To fledge is to put feathers on an arrow. It’s also the process of a young bird developing wing feathers that are strong enough for flight. It enables both the bird and arrow to fly.

When kids reach high school graduation, it’s time for them to fledge, too.

Growth and development naturally move through stages, beginning at birth and culminating in adulthood where a child is independent and autonomous from her parents. As kids pull away, parents also need to let go. Physical and emotional separation are a natural part of the parent-child relationship.

But there’s a new phenomenon in today’s culture — extended adolescence and the boomerang child. According to Pew Research Center in 2014, young adults aged 18 to 34 are more likely to be living with their parents now than at any other time period since 1880.⁠1 Economic factors and a decline in romantic relationships and marriage are why more young adults are living at home rather than with someone else.

Not only are children living at home longer after high school, but many are returning home to live after being away for a period of time, thus coining the term "boomerang child". This is the adult child, single or married, perhaps with children, who has moved out of the home at the appropriate time, only to return to live with mom or dad.

There are various reasons why adult children boomerang. A child may return to parents who have enjoyed the empty nest for a few years. It may be an adult child with a spouse and children who are transitioning between homes, or a single parent living at home after a divorce. Perhaps it’s a single child who had been let go from their job or can’t quite make it in their career after college, or the child who drops out of college, discouraged and wounded by the experience.

However, the household isn’t always an empty nest when an older child moves home. Often an older sibling moves back home after college or after being on their own while younger siblings are still in the home. No matter what the circumstances are, when a boomerang moves in, the family system is different than when that child was a teenager. Therefore, different expectations, boundaries, and a new kind of relationship are essential.

Factors to consider

Autonomy and independence are still what boomerang children need and want, whether they act like it or not. While providing housing for adult offspring is one thing, you are no longer caring for them the way you did when you were raising them. Set clear expectations when your boomerang offspring move home. Don’t do things for them that they should do for themselves. Don’t enable poor financial decisions, justify irresponsible behavior, or allow them to blame you for their circumstances. Establish boundaries that you enforce when violated.

Living back at home with mom or dad is a privilege, not a right. If they’d be doing certain things on their own in an apartment, they should be doing them while they’re in your home, too, including paying rent or moving out if the living arrangements aren’t working. In their own apartment, they would be responsible for keeping it clean as well as caring for their own clothes. They should do the same thing in their parents’ home and not expect free “maid” service.

In addition, assess the reasons why they have moved home and have a plan and projected timeline for them being on their own. Young adults move home for a variety of reasons — to save money, pay off college debt, or because of a crisis. Many young adults live at home because they don’t know what they want to do with their life or they’re indecisive about a career path or long term goals. This isn’t a reason for them to stay home indefinitely. They can work and live in an apartment while they figure that out. Remember, according to the Western world’s social expectations, independence and autonomy is the natural order of human development.

If your young adults are home because of a personal crisis (medical or mental health reasons, addiction, an unhealthy relationship, abuse, etc.), let home be a safe place for them while they receive professional treatment and get on their feet. However, this scenario is the most common temptation for enabling codependency, toxicity, and lack of boundaries. Once they are out of crisis, move them towards independence. They are adults and are responsible for their choices, treatment, and quality of life, even if it’s not what you want to see for them.

When younger, minor siblings are still in the home, their lives are impacted and interrupted when a boomerang kid moves back. Younger siblings still need to have their time with friends, mom, and dad, as well as their own private space, especially during adolescence. If a boomerang moves home because of crisis, the interest of the underage kids should come first after the immediate boomerang crisis is over. If the boomerang child is in constant crisis and isn’t taking responsibility for her situation, and it’s affecting younger siblings, other plans for the adult child should be considered. The choices of an unhealthy and toxic sibling should not define the growing up years of minor children.

In the toughest of situations, you may have to choose between the health of your minor children and the poor choices of your young adult. These are hard decisions to make. But your younger kids still are children. Adult kids make adult choices and should be responsible for the consequences. This requires tough love.

Healthy adulthood is the goal

A boomerang child returning home doesn’t have to be a negative experience. In many cultures, it’s acceptable for single adults to live in the home until they are married. Some healthy households have multiple generations living in a home; it’s a blessing because younger generations interact with older generations, which contributes to the dynamics of the family. Adult children can live in a healthy, respectful relationship with their parents while achieving personal goals when there’s emotional, physical, and financial independence and autonomy.

Our goal as parents is to help our fledglings develop strong wing feathers at the appropriate time so they are developmentally prepared for the life path ahead of them — being capable, healthy adults both at home, in the workforce, and in relationships. Moving home doesn’t mean they regress to become your little boy or girl again. Adult kids are capable of “adulting,” even if they don’t appear to be at the time. Their biological clock says so. They’ll figure it out, one way or another.

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This article was written by: Brenda Yoder

Photo Credit: Tim Gouw