A close friend recently told me her son was moving back home after a few years on his own. Being a blended family, they’re balancing younger kids in the house as well. She hesitantly admitted that as happy as she was to welcome her son back under her roof, the situation was adding significant stress to her marriage.
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The conversation really made me think. While it’s often nice to have the kids back home, boomerang children also present new and interesting challenges.
How do we respect and establish their autonomy as adults while still enforcing our own space and house rules? How do we maintain our relationship with our spouse and continue to attend to the needs of our other children?
It appears that finding balance when you’re dealing with “boomerang kids” is a real juggling act. After all, when kids move out as young adults, we often expect it’s the last time they’ll be living under our roof.
We might imagine what we’re going to do with the spare room or where we might go on a “just the two of us” vacation—plus, we think of how while we’ll fare through our bittersweet empty-nest coping strategies. But, as young adults struggle to find work post-high school or college, knocking on Mom and Dad’s door is more and more commonplace.
The good news is, with a little strategy and shift in mindset, both parties can come together to make the new living arrangement work. Here’s how to deal when the kids move back home.
1. Be Clear About House Rules
They say good fences make good neighbors. Establishing proper boundaries and clear house rules will help to create an agreeable and pleasant living experience for everyone. Keep in mind, it’s your house. While you can no longer set forth rules to “protect” and parent your adult child (they are adults after all), you can certainly set rules about what you do or don’t want to happen in your home.
This may mean no overnight guests, drinking or late-night get-togethers. The rules are on your terms as the homeowner. (But keep in mind, your adult child should be respected to make her own choices and empowered to care for herself, too.) Focus on setting rules that are reasonable and clear.
It feels a little strange to write out rules, but it can also help to clear up any ambiguity and future misunderstandings. Lay out expectations right away, rather than implementing rules after an issue has arisen. Establish boundaries about food, noise, visitors and any other areas where you foresee conflict may crop up.
2. Ask Them to Contribute in Some Way
Moving back home is an extremely humbling experience. Your adult child may be struggling with feelings of failure, inadequacy and frustration. While asking them to contribute to the household may feel harsh or like adding insult to injury, it actually helps your young adult find empowerment and independence.
Their contribution can be more symbolic than monetary (especially if they’re financially struggling right now). It’s perfectly acceptable to ask your child to contribute by doing household chores, helping to prepare meals or serving the family in some other way.
As your child gets back on his or her feet, let them know you would like them to contribute to their living expenses—even if you tuck their contribution away as a nest egg for them to use when they’re ready to strike out on their own again. This will help ease the shock when they’re back in the “real world” and need to pay rent on a deadline.
3. Give Them (and Yourself) Space
If your son or daughter has lived out of state or been away at school for a while, it’s tempting to want to soak in as much “mom time” as possible. But, keep in mind, if your kid has been on their own for a while, chances are they’re used to their independence. You’re also probably used to having your space, too.
You may feel the need to care for your kids and nurture them. It’s tough to stay out of their room, leave their dishes in the sink or clothes in the washer. Falling into old patterns is easy, but resist!
It’s important you view each other as roommates. You wouldn’t do your roommate’s laundry or vacuum their living space. As adults we all need our privacy and autonomy. Similarly, your child shouldn’t help themselves to your clothes, toiletries, food or other personal items (unless you’ve already established it’s ok under your house rules). Establish your own space, too.
4. Keep Up Your Social Calendar
When your nest emptied out, chances are you went through a time where you tried to fill the void with activities and social connections. You may have joined a book club, started a part-time job, volunteered or taken classes.
If your adult child moves back home, don’t let your new social connections slide. The living arrangements with your son or daughter are most likely temporary, so keeping your social life vibrant and strong will help ease a second case of empty-nest syndrome down the road.
Plus, having your own social life and connections helps you forge an identity of your own. You’re an adult with friends and a network of interesting people (as is your child). Maintain your friendships and social plans just as you did when your child was out of the house.
5. Lower Expectations for Family Time
Family time might not look the exactly same as it used to. Participating in planned activities and obligations may be a little overwhelming for a young adult who is already feeling dis-empowered. Even if you’d like your son or daughter to participate in a family get-together or evening at home, respect their space and schedule.
