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Moving back home and setting boundaries

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Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

For financial reasons, I’m moving with my toddler back to my parents’ house. I’m not married and I don’t earn enough in my job to support the two of us right now. These things make me ripe for nagging from my parents, who have every right to do so — after all, they’re letting us live there rent-free. How do I establish some boundaries anyway, and how do we all avoid killing each other? Thanks!

Atlanta

Are they the nagging type? Your history with them will say a lot about what new boundaries you’ll need.

Carolyn:

They are not big naggers . . . however, they have been very disappointed with me in recent years because I did not finish college and got pregnant by accident. I understand their concern, but I also know I’m a big girl and am entitled to choose my own path. However, that go-to argument won’t hold much water when I’m living under their roof again.

Atlanta again

Right — your dependency gives them a say. Plus, their generosity means you need to be generous with your patience with them.

So that has a huge effect on how and where you draw your boundaries. The way you choose to raise your child, for example, is out of the bounds of their business as long as it’s responsible. The choices you make to fix the problem of not earning enough money to support yourself? They are inside the bounds.

It sounds as if you’d all feel better if you talked about these things openly, before you move in. Work on the specifics, such as how you will contribute to the household — if not by paying rent, then by doing housework — and also talk about the more general things, like whatever they want to get off their chests. It’s better to drop your defenses and let them have their say on the things that affect them; if they speak up now, then they’re less likely to emit frustration through sighing and carefully worded queries. (“You’re wearing that to an interview?”)

If you don’t have a plan for getting up and out, by the way, then be especially ready to hear them out.

Re: Atlanta

As an outside observer of this dynamic in my own family, I can say that the best way to draw boundaries your parents will respect is to refuse to revert to acting like the child. Be sure you are watching/disciplining your child, doing your share of the housework and other household contributions, and actively looking for a way to improve your situation.

I am watching my parents and my sister get increasingly frustrated with each other over the last year, and a lot of it would have been avoided if my sister had asserted herself as an adult in word AND deed more often.

Anonymous

True, but it goes both ways: Parents also need to resist the impulse to try to raise their adult children. Vicious cycles lie in wait for those who aren’t careful to create a new, adult-to-adult dynamic, and instead slip into the old ones, which are now obsolete. They all need to pull their weight.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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