The Big Return: Tips for Moving Back in with Mom and Dad

Recently, I made a big decision. After struggling financially and feeling stuck in a lease while applying for jobs to change careers, I had an earnest conversation with my parents about moving back home to live with them for a few months. Graciously, they agreed.

If you’re reading this, perhaps you, like me, are among a growing number of 20-or 30-somethings (32.1 percent, to be exact) moving back home. It’s a bittersweet experience, isn’t it? There’s a sense of belonging and stability that my parents’ home brings, which renting an apartment solo or with a roommate can’t quite match. But at the same time, my apartment became a refuge for writing and thinking — a creative space, the destination for friends on a Friday night to sip wine and sneer at Nicolas Cage movies. It, too, became home and a symbol of moving forward.

So for whatever reason — finicky finances, a lost job, life transition, grad school, health issues — you and your parents have agreed on The Big Return, you’re probably feeling a sense of relief mingled with loss or confusion or embarrassment. I mean, aren’t we supposed to have it all figured out by now? It’s okay. We will get there eventually.  

In the meantime, it can’t hurt to establish a strategy that looks something like this:

Have a plan

For whatever reason you’re making this transition, it’s probably healthy for all parties to agree on a timeline of how long you’ll stay. This looks different for everyone. If you’re getting your master’s degree and need to save money, then living at home for the duration of your program may make sense for you; for someone like me, a six-month agreement, give or take, works. Whatever the situation, establishing a timetable can help create accountability and motivation to keep momentum going.

Establish your expectations of each other

Likewise, I encourage you to create a formal move-back agreement and respect the rules. Since we’re adults now, the transition back under our parents’ watchful eyes may feel a little awkward. So it’s important to talk about things like coming home late at night, inviting guests over, or even how loudly we may close the bathroom door. If Mom says no alcohol in the house, then fine. If leaving the ceiling fan on while you’re not using it drives Dad crazy, make a mental note and oblige. Putting the more serious items like paying for food, utilities, and doing laundry in writing will help everyone be accountable and happier in the long (hopefully not too long) run.

Lend a helping hand

We can never forget: Our parents are doing us a favor. Personally, to show gratitude, I offer rent money, even if they don’t ask. In addition, I try to be self-aware. Part of the move-back agreement may be that I buy and cook my own meals, for example, but still, now that I’m back, things like paper towels and coffee — especially coffee — may be flying off my parents’ shelves, and they might sit politely by while I drain such resources. So I try to grab some things at the store. Better yet, I’ll try to cook them their favorite breakfast on Saturdays. And clean, clean, clean. I remind myself: Don’t leave shoes lying around the living room. I mean, I initially moved out to grow up, right? Now’s my chance to show them how good I am at Adulting — not falling back into the habits of my 16-year-old self.

Remember quality time

Of course, you’ll probably be busy juggling a similar routine as when you lived on your own, still trying to perfect that job-friends-fitness-life balance. Now that you’re in your parents’ space, set aside time to actually hang out with them. We should never make them feel like a means to an end. Watch those ridiculous Vin Diesel action movies Dad loves. Embrace Netflix popcorn nights and meandering after-dinner chats with Mom.

Remember – this isn’t a vacation

Everyone handles the transition differently, but it’s important to stay motivated; I frequently have to tell myself “This isn’t Christmas break,” i.e., not an excuse to lounge on the couch all day. It’s an excellent opportunity to move ahead in life. A few ways to stay on track include carving out a niche for yourself — most likely it’ll be in your old room. Each day, I set aside my mornings for planning and miscellaneous projects, and the hours between lunch and dinner for job applications. Create boundaries and establish a distinct space for yourself — and make it  comfortable. It’s yours (again) for unwinding, working out, reading, writing, and sometimes — let’s face it — yes, for staying sane.