How to Handle Living with the 'Rents

More young adults are moving back in with their parents.

More young adults are moving back in with their parents
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Dear Millenials,

Don't feel bad if you're living at your parents' house. Turns out, you're normal.

Some 21.6 million millenials – or 36 percent of Americans ages 18 to 31 – lived at their parents' residence in 2012, according to an analysis of census data released this month by the Pew Research Center. That's the highest rate in 40 years and "represents a slow but steady increase" in recent years, Pew reports. In 2007, before the Great Recession, this figure stood at 32 percent; in 2009, with the recovery underway, it had risen to 34 percent.

The new socioeconomic landscape owes to fewer jobs, declining marriage rates and increased college enrollment, Pew states, noting that the data includes college students living in dorms during the school year.

As Americans transition with this transition, new viewpoints are emerging about young adulthood. "There used to be this huge stigma about returning home, and people – friends, neighbors, relatives – would say, 'What's wrong with this child?' or 'What did these parents do wrong?'" says social psychologist Susan Newman, author of "Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily." "That's really changed. The stigma has disappeared."

[Read: What do Happy Families Know That You Don't.]

As a senior economist at Pew Research Center, Richard Fry, who authored the study, framed his report in financial terms – "an indicator that economic conditions remain sufficiently weak among the nation's young adults, that they don't have the economic self-sufficiency to move out on their own." From a psychological perspective, however, it may not be a problem. Fry references a 2012 Pew report, entitled "The Boomerang Generation," which found 78 percent of 25 to 34 year olds who live at their parents' homes felt satisfied with the arrangement.

In some cases, the return home can help serve a young adult psychologically and financially.

"I don't think there's a cause for great hand-wringing," says Joshua Coleman, a San Francisco-based psychologist and co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families at the University of Miami. The situation only becomes problematic, he says, if it stunts growth or breeds resentment, harming the relationship between parent and child.

Attitudes on the subject vary by age, gender, region and whether someone is or isn't a parent, according to a survey of more than 2,000 Americans released last week by Coldwell Banker Real Estate and New York City-based psychotherapist Robi Ludwig. More lenience comes from younger parents (between ages 18 to 34), who approve of adult children living at their parents' home for up to six years, while older parents (ages 55 and older) cap adult children's stay at four years after graduating college.

In any intergenerational living situation, of course, the particular roles and issues depend on the individuals involved. But ultimately, the goal should be the same, experts say: to coax the adult child toward independence and free up the parents for their next stage in life.

"The best possible situation is one in which the parents and the adult children can continue to grow, develop and thrive," Ludwig wrote in an e-mail. "For this to happen, parents and young adults should work to establish and enforce expectations ... At the end of the day, the economy may be a reason to move home temporarily, but we can't let the economy get in the way of living an adult life. The things we do, and the lessons we learn in our 20s influence the opportunities we have both professionally and personally, so we don't want to waste them."

[Read: Lena Dunham's Girls: The Raw Truth About Twentysomethings.]

When children do move back in, experts advise that both parties agree to certain ground rules. And that's not easy for a recent college grad, who may have let tidiness slip behind making grades and attending parties and isn't used to reporting on her whereabouts. But if parents want a heads-up to know when their child will be home or decide against romantic sleepovers, that's their prerogative.