Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Returning Home After College: Unexpected Benefits

If you are returning home after college or you are a parent with a graduate returning home—You are not alone.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Arnett, who developed the theory and coined the term “Emerging Adulthood,” returning home for young adults is not only common; it can be beneficial.graduation

As discussed by Arnett, the period of time between 18 and 29 years is not just a transition, but also a life-stage that plays a crucial role in launching, loading and ultimately landing most young people into adult life. Although this stage is characterized by identity explorations, instability, changes in location, careers, and love relationships, research finds that most young adults actually land by age 30. That means they not only are likely to have careers and relationships; but they are making independent decisions and taking responsibility for themselves.

For many, this life-stage is facilitated by boomeranging i.e. returning home for some period of time.

Jack returned home and took a job in sales while applying and taking tests for the police department and sheriff’s office.

Heather returned home to afford going back to get a masters in counseling when she realized that an office job was not for her.

The Challenge of Returning Home

Is it easy for young adults who have spent the college years or time living away from their parents to return home? Not really…

“ I know they love me but how can I keep giving my parents updates of what I am doing or where I am going.”

 “ I don’t even eat dinner on a regular basis much less a set time!”

Is the arrangement easy for parents who become concerned for their children, may be making retirement plans, or are caring for elderly family members? Not Always…

“ We love having her home…we are just worried that she keeps changing her mind about careers.”

 “ I just wonder how it will work if we are not here a lot of the time?”

 The Key to Making it Work

According to Dr. Jeff Arnett and Elizabeth Fishel, authors of Getting To 30: A Parent’s Guide to the 20-Something Years, the key to making the return of young adults productive for all is “ a plan.”

More specifically, they suggest that before living together again under the same roof, parents and young adults communicate about certain issues with give and take, consideration and respect for each other’s boundaries and needs.

Important Considerations

Here are some important areas they suggest for both parents and young adults to consider together:

Home With A Goal

  • While social media presents the caricature of the young adult returning home to avoid life or play video games in the basement—Few young people return for that reason.
  • Given the economic climate, job market constraints, and the determination (thankfully) of many young people to find a meaningful career, many return home to continue their schooling, to save money to train in a different field, to work while gaining momentum in creative fields, or to save for goals like a car or a wedding etc.

Whatever the reason, clarifying the plan and estimating some type of timeline, offers everyone a frame of reference. In most cases clarification reduces anxiety and conflict.

Let’s Make a Deal

While some young adults can pay something into household expenses, many are there because they don’t have extra money while studying or working toward a goal. In these cases many set-up arrangements to help parents with household roles or chores.

Jason and his sister had both returned home around the same time. After a few rounds of everyone asking how this happened and what they were going to do, she took on the shopping and he, the cooking – both parents were working full time–it worked!

Joanne’s return home to go back to school coincided with Grandma’s arrival. Actually although unplanned, the arrangement of her studying and being home for grandma a few hours every day—made life easier for everyone.

Lovers and Other Strangers

  • The last thing you want to do is meet your future daughter or son-in-law on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
  • Emotional and physical privacy are necessary dimensions of parents and adult children living together.
  • How and who will visit and “ stay-over” is a plan that every family needs to take on in their own way.
  • Most parents are welcoming when they have a chance to come to know the romantic partner and close friends of their adult children and they don’t feel like their home has become a drop-in center or “ free for all.” Respect is mutually earned.

Connection or House Arrest

  • When children return, some parents feel that they can’t go on with their own lives until their children are gone. That’s not connection—it’s house arrest.
  • It pressures the young adults and it burdens the parents’ marriage, often setting them up at odds with arguments about whether they should travel, see friends, include the children, etc.
  • Notwithstanding those cases where there may be special needs that should be addressed, the last thing young adults want is for parents to feel that they need constant attention, supervision or involvement. It denies their capacity for decision-making and responsibility. It changes connection into lockdown for everyone.
  • No one wants to be watching the clock for this living arrangement to be over. No one wants to ask or have someone asking on a daily basis “ How are you doing with the job search?” “So what are you doing tonight?” “ What are your future plans?” “ Are you ok?”
  • A far better model is the connection of people who are all going on with their own meaningful lives.


  • When it comes to communicating, it is worth considering quality not quantity.
  • Remember that you and your adult children communicated when you all lived apart and generally that distance was a good buffer to hassles.
  • Back under the same roof you don’t want to unwittingly create that distance with with silence or arguing.
  • Often it is valuable to “ change the perspective.” How would you treat a visiting young adult from another country who was staying at your home? It is likely that you would be caring and concerned but would not ask, “ Do you really want to go out wearing that?” “ Can’t you at least have dinner with us?” “ Why can’t you call instead of texting?”
  • In turn, as the visiting young adult, it is likely that you would be grateful, considerate and clear about your situation.  “Please don’t expect me for dinner.” “ I may be coming in late but I will make an effort not to disturb you.”
  • On either side, communicating to share warm feelings, be understood, support the other, make a request for help, or just to make the other laugh–are at the heart of successful family communication.

All said, most parents and adult children will tell you that those weeks, months or years they spent back together forged a new adult dimension to their connection. They were often surprised by the unexpected benefits.

“ Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost…Some May Even Stop Home for A While.”


(Adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien)


Listen in to Dr. Jeffrey Arnett and Elizabeth Fishel Discuss ““ Parenting During the 20-Something Years” on Psych Up anytime from 5/17/15 on…