"Alone at last!" you and your spouse exclaimed when the last of your kids flew the coop to take on such formerly alien concepts as rent, utility bills and car payments. But wait. Who's that familiar face coming up the walk with suitcases in hand? It's your grown progeny!
These days, many so-called "empty nesters" now find themselves with at least one grown child living at home. Some pundits refer to these adult children as the "boomerang" generation. Whatever you label them, they're returning home in record numbers. Some come back hoping to save money for school. Others return so they can take time to search for the perfect job. Still others may have personal problems and need a refuge.
If you and your spouse find yourselves hosting kids you thought were launched, there are practical steps you and your child can take to minimize conflict and maximize the opportunity to strengthen family bonds. Before any move-in takes place, have a family powwow to discuss mutual expectations and establish house rules. Do this as early as possible to help prevent misunderstandings and friction later on.
If you don't approve of overnight guests, blaring stereos, bad language, questionable religious practices, the use of drugs or alcohol, etc., then make those expectations clear before your son or daughter moves in. Depending on the child and the circumstances, you might want to draft a brief "contract" naming the conditions that must be met in order to live under your roof. Have your son or daughter indicate by signature that they agree to your terms. Inform them (lovingly) that if the rules are broken, eviction may follow.
Ask questions. How long does your son or daughter envision staying with you? What would you both consider reasonable rent? If rent is not an issue, how will he/she contribute to the cost of food and household expenses? What chores will they be expected to carry out? The rules for your grownup kids will be different than when you were rearing them.
Generally speaking, curfews aren't appropriate for an adult. As long as your grown child acts responsibly (holding a job, contributing financially or helping with meal preparation and household chores), he deserves the same liberty to come and go as any adult. Respect his personal boundaries and preferences.
Of course, some situations are more complicated. You don't want to enable a grown child who's looking to avoid adult responsibilities. If your daughter seems a little too comfortable at home, setting a move-out deadline (and sticking to it) may be necessary. Knowing the clock is ticking at the "Mom and Pop Hotel" may be just the motivation she needs to get serious in her job search.
What about an adult child with more serious problems? If your son or daughter shows symptoms of mental or emotional illness, is doing drugs or shows signs of an addiction, intervention may be the only option. Don't be afraid to seek help from a qualified Christian counselor, mental health agency or other trained professional.
Generally speaking, most kids are just looking for a temporary retreat while figuring out their next step. If you want to maintain a healthy relationship with your adult child, consider these tips:
- Trust your adult children to make wise choices, even if they sometimes don't. They'll eventually figure things out. After all, didn't you learn much the same way?
- Squelch the impulse to give advice unless it's asked for. That's easier to do when your kids are out of your radar range, but when they're sleeping just down the hall, self-censorship can be more difficult. You don't want to sound like a nagging broken record of "You shouldn't have" and "Why didn't you?"
- Communication is key. Set a regular time to discuss issues, clarify expectations, or simply clear the air. Pray together regularly.
- Practice grace — everyone. We all have bad days. Three or more adults living in one house is a challenge whether you're related or not. Give each other some space!
We all need a refuge from time to time in our lives. Your kids should know that home is a safe, accepting place to land when they need to regroup. Be thankful that your kids like you enough to want to come home. Your dream of an empty nest can wait a bit longer. Besides, you may actually enjoy this chance to relate to your children as grownups — just like you.