Although it was 14 years ago, I still clearly remember how conflicted I felt when I returned home after college graduation — drunk on accomplishment and freedom and, well, just kinda drunk — and moved straight back into my rose-pink childhood bedroom, complete with ruffled sheets and doll collection: I was deflated, to be sure, but also slightly relieved not to have to take on the real world, quite yet.
At that time, moving back in with Mom and Dad was a bit of a novelty. These days, it’s practically a rite of passage for the so-called Boomerang Generation: According to one poll, roughly 85 percent of the class of 2011 will be living at home for some period of time, thanks in part to historic levels of unemployment for those younger than 25, plummeting starting salaries for those who do find jobs and record-high student debt.
Having a grown child move back home can test even the strongest of relationships, but it doesn’t have to do so, says Linda Perlman Gordon, a Chevy Chase psychotherapist whose daughter and son each lived with her briefly post-college.
“This is a great time to reinvent your parenting and redefine your relationship [with a child] for the future, and I think it can be a really wonderful experience, as long as you use the opportunity to help your kids launch themselves, as opposed to coddling them and eroding their self-esteem,” says Gordon, the co-author of “Mom, Can I Move Back in With You? A Survival Guide for Parents of Twentysomethings.”
As those graduating college seniors head home, she offers some tips for approaching the situation with the right mind-set and maintaining as positive and stress-free a rapport as possible:
• Set new ground rules to meet the changing needs of an emerging adult. Discuss and establish clear expectations for household responsibilities, curfew, dating, family dinners and the like. Respect your 20-something’s privacy, and also remember to care for yourself by determining your own boundaries and then sharing them with your child.
• Steer clear of old patterns. You no longer need to make your son’s dinner or keep tabs on your daughter’s comings and goings. Don’t over-parent; coach your grown child rather than doing for her and fixing every problem, which will only undermine self-confidence.
• Focus on financial independence, but have reasonable expectations for your child based on today’s economic reality. Assuming that he isn’t out blowing all of his savings at bars or sleeping in until 3 p.m. every day, ignore the conventional pressure to charge your 20-something rent. Instead, emphasize saving money, spending on needs, not wants, and occasionally contributing to specific household expenses, such as groceries. An end goal of moving out can be helpful, but, if possible, let circumstances rather than an arbitrary timetable determine how long he or she will live at home.
• Relish this “bonus time.” Relationships with adult children often become more mutually rewarding. Not only can you enjoy each other, but you can also depend on each other.
Neil Bernstein, a psychologist for teens and young adults in the District, has some advice for new graduates returning to the nest, starting with a healthy attitude. “It’s important to reframe the situation in your mind and not look at it as a defeat, but a temporary setback,” Bernstein said. Some of his other advice to graduates for handling live-in parents the second time around:
• Cut Mom and Dad some slack. Your parents are still figuring out how much to push and how much space to provide. Discuss your evolving relationship together, and respect their schedules. They need privacy and boundaries, too.
• Remember that your house isn’t a dorm. Whether you like it or not, you can no longer just come and go at all hours of the night. While there may be some leeway for such issues as drinking, parties and overnight sleepovers with significant others, it’s important to hash out these issues, in advance.
• Act like an adult if you want to be treated like one. You’re coming home as a contributing member of the family — not as a child who needs to be taken care of again — so take out the trash, clean up the kitchen, do laundry without being asked or told.
• Don’t be sneaky. If you feel you have to hide something — and that includes everything from partying to vegging on the couch all day when you’re supposed to be out pounding the pavement — you probably shouldn’t be doing it.
• Try to set a target for moving out, whether it’s by landing a job in your chosen field or saving enough money for a security deposit or a few months’ rent. It’s also key to have a set goal in mind for how long you’ll look for your dream gig before seeking any possible form of income, be it delivering pizza or working at the Gap, which can help you feel more self-sufficient and do wonders for mental health.
Finally, both experts suggest that everyone in the house recognize that this period won’t last forever. “So try to look on the bright side and enjoy it, as much as possible, while you can,” Bernstein says.
That’s something one of our babysitters, Lizzie, learned firsthand after moving back in with her parents last summer. Despite a few low points — such as having to see friends with impressive jobs and their own abodes at her five-year high school reunion — returning to the nest has been better than she expected.
“It’s a great, stress-free way for me to figure stuff out before having to worry about paying bills,” she says, noting that she has learned to relish such perks as homemade dinners and free HD TV — not to mention a more mature and equal relationship with her parents. “While living at home isn’t my first choice,” she explains, “it’s not my last.”