Crowded nest

Crowded nest

What to do when your freshly minted adult moves back home

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 12/17/2013

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Dear Patti,
Our son, Aaron, graduated from college last year. Although he decided to stay to live on his own with roommates, he had difficulty obtaining anything more than an entry-level job and has needed financial help at times. He called recently and my husband and I were thrilled to hear that he’d be home for Christmas. He then stumbled on his words and asked if he could come back home to live with us while he looks for a better job here in Los Angeles and applies to graduate school. We’re sensitive to the fact there are fewer jobs to choose from these days, that college graduates have a harder time finding meaningful employment, and that many young adults are struggling to obtain financial independence due to the current economic downturn. Both my husband and I agree that we can’t say no, especially during this time of year. We love him, miss him and would love to have him close by to see the New Year come in. 

We’re certainly not against Aaron going back to school and taking a transition period to re-evaluate his long-term career goals. Nor do we mind being his “safety net” for a while. We’re concerned, however, that he may revert to his earlier behavior when he lived with us; specifically, acting like an adolescent. When he lived away from home, he matured and seemed much more like an adult. We don’t want to inadvertently allow him to slide backwards by relying on us. My husband thinks I automatically take care of Aaron’s needs, baby him and worry about him. He also believes that my behavior isn’t always good for Aaron. 

— Diane

Dear Diane,
In many families, having an adult child living at home works out fine, especially when she or he is responsible, respectful and contributes to the household. Hopefully, Aaron’s request to move back in can be a time during which the relationship between you grows and deepens. It’s important that all three of you understand each other’s expectations and work together in a cooperative, collaborative way that will help Aaron get back on his feet and define his life’s direction.

Before he makes his return to the nest, explain that you and your husband respect the growth you see in him since he’s been on his own and that you don’t want that growth impeded because he moves back home. Together, work out a clearly written contract so that all three of you will know what to expect. For instance, do you expect Aaron to do housework, contribute to groceries or pay rent? How long are you willing to let him stay? Talk it through honestly. You have the final word, but be open to Aaron’s own expectations and listen to his input respectfully.

It’s wonderful to care for your son but overdoing the “caretaking” (anything you do for Aaron that he can do for himself) might create an unhealthy cycle where he relies more on you than himself. It’s important for him to be self-motivated. If you constantly help him and take care of his needs, you could unintentionally cause him to regress. 

Do not make a life plan for him; this is something he needs to devise on his own. He should be trying to make his own way and decide for himself what he wants out of life. Your role as the parent of your adult son is to be a consultant and mentor, not a micro-manager, planner or caretaker of all his needs. 

The imposition of Aaron’s presence may, at times, cause resentment. At the same time, your inability to treat him as an adult or your insistence on being overly involved in his life may create anger on his part. It’s important to acknowledge that you’re all adults and Aaron should not be allowed to practice adulthood only part-time. Instead of picturing him as still young and your child, try to imagine him as a fully capable son/friend/ family/guest/tenant. To help launch him into full adulthood let him know that you’re allowing him to move back to live with you in anticipation of his strongly committing himself to work toward independence.  

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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