HOW WILL YOU COPE WHEN YOUR ADULT CHILD MOVES BACK HOME?
Do You Wonder How Your Life Will Change When Your Adult Child Announces They Are Moving Back Home, After You Thought They Were Gone For Good? You Are Not Alone In Feeling Conflicted About This Unexpected Turn Of Events
Some kids can’t wait to get out of their parents’ homes and start life on their own. They want to be grown-ups, make their own decisions and experience freedom. Other kids leave home as planned, and then find themselves returning home as “boomerang kids” – no one expected to see them settling back into the nest. This group of young people includes approximately one in three Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 according to data from the U.S. 2020 Census. In July 2020, 52% of young adults in the US resided with one or both of their parents, according to a Pew Research Center analysis – the highest percentage the United States has seen since the end of the Great Depression, in 1940. Typically the reason these kids move back home is economic, and those financial pressures have increased since the pandemic.
While the reasons for the return home is commonly shared, how kids feel about moving back home varies. Some move home “temporarily”, which may or may not actually result in their departure in the near term. This may be a way to save face, particularly for the kids that may be embarrassed to be moving backwards. Some are more comfortable with the idea of living with their families and actively contribute in many ways to the household and care of family members.
For parents, it’s a mixed blessing. I spent years raising my son to be independent and self-sufficient. I wanted him to achieve successful adulthood, get out in the world and make his way. At the same time, I enjoyed being needed (in the way only a child can need a parent) and relished the specialness of our relationship. He was slow to move out and leave the safety of our nest. But he did eventually stretch his wings and fly away. I felt proud, relieved, and sad. After several years I adjusted to the emptiness left by his departure and began to enjoy the benefits of not having him live at home anymore. I no longer worried about what time he would come home, and I loved having a cleaner house, without all his stuff.
And then, he announced he was changing careers and needed to pay for a training program. He needed to lower his living expenses and work to cover the cost of the training program. That solution translated into moving home and finding a job while in the program. Honestly, part of me was happy to have him back (my sous chef will help again!), and another part was loathe to give up peace and quiet, to say nothing of how his room had become my office.
Privacy and Schedule
Expectations abound. Parents may feel they should get to spend more (or less) time with their returned prodigal child than what really occurs. Sharing space, food, and activities have to be renegotiated. Privacy, once given up almost entirely, now re-won with the departure of children, is once again under question. Privacy is also needed and expected by the adult child.
Even in families that don’t typically establish rules, it’s a good idea to spell everything out. Once everyone has clearly communicated their needs, then the give-and-take discussions can happen. Respect is key and it goes both ways. It’s a little like living with college roommates where problems that go unaddressed can build up and burst. Speaking up in a non-confrontational way sooner rather than later can dispel and prevent major issues. A good example is whether the adult child is expected to pay rent, contribute to household costs and cleaning. There are no rules, as each family has to deal with these questions in their own way. The point is that they have to be dealt with, or issues may arise.
One of the more subtle changes this brings is how the dynamic between mother, son and father/husband works. When we were raising children full time it was clear that most everything we did was for the benefit of the children. The juggling of kid-related care, running the household and working (for money and satisfaction) was towards the ultimate goal of their successful launch. Once they were gone, there was a return to just being a married couple. Daily life got much simpler. As a mother, I felt a strong longing for them, missing being involved with them in a regular way. It was a bittersweet time, happy they’d moved on and out, and looking forward to any contact. It was easy to forget annoyances, times of tension. When they’d visit they were royalty, and I’d become the mother bear all over again. The only problem was that if there was an issue I’d automatically side with my son vs. my husband. I sensed this was not so good for my marriage, yet the pull of motherhood was so strong I couldn’t help myself. In our family, my son and I share more in common than he does with his father, so when he’d visit we would spend more time together than the three of us would. Occasionally my husband may have felt left out. Typically, visits were short enough that we got through any tension quickly.
But when the visit turns into regular life, it can be a different story. The subtle change on my son’s face when I say something, the way my husband ignores what one of us has just said, the perceived slights or frustrations, have a way of altering the mood in the household. Paying attention to the cues is the first step to minimizing upset feelings. Taking extra care to use a tone of voice that isn’t accusatory also smooths wrinkles. And of course, humor is our best friend! It has always been the best way to talk to my son. Thankfully, we find things to laugh about together.
How long will he live at home? At this point, I have no idea. I love having him home, though I hate having his stuff take up precious space in our small house. Yet I hope he is ready to leave again at some point in the not-too-distant-future, for his sake. Once again, I will miss him and I will adjust, as long as he is moving his life forward and seems relatively happy. I’ll have to focus on the joys of getting his stuff out of the house and try not to miss him all over again.