The Third Third

When the Kids Move Back Home

Kids come home for a variety of reasons: for short visits, for holidays, for refueling between school and jobs, and for longer stays to save money or because they are down on their luck. Each of these events requires the parent and the adult child to redefine their dynamic. Often the reunions are fraught with anxiety. Nobody knows which of the old dramas will be played out or whether the family members will be able to learn new roles. Even the most independent adult child will often fall back into old roles—one minute relying on others to do what they do for themselves when living independently, and the next moment being totally self-sufficient. On the flip side, the parents, whether out of love or habit, often automatically revert totheir parental ways, for example, nagging an adult child to do something, when the adult child is responsible and mature enough (or, should be!) to follow through without reminders. For the adult child who lives at home, command-and-control parenting doesn’t work. To avoid years of familial history coloring everyone’s behavior and to avoid being viewed as intrusive, make clear your expectations. If you need space, if you hate clutter, if you are uncomfortable with the expense of having an extra person in the house, sit down together and discuss these things openly with your adult child. After all, you may have filled the void created by their child’s absence with others, or with activities, or with time for your self. Tell what you expect and invite your returning child to do the same. Working out the practical details of domestic life can be touchy, but is usually far less controversial than tackling larger lifestyle differences. You must talk about these too. What kinds of activities are allowed in your house and what kinds are not. Be clear, but be willing to listen to what your child says.You will thus learn our children’s social environment bears little resemblance to the circumstances we parents confronted when we were young. Remember not all conversations will go well, but even a thorny conversation clears up ambiguities. Parents and children need to talk early and often and determine together all the terms for staying. We are, however, still parents and we never completely relinquish our desire to help our children. Parents can never be sure if they are helping a child over a difficult hump—something we all want to do for friends and family—or if they are enabling their children to regress and avoid responsibility. We can only take our best guess. And we need to remember that sometimes we cannot solve our children’s problems. When families reunite they need to talk, compromise, and find ways to enjoy each other just as one does in other living situations in which individuals share space. All roommates have problems that need to be resolved. Now that our children are adults, we are more like roommates. We need to resolve our differences. We can no longer assume we are the rule makers or that we all still agree on the former, familiar ways of living together. Questions: _ How do you and your child prepare for reentry? _ What are the contentious issues around your holidays? Make plans to mitigate them. _ What issues around space or cleanliness in the home do you have with your children? How can you lessen them? _ What are some of the issues that caused friction during childhood that might flare up again? _ What cultural values of the new spouses or newly acquired experiences of the children might jar with old family values? Excerpted from the book *Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships With Your Adult Children* by Ruth Nemzoff. Copyright © 2008 by the author and reprinted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan, a division of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.
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