Having grown-up kids living at home can be nice, but without proper communication, conflict can easily arise. Here’s how to navigate the situation.

If your adult children are living at home, you’re part of a growing crowd.

About 1 in 3 Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 live with their parents, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2021.

Adult children in the U.S. and around the world are increasingly staying in the family home for longer. Many are also returning to live with their parents after a period of living on their own due to changing economic circumstances, including the increasing cost of living.

If you’re cohabiting with your adult children, it’s typical to experience conflict around lifestyle and other factors, said Matt Lundquist, psychotherapist and founder of TriBeCa Therapy, a group practice in New York City.

Because your children are adults now, the rules you had when they were teenagers probably don’t apply anymore.

Lundquist said there’s no one right way of establishing family rules and expectations. “Think about what’s sustainable, what’s realistic, what’s going to really feel good down the line.”

Here are a few pointers you can use to make that happen.

Here’s how to navigate having your adult children living at home with you.

1. Talk ASAP

Meet up with your kids when you first start living together to discuss ground rules and expectations. It can be a group phone call or a discussion after dinner.

“Err on the side of talking sooner and more transparently and with greater clarity than most people think is necessary,” recommended Lundquist.

Here are a few questions to consider together:

  • Are we going to eat dinner together?
  • Who’s paying for food?
  • Is rent being paid in some form?
  • Are cars being shared? If so, how is gas paid for or filled up?
  • Who’s going to do the dishes?
  • How long are you going to live together?

Conflicts happen when you’re together for an extended period, no matter how well you work together. That’s why these discussions are key, even if everything seems fine right now.

2. Discuss potential future problems and solutions

It’s also a good idea to discuss ahead of time what might go wrong and how you’ll deal with it. Family conflicts are often about:

  • money
  • shared space
  • cleaning up
  • how often you’ll spend time together
  • how you’ll communicate
  • expectations around having a partner or a date in the home
  • use of drugs and alcohol at home

3. Be crystal clear

Make the rules specific. For example: “Every time we get takeout together, we’ll each pay for our share.”

Write down the parameters you agree upon and put them in an email or post them on the fridge so everyone can reference them. Doing this can help avoid confrontation down the line.

“The trouble I see in these kinds of conversations inevitably is when somebody was dropping hints, or raised [the issue] and then left the conversation thinking, ‘Oh, that went well,’ and then thinking, ‘Wait, was I misunderstood? Did you think I was talking about something else?’” said Lundquist.

4. Check in regularly and adjust as needed

Circumstances change, so it’s only natural that your expectations do, too.

Set a weekly or monthly check-in to reassess what’s going well and what needs to change.

For example, if the initial idea was that your adult child would be living with you until they found a job or a different living situation, then it’s important to talk with them if that isn’t happening. Having a set check-in date can help you start that conversation.

Family dynamics are the regular interactions between family members and the factors that affect them. They’re a major contributor to your feelings of relationship security and, on the flip side, your stress levels.

Here are some things to keep in mind.

Remember, you’re all adults now

When your adult child is living at home, it’s important to acknowledge that they’re not a child anymore. And that changes how you interact with them and what you can expect from them.

“It’s helpful when parents are able to show up to those conversations with curiosity, revisiting assumptions around things that used to be done a certain way,” said Lundquist.

Be prepared for old feelings and behavior to resurface

“Even 10 or 20 years later, old dynamics are going to come back — even if you’re in a different home, even if a lot has changed,” said Lundquist.

“The dynamics that existed that are the most influential dynamics are going to re-emerge, so be aware of that,” he said.

Know when to call it quits

“Those [old feelings] may sometimes be so overwhelming that the situation doesn’t work,” Lundquist said.

If you’re finding the situation is making you feel too stressed and isn’t turning out how you thought it would, it’s OK to stop living together.

Some people think of therapy “as some kind of ghastly last resort,” but the situation doesn’t need to be dire before you seek help from a therapist, Lundquist said.

Sometimes one or two family therapy sessions to deal with ordinary conflicts can help a great deal.

Another option is to bring in close, neutral family members or friends to witness your discussion.

Having your adult children living at home can be both rewarding and challenging. Communicating early and often and setting clear rules and expectations are great ways to ensure everyone’s on the same page.

And if you’re finding it’s not working for you, it’s OK to decide to stop living together.