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The nest that doesn't empty: Preserving relationships when your kids or your folks move in

Published: Monday, July 15 2013 2:50 p.m. MDT

Matt and Milanne Carpenter packed to move out of their BYU housing while their baby, Ayla, slept in August 2012. They moved in with Matt's parents for six months while he finished school, then got their own apartment.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

As Hurricane Sandy approached, Liz Brock fled her duplex in Seacliff, an area expected to flood, to ride out the storm at her mom and dad's home in Carle Place, N.Y. When her dad offered to let the 27-year-old extend the "visit," though, it made a lot of financial sense.

"We gave her the standard rules from when she was a kid," said Charlie Brock, 68. That meant "no drugs, no parties, try to get along." Another daughter, 21, already lived at home.

It's challenging when the adult “kids” move home or when older children hesitate to leave the nest. Relationships and roles are different than when they were kids; making sure the bonds stay strong in a situation that can fray them isn't necessarily easy or intuitive.

The Census Bureau said the proportion of young adults living with parents increased steadily from 2005 to 2011. That was especially true for men — nearly one in five between the ages of 25 and 34 live at home, compared to 10 percent of women.

A study by the Pew Research Center found those 18 to 24 are more apt to see living with their folks as positive for their relationship than do older children who return home. They are also less likely to say finances drove them home. That's the primary reason those 25-34 move back.

Making it work requires effort on both sides.

In 40 of their 43 years of marriage, the Brocks have had kids around them. "I can't even imagine being an empty nester," Charlie Brock said. He figured he'd be retired by now, but he still works, mostly to keep insurance for his youngest daughter. His wife works, too.


When Matt Carpenter was nearly finished earning his degree at Brigham Young University, he and his wife Milanne and their baby, Ayla, moved in with his parents for about six months. After he graduated, Matt Carpenter, a certified arborist, found work and they moved into their own apartment in Midvale.

They will always be grateful for that temporary haven, said Milanne Carpenter.

"My in-laws are great, so it wasn't too hard," she said. "But there are boundaries and you're sharing stuff and you know it's not your home. You want to feel like an adult, but you're not really living on your own."

Adult children in that situation have to find some balance, to figure out what their responsibilities are and how they can help out, she said. They had a room in the basement and they all shared meals. If she were advising someone else how to do it, she'd recommend everyone "do your best to try to have your own family still and set your own boundaries, too," she added. Togetherness, but not too much.

He now works full-time and she will soon return to BYU for her last semester studying nursing. Her mother-in-law will watch Ayla. Living together temporarily strengthened their bonds.

"It's important to note there's a lot of good news here," said Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, research professor of psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., who has written and polled extensively on the topic. "Parents and kids make the transition more successfully and harmoniously than most people think. It's a pretty consistent picture that they get along remarkably well overall. There are conflicts, as there are in any human relationships — but it's notable how much better they get along than when the kids were in their adolescence."

Parents joyfully discover adult children are less selfish than they were as teens and more capable of understanding parents' viewpoints. Parents find having adult conversations with kids gratifying and refreshing.

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