If you have younger kids at home, keep in mind that your adult son or daughter has been living away from kids for a while. They may feel easily irritated with needy younger siblings or they may forget younger kids aren’t the same as “college friends.”
Encourage younger siblings to respect their older brother or sister’s boundaries. They shouldn’t venture into their room unannounced, or borrow their clothes or belongings. Be aware your younger child might go through growing pains too. If your adult child has been out of the house for a while, the family dynamic can really change when you add them back in. So spend some special one-on-one time with your younger kids too.
6. Accept that You’re All Adults
One of the best mindsets to adopt to remember that you’re all adults. As moms, it’s very tough to resist the urge to help your son or daughter, share unsolicited advice or jump in and rescue them.
Of course, you care for them and love them, but shift your mindset to realize they’re now their own person. They’re responsible for their own lives and decisions. If a 22-year-old doesn’t feel like brushing his teeth, well, then he’s the one who’s going to live with cavities.
Some kids may fall back into patterns from their teenage years. You may suddenly feel like you’re living with a moody 14-year-old or be reminded of the struggles you went through during their adolescence. Remind them that while you’re still their loving mom, you aren’t in charge of rescuing them or parenting them any longer. Encourage their independence and personal growth as well.
7. Set up a Time Frame and Plan
Some parents I’ve talked to, say the hardest aspect of boomerang kids is not seeing a “light at the end of the tunnel.” Sometimes when kids move back home their job prospects and future may seem grim. They may be struggling and it’s tough to say, “So, how long do you think you’ll stay?”
We all want to keep our doors open to our kids if they need us. But setting up a clear time frame at the beginning can really help encourage your child to rediscover his or her adulthood. Even if the timeline must be revisited down the road, set a realistic and clear expectation at the start.
For example, six months is often a good amount of time for your adult child to get back on his or her feet. Of course, every situation is unique and after six months they may still be struggling (in which case, discuss six more months and so on). The idea is to set a marker to aim for. This will help them establish a plan and view the situation as temporary.
8. Focus on Your Spouse
As moms, we often dote on our kids. We love spending time with them and being there for them. Many of the boomerang couples I’ve spoken to report they felt a little distance from their spouse when their adult child moved back home, especially if the nest was previously empty.
When you and your spouse have the house all to yourselves, you might experience a return to the honeymoon years. No longer do you need to worry about when the kids need a ride, what they want for dinner or how to coordinate weekend plans. Your time is all your own. It can even be a little bit romantic!
Your adult child moves back in and suddenly your time is once again divided. It’s important to keep your spouse as your priority and focus. Not only will this help you keep a healthy boundary established between your adult child, but it will also keep your marriage healthy and strong. Keep up your date nights. Enjoy time with your hubby!
9. Share Your Financial Situation
We often shield our teens from financial worries. We don’t want to burden our kids with talk of bills and money. While it’s important to teach your kids about finances early, you may find there are areas where your adult child is a little clueless.
When it comes to “adulting” and finances, one of the best ways to help is by being a strong example. Share your struggles and financial plans with your adult kids. You don’t need to be 100% transparent, but if you share your budget and the costs associated with your new resident, they’ll feel better prepared when they’re fully responsible for their own finances.
If you notice an increase in your water or electric bill once your adult child moves home, let them know about it. It’s not because you want them to feel guilty, but simply so they can better understand how their lifestyle and behavior effects the household budget. When they move into their own place they’ll be prepared.
10. Be Sympathetic
Moving home as an adult is hard! It requires swallowing a lot of pride. Your child might feel like a failure, a burden, or inadequate. They may struggle with mental health issues and face challenges as they work through their feelings about being back under the roof.
When we move out on our own, the world is full of possibility. Most young adults embrace their independence and love being masters of their own destiny. Imagine then, letting go of your freedom and independence because of a mistake or due to circumstances beyond your control. Pretty brutal, right?
Remember to operate from a place of sympathy and love. You may feel frustrated and irritated with your child sometimes, but ultimately, it’s a blessing when we can help our children at any age. We all want to be there for our kids, even when they grow up.
Boomerang parenting is tough, but it can be accomplished from a place of dignity and grace. Establish boundaries, respect the adulthood of your son or daughter and embrace your own identity and independence.
Keep in mind, the situation is often temporary. So once you get past this roadblock, you’ll move forward with a relationship and connection that’s even stronger!