-up Children Who Won't Grow Up," by Larry V. Stockman and Cynthia S. Graves, Prima Publishing, 1994. The authors take some of the "Toughlove" concepts and apply them in a gentler, more subtle way.

"101 Ways to Get Your Adult Children to Move Out: And Make Them Think It Was Their Idea," by Rich Melheim, Creative Outlet, 1994. A more comical take on the subject of boomerang children, this book has such chapter titles that range from "Subtle Hints" to "General Annoyances" to "If All Else Fails."

"The Nesting Syndrome: Grown Children Living At Home," by Valerie Wiener, Fairview Press, 1997. Effective communication on both sides is the key to resolving this issue, this book says.

Toughlove International has published a manual for parents with adult children who are either financially dependent, drug dependent, or physically or mentally ill. Phone: 800/333-1069. Cost: $30.

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