Dear Mr. Dad: I have a 20-year-old son who has been living on his own for several years. But he’s hit a few rough patches lately, and now wants to move back home. My wife and I want to do the right thing and help him, but we’re afraid that letting him move back in with us could turn out to be the wrong thing in the end—for everyone. Is it wrong of us to want our son to stay on his own?

A: Well, first of all, congratulations. You raised your son right: he went to school, got a job, and started making a life for himself. So it’s only natural that you’d assumed that you and your wife would have your house to yourselves. But times are much, much different than when you were your son’s age. According to a recent survey by, only 4 percent of Baby Boomers were living at home after having started their careers. Eleven percent of Gen X (those born between 1961 and 1981) got their first jobs but kept living (or moved back in with) ma and pa. And 28 percent of Gen Y (those born after 1982) are still under their parents’ roof. It’s no wonder that your son’s generation is sometimes called the Boomerang Generation.

A large contributor to the epidemic of young adults scurrying back to the nest (or never leaving it at all) is economics: a good half of college grads these days are either unemployed or underemployed. Throw in the crushing student load debt that so many students have and you’ve got the perfect recipe for lack of independence.

As far as whether you’re right or wrong to let your son move back home, that’s something only you and your wife can say for sure. A lot of it has to do with why he’s not making it on his own. Did he lose his job and just needs a place to crash while he looks for work? Or is there a more serious reason, say drug abuse, alcoholism, or divorce. Once you know what’s driving his request, you’ll have a much better shot at assessing whether to allow him to come home at all, and, if so, for how long and under what circumstances.

That said, if you’re like most parents, barring any truly crazy scenarios, you’re going to say “okay.” That’s fine, but before he unpacks his bags, the three of you, need to agree on some ground rules. Things can’t go back to the way they were when he was a teenager. There are a number of broad categories you’ll want to cover.

First, he should make some kind of financial contribution. That could range from occasionally buying groceries and putting gas in the car to paying recurring bills or even actual rent.
Second, division of labor. Your son should do his own laundry, prepare some meals, keep his room clean, and help out with basic household chores, like vacuuming, food shopping (even if he’s buying the groceries with your credit card), and making sure your home wireless network functions properly and your social media profiles are up to date.

Third, other expectations. For example, is it okay with you if his girlfriend spends the night? Several nights? And how long does he think he’ll need to stay with you? If he’s looking for work, that is his full-time occupation, which means sending out resumes every day, going to industry conferences and networking events, and browsing LinkedIn job listings.