How 'boomerang' kids are making their parents' lives worse

Boomerang children are making their parents' lives difficult.
Boomerang children are making their parents' lives difficult. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

Adult kids who return home to live with their parents (so called boomerang kids) cause a significant decline in their parents' wellbeing, according to a new study.

Yep, in nutshell, returning to the nest makes your parents' lives worse.

The research, published in the journal Social Science & Medicinelooked at the impact of kids' moving back home (for various reasons) on their parents' quality of life, a phenomenon also known as the George Costanza effect. Researchers analysed data from 99,000 people aged over 50 and their partners in 17 European countries, from 2007 - 2015. They found that parents' quality of life decreased when an adult child moved back to an 'empty nest', regardless of the reason for their return.

Interestingly, there was no effect of a boomerang child when other children still lived in the family home. "Parents enjoy their independence when their children leave the home, and re-filling an empty nest may be regarded as a violation of this life course stage," the authors write.

The researchers found that when a child returns home to a previously empty nest, a parent's score on a quality of life scale, a measure looking at feelings of "control, autonomy, pleasure and self-realisation in everyday life," went down 0.8 points on average. It's a "substantial" decline, they note, and similar to the decline in quality of life of developing an age-related disability, such as difficulties with walking or getting dressed.

Study co-author Dr Marco Tosi said, "When children leave the parental home, marital relationships improve and parents find a new equilibrium. They enjoy this stage in life, finding new hobbies and activities. When adult children move back, it is a violation of that equilibrium."

In 2016, a review of the research into boomerang kids, conducted by Melbourne University and published in the journal Maturitashighlighted some of the other issues families face when kids - and sometimes grandkids - move home.

"Many parents talk about the lack of privacy and the impact on their social lives, particularly if the returned son or daughter has kids of their own," co-author, Associate Professor Szoeke told Pursuit. 

Finances are also a source of frustration for some baby boomers who find that their kids simply don't make a contribution. 

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"Even when children do make financial contributions, the parents remain out of pocket," said co-author Ms Burn."This can often cause resentment and conflict. After all, there goes the caravan for retirement or that long-awaited European holiday."

So what can families do?

Parents need to lay ground rules at the very beginning of the arrangement, said Associate Professor Szoeke

"So it's a case of saying, 'OK, this is the situation we're in, what are your feelings and what are my feelings and how do we make it work?"