Nearly 25 percent of adults between ages 18 and 34—nearly 18 million—live with their parents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Adult children who return to living with their parents after a period of being on their own are referred to as “boomerang kids.”

Massive student loans, crippling credit card debt, divorce and a poor economy are just a few of the reasons propelling these grown children back home.

Moving back home can be stressful or embarrassing for an adult child—it can take a significant toll on parents as well. Many “empty nesters” are just beginning to enjoy their newfound freedom when an adult child returns home.

If you find yourself caught off guard by the return of a boomerang kid, here are some ways to help support your child, while keeping your sanity and boundaries intact …

  • Set a timeline for withdrawal
    Being able to provide a safe haven for a confused or financially-strained adult child is a wonderful thing—just make clear that the arrangement is temporary. The goal is to help your child get back on his feet and back on his own.
  • Define the rent from the beginning
    Establish a monthly rent with your child from day one. You don’t have to charge much, but establishing even a nominal rent fee—say $50—can keep your child from taking the situation for granted. If your child truly can’t afford anything, set an alternative rent—mowing the lawn, doing specific home repairs, etc.
  • Establish ground rules and responsibilities
    Aside from any “rent” paid out in labor, outline your expectations for more routine household chores—dishes, laundry, etc. Don’t be lured back into the old habit of shouldering all of the housework—your child is grown up now and capable of contributing. Be sure to discuss up front any other house rules (e.g., curfew) that may have been in effect when your child was a teenager but which your child may balk at now.
  • Respect your child’s privacy
    Life “on the outside” has conditioned your child to expect certain freedoms. Your child may be living in your home, but she is still an adult. Don’t snoop through her things; respect her right to make her own decisions. Don’t delve into your child’s love life unless he or she chooses to share with you or brings someone into your home. If your son or daughter does bring partner(s) into your home, establish what is and isn’t acceptable. While she is an adult, she is living under your roof. Inviting guests (especially overnight ones) into the home impacts everyone living in the house.
  • Map out what mealtimes will look like
    Do you have visions of long, meaningful conversations with your child every night over a sit-down dinner? That may not be realistic for your child’s new lifestyle … or yours. Set a reasonable schedule for any shared meals, as well as who will cook—and when.
  • Understand your child’s emotional state
    Your child may derive a sense of security from being home again, but he or she is likely facing a range of less-positive emotions as well. If the move home was prompted by necessity, your child may feel a sense of failure or embarrassment. He or she may feel anxious, confused or without a clear sense of direction. Be sensitive to these emotions and don’t take it too personally if they lash out a little.
  • Address Root Issues
    Make sure your child gets the help he or she needs to cope with any underlying issues responsible for the current situation—whether financial, emotional, or otherwise. You can always provide some parental wisdom and guidance, but for deep-rooted problems, your child may need professional assistance. As tempting as it may be to act as the sole expert/counselor to your child, this can create unhealthy dependency issues for both you and your child.
  • Maintain your “grown up” identity and existence
    Yes, it feels good to be needed again. Your self-esteem, however, should never stem exclusively from being a parent. Maintaining your own social life, hobbies and activities can prevent you from feeling resentful about the situation—and from putting a guilt trip on your son or daughter.
  • Enjoy your time together
    Having a grown child live with you can be an imposition, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with your child. You may not be able to right every childhood wrong or recapture missed opportunities, but you can enjoy connecting with your child in this new stage of life.

So if you have an adult child in real need, roll out the welcome mat … just don’t become a doormat.

Your stressed, wounded or vulnerable child may benefit from a little time back in the “nest.” After they have been given some time to recuperate, however, they may need a little nudging back into the real world. As a parent, preparing your child to leave the nest is one of the most important gifts you can give.