Most American teenagers dream about growing up and moving out of their childhood home after high school, eager to experience the fun and excitement of adult independence.
The reality, though, can be quite different. Twenty-first century challenges, including high student debt and housing costs, brought one in four young adults home to live again with their parents. Today’s COVID-19 pandemic, accompanied by social quarantine, university closures and high unemployment means that even more young adults are living again with their parents.
Having the kids under your roof again can be a great thing for family closeness and mutual support. It can also be very challenging. Both parents and newly adult children struggle to find a comfortable balance between interdependence and independence. The old, familiar roles of parent and child feel wrong – like “an old, cozy sweater that is now too small and itchy,” one 20-year-old told me. What is needed, then, are new roles and expectations. But what are those, and how will they work?
Young adults returning – often reluctantly – to live at home again can create numerous friction points between parents and kids unless steps are taken to rearrange old routines and roles. Even the high school graduates who went away just last year are not the same people they were when they left. Recognizing and making adjustments for these changes will help everyone find new ways to live harmoniously and helpfully together during these stressful times.
Here are some suggestions to help you and your young adult kids figure out how to live companionably together under the same roof:
- This may seem obvious, but it’s very important to remember that your adult children are not actually children anymore. Treating them like children will unconsciously prompt them to act immaturely. Making the effort to deal with your kids as fellow adults will help you – and them – build more equitable partnerships as members of the same household. You will benefit because you’ll avoid the resentment that naturally flows from taking care of people who can take care of themselves. Your kids will also benefit from feeling respected as people who can be counted on to do their share – which will encourage them to step up and do just that.
- Working all of this out together means that you’ll probably want to invite everyone to a family meeting. Both young and old are more cooperative and generous when they have a voice in the decision-making process. Inviting all family members to join in discussing a plan for household jobs is a good place to start.
- Other important matters to work out between parents and kids are boundaries and expectations. Boundaries cover such basics as respecting each other’s privacy with, for example, agreements about “not going into someone’s room when they aren’t there.” Expectations are about the big and little logistics of day-to-day life. What are the household “quiet hours” when some are asleep and others are awake? What are the standards for tidiness in household common areas? What time are the family meals, who is willing to cook, who is expected to join and who will clean up? You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that your adult children have a much better sense about the importance of making and respecting agreements like these, after living with roommates outside the family!
- Respect for our young adult children also extends to how we offer them our opinions, suggestions, criticism and judgment. What you may think of as “just being helpful” and “friendly advice” will probably sound like unasked for – and unwanted – criticism and judgment to your adult child.
Parents of teenagers learn that it’s always wise to wait until your child asks for advice before offering it. The same wisdom holds true for our adult children as well. While young people often look to their parents for good ideas and helpful advice, they always prefer to ask for it first. Sometimes, of course, a parent will see a child heading in the wrong direction and want to offer a warning. Even then, it makes all the difference in the way your child hears you if you first say, “I have a suggestion to make, would you like to hear it?” before continuing.
Your adult kids may seem supremely confident and sure of themselves or they may seem very worried and unsure of themselves. Whether confident, cautious or somewhere-in-between, all young adults care about their parent’s opinions and feelings toward them. Now is the time to be especially generous in letting your grown-up children know that you believe in them and that you have confidence that they have what it takes to deal with life’s good times and hard times.
Of course, your big kids don’t have much experience yet. And sure, there is still a lot for them to learn. Yet they have already made it this far. As the one who knows their personal histories even better than they do, you can encourage them by remembering the hard times they have already weathered and the challenges they have overcome so far.
Young adults must work very hard to meet the challenges of adulthood and today’s problems only make this more difficult. While we cannot shoulder these challenges for them, we can help our kids by giving them something even more precious: letting them know that we have faith in them. The idea of parents giving children their “blessing” is an ancient tradition, one that is rooted in parents’ desires to wish their children well and children’s desires to know that their parents think well of them. When we want to encourage our adult children to have faith in themselves, we give them the gift of our “blessing” by expressing our faith in them. The knowledge that their parents believe in them helps young adults take heart and make their own leaps of faith.
Six months ago no one anticipated that we would be in this situation. Whether you’re a longtime PEP parent or new to our organization, PEP has the strategies to help you navigate these uncharted waters. Find inspiration and support through one of our online Master Classes, Encouragement! Building Your Child’s Confidence from the Inside Out or Redefining Discipline: A No Gimmicks Guide to Raising Responsible, Respectful Kids − you’ll be glad you did!
This article originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of Washington Parent Magazine and is reprinted with permission.