It’s the day that many parents look forward to: the kids are finally leaving home, heading out into the world to spread their wings and fly. You’re happy that years of hard work have finally paid off in raising a responsible, functioning adult, but even more, you’re looking forward to reconnecting with your spouse. Raising kids takes time and attention after all, and unfortunately, your spouse and your marriage often take a back seat to their needs.
However, these days it’s not uncommon for kids to return a few years later — possibly with kids, a spouse or a mountain of debt. According to one report, almost 20 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 are living at home with their parents, more than any other generation in history. The poor job market, divorce and student loan debt are among the most cited reasons for this phenomenon; regardless of the reason, the result is the same: the household dynamic changes.
If it’s been a few years since Junior moved out, you and your spouse have probably settled into a routine. It’s possible that you have evenrekindled the spark in your marriage. The reappearance of your offspring could threaten the new lifestyle you’ve discovered, but it doesn’t have to. By setting ground rules and expectations before your child moves home, everyone can live harmoniously, and you can keep your marriage on solid ground.
Discuss Decisions With Your Spouse
Ideally, wait for your child to ask to move back in before rolling out the welcome mat. However, if you are going to extend an invitation, don’t do so until you’ve discussed it with your spouse. It’s important everyone is on the same page before gaining a new “roommate.”
Going forward, it’s also important to discuss any decisions regarding your adult child, especially financially-related decisions. You must put your financial future first, so agree ahead of time on how much, if any, financial support you will offer your child. Working together and presenting a united front will keep your relationship intact — and prevent unpleasant surprises down the road.
Set Boundaries and Rules
It’s easy for kids to move back home and expect to fall into their old routines. After all, Mom and Dad took care of them for the first 18 years. Why shouldn’t that continue? However, before your college-educated, unemployed child moves back in with certain ideas, discuss everyone’s expectations and set the ground rules before the moving van shows up. Remember, you are still the one paying the bills. Thus, it’s perfectly reasonable to set rules regarding visitors, communication, chores and even curfew.
At the same time, realize your son or daughter has come to enjoy a certain level of freedom and may have had to swallow some pride to come home. Respect your child’s space and privacy as you would expect them to respect yours. You don’t want to share the details of your intimate life, so don’t ask prying questions or ask for details of his or her child’s love life. Respecting boundaries also means asking before doing laundry, for example, or checking schedules before planning events. When everyone communicates and understands the expectations, there will be far less fighting or hurt feelings.
Make Time for Your Spouse
When your kids were toddlers, they needed your undivided attention so they didn’t get into trouble. Your adult child doesn’t need the same level of supervision. You will certainly want to spend time with your child, but your spouse needs to be your first priority. That means keeping date nights, even if your child is having a crisis. That means doing things as a couple without your child, who is old enough to fend for him or herself while you go to a movie or even away for the weekend. In other words, do not fall into the old patterns of meeting your child’s needs first and putting your marriage second.
Have an Exit Plan
Make it clear from the start that the return home is a temporary arrangement, and that you expect your child to take care of their issues as soon as possible and get their own place. Set a deadline for moving out — six months is usually enough — and stick to it.
Allowing your adult children to return home won’t be without its trials, but you can limit most issues and keep your relationship with your spouse healthy by communicating and setting the ground rules ahead of time. If you do it right, your child will be back out into the world in no time, and you and your spouse will be back to enjoying your life together — alone.
About the Author: Physician Rodney Sewell has had plenty of experience with empty-nesters and their “boomerang” kids in his Atlanta-based practice. He writes about health and wellness for several blogs.