It’s not news to anyone—the economy is as bad as it’s been in decades, jobs are being cut right and left, and even bright-eyed young folks with their bachelor degrees clutched in their hands are finding it hard to find work. So hard, in fact, that many are returning home. So what’s a parent to do when an adult child comes home again? Some families find this situation completely comfortable, but if you are part of one of those, you probably wouldn’t be reading this essay. For those of us who enjoyed having the house stay clean, or are uncomfortable with what sorts of rules to impose on an adult child, or having trouble talking to our children about monetary issues such as rent and grocery bills, here are some suggestions to make the situation as tolerable as possible while it lasts, and also to help last for as short a time as a possible. The keys to this goal are to set firm and clear rules, charge at least a token amount of rent, and keep your sense of humor.
First and foremost, try to keep one jump ahead with your conversations with your child. Don’t leave the ‘I will expect you to pay rent, obey rules and do chores’ conversation until after your child has moved in. It may create a lot of resentment, but not quite enough to get your child to move out. While it would be unreasonable to expect your adult child to have the exact same set of rules she had when she was in high school, before leaving for college, it is reasonable to have some rules—this is not your child’s own apartment or house, it is your house, and you pay the rent every month, so you call the shots. Things you should agree on ahead of time are: curfew-- can you sleep if you know your child is still out at 2am? If not, it is reasonable to require she come home earlier. Chores—consider what chores your child did before moving out, then add a few—after all, your child is probably unemployed now, whereas before he was going to school. Reasonable chores are: doing dishes, preparing meals, cleaning her own room, vacuuming the house, cleaning the bathroom he uses most often, doing the grocery shopping, etc. It is wise to formulate some sort of contract with your child that spells out what is expected of him, and what the consequences will be if expectations are not met. If you feel your only recourse when chores are not done is to nag, you will drive yourself (and your child) crazy. Consider a ‘three strikes you move out’ type policy.
Charge some sort of rent—everyone can find some work, even if it is only babysitting a couple nights a week, or mowing a lawn, or recycling cans and bottles for the deposit. Requiring this money is both good training for the Real World, where free places to stay are few and far between, and also a help to ensure that your child will be motivated to find a way to move out as soon as possible. Be sure and do something nice for yourself with that money—sock it away for your own retirement, take yourself out to dinner once in a while—whatever makes you feel more ‘taken care of’ as compensation for taking extra care of your child.
Lastly, keep your sense of humor—barring some huge barrier to finding work, such as a drug problem, or mental health issues, your child will eventually find work, and if you have been firm with the expectations and are charging rent, it is almost guaranteed your child would prefer to be on his own rather still at home following your rules. Remember that your child is an adult now, so you needn’t stick around the house to keep an eye on him—make sure you get out and socialize with your friends—having fun is a great way to keep your spirits up and your stress down during this time. If at all possible, find another parent in the same situation. Chances are you will have a great time swapping ‘Let me tell you what my child did….’ Stories.