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Failure to Launch: How to Help Boomerang Kids After They’ve Moved Back Home

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So, what happens when you combine slow-growing employment rates, another graduating class of unexperienced workers, and massive amounts of student debt? Many parents of  2011 college graduates are finding out as their boomerang kids return to the nest after graduation. About 85 percent of last year’s college graduates returned home after the ceremonies ended, according to a CollegeGrad.com survey. With more than half of the graduates unable to find work, this new arrangement might be around for awhile.

Without assigning blame or categorically defining all of these graduates as lazy or unmotivated, or even unresourceful, the fact is that multigenerational families are the new standard. However, this family arrangement can be a financial burden for parents who are being downsized themselves. How can parents help their kids financially without jeopardizing their future retirement? Here are five tips that can help:

1. Encourage Grads to Get to Work–Now

For some kids, returning home after college turns into an extended summer break where they sleep in, nurse bruised egos, and lounge in front of the TV.

“It can be a vicious circle,” said Steve Wood, whose daughter Emili moved home with her husband and son after being unable to find adequate work.

While it’s normal for a job hunt to take some time, working part-time, volunteering and interning are valuable activities during the job search because it keeps a person engaged. Wood said his son-in-law worked at a grocery store until he was able to land a job with a mortgage firm.

At the very least, encourage a new graduate to join a job networking group, but with one caveat: it must meet outside of the house, and not on the Internet. Only being online can be isolating, and not the best way to job search.

Grad Tip: Develop a regular routine. One that incorporates exercise, socialization and job hunting. While it’s tempting to hole up and spend all of your time looking for work and applying, it can actually be counter-productive. Set a schedule, and stick with it for your sanity.

2. Find Ways for Your Grad to Contribute

Don’t want to charge rent? There are other ways for your adult children to help out. Whether it’s groceries or chores, it’s important to have responsibilities to the household.

However, don’t necessarily be appalled by the idea of charging rent–even $100 a month can be motivating to a young adult to get their own house in order. Joel and Gloria Steffen (yes, my parents) charged their adult daughter (me) $100 a month, with the promise (threat) of increased rent every year thereafter. This gave their daughter time to get her student loans and other debts under control so that when she did move out, her credit score was up and her ability to afford a nice apartment and keep up with payments was never in doubt.

Rent isn’t the only way to contribute though. Wood said that his daughter gave back by keeping house for the family (both parents work full time), cooking dinners and contributing with groceries.

Grad Tip: Don’t be too resentful of requests to help out around the house. You’d have to do it all if you were on your own. If taking out the trash and washing dishes keeps the peace, then by all means.

3. Set a Timeline

This strategy will vary by graduate. Wood said that his son-in-law and daughter were “highly motivated” to get out on their own, and so he and his wife never gave a deadline on when they had to move out. The Steffens actually enjoyed collecting rent, and so they also chose not give a deadline to their daughter. Keep in mind, not all graduates live in areas where meager part-time compensation can enable them in taking flight from the family nest.

Gayle Maddox of Atlanta, whose son has been able to find work, albeit unstable, has had her son staying with them for almost six years.

“Children are a money pit from the day they arrive in your life,” said Maddox. ”Some do rise up and help by paying their own way. However, due to circumstances sometimes out of their control, it takes some longer than others. We sacrifice as parents because we want our children to succeed.”

Maddox sees her son’s efforts, and hasn’t imposed a move-out deadline but for some recent grads, a timeline can be motivating. Make it a flexible deadline, so it doesn’t turn into a confrontational “eviction” with your child. Outlining a working framework for what you expect and how long it should take,  will give your child an idea of your boundaries.

Grad Tip: The poor economy will make the job hunt a longer endeavor, but be vocal about your plans. Let your parents know how many jobs you will apply for this week, or if you’re creating an online resume presence, or if you plan on temping to make some money while you hunt. Letting Mom and Dad know your plans will take the burden off them to provide structure. They will probably be more lenient with deadlines because they will see your motivation and resourcefulness.

4. Develop Boundaries

While a visiting friend might be OK on occasion, having a live-in boyfriend/girlfriend or lots of parties is definitely crossing the line. Wood said that when he was 18 and living rent free with an aunt, he would get the occasional reminder not to take advantage of the situation. Today’s parents should feel free to make sure that their kids are also not taking advantage.

Maddox stresses that returning to the parental home is an emergency situation.

“We only help them when the tide has turned and unemployment has put them in a position where funds are low,” she said.

Hosting parties? Not an emergency. Supporting a moocher friend? Not an emergency.

Grad Tip: Abusing Mom and Dad’s generosity isn’t cool. Yes, it’s also not cool that they want to know where you’ll be every second of the day, so sit down and talk with them about your boundaries, too. Your relationship with them is different now, so use this as an opportunity to develop a respectful dialogue of what you both will need to live together.

5. Don’t Cash in Your Retirement to Fund their Launch

After awhile, having the kids at home will be too much, and some parents are putting up money for down payments and, in other terms, threatening their own financial security for their adult children. It may seem like you can afford it. But whether or not that’s true, it’s better to realize that doing so will make your kids further dependent upon you (and this is not the goal). Coddling them won’t teach self-sufficiency. Eventually the economy will turn, your kids will find more financially comfortable jobs, and their dreams for real estate or new cars or nice clothes will come true. But those are their dreams that they need to achieve on their own.

Maddox, though, sees one benefit of contributing to her son’s future now: “We help them if needed now, since they may ultimately make the decision one day to put me in a home or let me live out my golden years surrounded by my loving family and familiar faces.”

Grad Tip: Don’t threaten to put your parents in a nasty nursing home if they don’t finance your ambitions… that’s just mean. Even if it takes three part-time jobs now, paying your own way creates endurance, which one can only hope will pay off down the road.

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