Sometimes it’s the unexpected things that are the hardest to handle.
Most parents expect that once their children have been raised and are young adults, the family will smoothly transition into the “empty nest” stage. The kids will be living on their own — away at college, working, living with roommates, eventually getting married and starting families of their own — and the parents will enjoy some well-earned freedom, and everyone will live happily ever after.
Reality can come as a bit of a surprise.
The truth is that most families don’t move seamlessly from their youngest child’s graduation from high school straight into the empty nest. A recent analysis by the Pew Research Center found that in 2014, 32% of adults aged 18-32 were living in their parents’ home.
Having your young adult children living in your house brings a unique set of parenting challenges. How do we navigate this unexpected stage of life? What can we do as parents to ease the stress of our kids moving back into our home? How can we have good relationships with our young adult children even when they’re living in our house?
1) Be Compassionate
For most young adults, living with their parents is not their first choice. Maybe your daughter is finding it harder to get a job than she thought it would be. Maybe your son just went through a painful divorce and needs a place to stay for a while. Maybe the economy has made it hard for your married daughter and her husband to afford a home, and they’ve asked to live with you while they save for a down payment.
When it’s difficult sharing your home with your young adult children, remind yourself that it’s probably difficult for them too, that it’s probably not what they had hoped for. Get in touch with a sense of compassion, express your empathy and support. It will mean a lot to them.
2) Be a Consultant
My husband and I see our roles as parents in four stages: Caregiver, Manager, Coach, and then Consultant. When our children are young adults, it’s time to stop coaching them and step into the role of a consultant.
A consultant doesn’t offer advice unless it’s asked for. Consultants earn their position by their wisdom and experience. Your young adult children ask for your input when they know that you care about them and understand them, and when they value your perspective.
In order to stay in your consultant role when your young adult children are living in your home, have a conversation with your kids. Let them know that at this stage in life, you respect their right to make their own decisions. Tell them that you are available and willing to help, but will do your best to wait until asked.
Then don’t offer unsolicited advice on how to get a job or how to treat a girlfriend. Give your children space to truly become adults. Let them manage their own lives.
Stepping into the consultant role — and staying there — is far more difficult when your adult children are living in your house. This is partly because in addition to being their parent, you are also now their landlord and their roommate. Which bring us to the next point…
3) Clarify Boundaries
In order to minimize conflicts with your young adult children who are living in your home, it’s crucial to discuss expectations. Good roommate relationships and good landlord-tenant relationships require clear boundaries. At a minimum, you’ll want to address the following topics:
- Chores. Who is responsible for what? Cover areas such as purchasing food, meal preparation, housecleaning, yard work, laundry and repairs. Make expectations explicit in order to avoid frustration and resentment.
- Shared Spaces. Clarify what their space is and whether they’re allowed to keep it how they want it or not. Discuss expectations about them inviting people over. Good roommates are sensitive to the needs of others in the home.
- Rent. Do you expect your son or daughter to pay rent or a portion of the utilities bills? Clarify the amount, the due date, and the consequences for missed payments.
- Schedules. Discuss with your children their schedules, and to what degree you’d like to be kept informed of where they’ll be or what time they’ll be home. But remember, you are not in charge of their schedule — they are.
- Time Frame. If you have college students who move back home for the summer, then the duration of their stay is clear. But when the stay is indefinite, such as until they find a job, make sure that you clarify expectations. It’s generally helpful to agree to a set duration such as three months or six months, and then re-evaluate the arrangement together.
No parent wants to have their adult son or daughter living in their home rent free while playing video games ten hours a day. Clear boundaries help us not to fall into the trap of enabling our child’s irresponsibility. That frees us to be generous and supportive in a truly helpful way.
Having your young adult child in your home gives you a wonderful opportunity to connect with your child. Take advantage of this chance to spend time with your children. Find activities you both enjoy, and make them a tradition, like going surfing together one morning a week or playing a favorite board game. Spend quality time together. Have deeper conversations; get to know your son or daughter as an adult.
This unexpected time of having your grown children living in your home doesn’t have to be a time of frustration and conflict. My wish for you is that it be a time of unexpected blessings, a time of connections, a time that you will one day look back on with gratitude.