middle age caringhumor middle age


The Cluttered Nest: Whatever Happened To Wave Bye Bye?
by Marjorie Dorfman

Why are more and more adult children returning to their parents’ homes instead of building their own lives? How does this growing phenomenon threaten family structure and values? Read on for what cannot be called answers, but may shed some humorous light on the questions.

"Didn’t I already raise you?" seems to be the battle cry of the parents of the boomerang generation. For those not in the know, this phenomenon concerns the rising number of children in this country who are currently living at home with their parents. The latest census figures indicate that more than 80 million "empty nesters" now find themselves with at least one adult child living at home. To the child who replies, "you have to pay the mortgage anyway," something has gone dreadfully wrong, both with communication and consideration for another’s well-earned space.

We are a nation that thrives on independence and the concept of personal freedoms, and yet many of our young adults are becoming more and more dependent. You can’t go home again seems dreadfully not so, as many return in droves, but hopefully not to an adolescent stage which is not passing "go" as quickly as possible (like pimples). What’s a parent who wants a little peace to do?

One of the life goals of parents has to be to guide their children safely into adulthood. The end result should entail at some point, moving out of the family home to create the path of their own journey. Even the most responsible adult child can be faced with some truly devastating, crippling or unexpected circumstances that necessitate help from the parents in the form of moving back home. To judge this concept fairly, it is important to remember that its dimensions and propensity for problems really depend on the motive the adult child has for living at home. One size, in this case, really doesn’t fit all. It’s one thing if the parents are ill and in need of the child to take care of them or if the child is ill, and it is quite another if the adult child is simply too irresponsible and puerile to assume responsibility for his or her life.

In many cases, the rising number of young adults living at home occurs not because the children have given up on themselves, but rather because of socio-economic events that are causing the consideration of alternate life styles. According to Stephen Wilson, professor of family studies at the University of Kentucky, young adults are faced with a series of decisions from finances to education that sometime require family help. The road to independence has gotten rockier and longer. A larger percentage of young adults are seeking advanced education to move into today’s work force. Over 70 percent attain some sort of higher education, many advancing past the traditional bachelor’s degree. To do so may mean remaining in the parent’s home a little longer than they or their parents may have expected, or longer than would probably have been true for their parent’s generation.

Before the welcome mat goes out, however some things should be made very clear. This is your house and your rules and you have every right to run things as you see fit. This is also your child, although not the wide-eyed kid that you sent out into the world. This is an adult who has probably addressed many of the same issues that you have and who has developed a measure of dignity and self-worth. Because you prepared this person for adulthood, you should know that the person moving in with you is not looking for the same kind of parenting they once needed. In fact, relating to your adult child from a standpoint of past history is a sure-fire recipe for domestic disaster. The time for preaching, teaching and "I told you so’s" are and should be long gone.

Approach the problem as you would if it were a friend coming to you in need of your help. You would not try to mother your dear friend; you would, perhaps, just listen, and see where you can help the situation. Your adult child has decided the place to be is your home because it will provide the opportunity to refresh, rethink and renew. By all means discuss the reasons that led to the decision, but never forget that your adult child expects the same respect that you do. For both parties, there should always be a base of shared esteem and dignity.

Boundaries must be set at the very beginning as to what is expected from both parties. It needs to be decided what the rules are and who is in charge of what. Make a contract and sign it in blood. (Only vampires please). Seriously though, no parent, after welcoming their adult child home needs to hear, "You’re not my landlord, you’re my mother," and that can only happen if things aren’t defined at the outset. (If the child has never left the nest; well, then they have a point, because you have tolerated the mooching, despite Cab Calloway’s universal warnings about Minnie.)

For a mom who demands respect, but never gets it, there has to be some underlying reason why such behavior is tolerated. Perhaps it comes out of feeling guilty for God knows what, that old standby and destroyer of us all. Parents must be able to see past any guilt they may feel. Thinking they are somehow the cause of their children’s failures may make them feel obligated to do more than they should. (Find something healthy to feel guilty about. If you are at a loss, consider the reasons your kitchen floor has a waxy build-up or perhaps, why our president is our president.)

When grandchildren are involved, the situation can be even more difficult. Grandparents must maintain their role with grandchildren, but let the parents be parents. Without strict guidelines as to who governs the grandchild, the two sets of parents may find themselves at odds.

Communication is the key. Squelch the impulse to give advice unless it is asked for. Although it may be difficult, the last thing a caring parent desires is to sound like a broken record of "you shouldn’t have" and "why did you?" The questions, "can you contribute to the situation?" and "how can I help my child get there? might help to focus the situation. Sometimes parents cannot help, and there may be other better resources to support the independence of their adult child. According to Mr. Wilson, "Parents must guard their own financial security. Sometimes hearing a solution from someone other than your parents or an adult child is easier to handle. Everyone has to realize this is a period of transition. True autonomy is accomplished….by everyone moving in synch to get to the next level. Ultimately, young adults have to stand on their own two feet and parents have to accept this."

For those of you out there who have adult children returning to the nest, beware and think. This means you. Look before you leap but remember too, that he who hesitates is lost. In short, do what is best for both parties. If you as a parent cannot be helpful and supportive, then yours is not the home for your adult child. Conversely, if your adult child cannot respect your boundaries, they should find somewhere else to go. It’s a tough and rocky road (and I don’t mean to get to the ice cream). Although I had many regrets in my youth, at this point in my life I am glad that I don’t have any children. My cats give me enough problems.

Good luck to all even if this isn’t a "good-night."

Did you know . . .

Copyright 2004