They are the adult children who left the nest, and then for various reasons, often economic, have to move back home (as differentiated from kids, bless their hearts, who never got out).
Several years, or even months, after you’ve gotten over missing them, comes the phone call, or, sometimes they just show up at the door.
I’m divorced, so what we’re talking about here is the return of adult children to their father’s house. In need of economic stability, it was Dad’s house where mine landed. My son returned when he was twenty-four, my daughter when she was twenty-three. Both times my carefree empty-nest lifestyle was irrevocably interrupted. Thankfully, they did not both need the homestead parachute at the same time.
Channeling two notables who informed my parenting style through the years, Erma Bombeck and Dr. Spock, I will share my experiences, and hopefully help parents in similar circumstances negotiate the challenges of the big return.
After the welcoming ceremony, the first problem is going to be the hours kept by your twenty-something darlings. See, they’ve gotten used to coming and going as they please. So, for example, on a quiet Sunday night, just when Downton Abbey was reaching its royal climax, my son would come home and want to make something to eat in the kitchen, which adjoins the family room.
His clattering around was so disruptive to the Grantham narrative that I finally put my foot down, and declared the kitchen closed if I was engrossed in a drama. This was a difficult adjustment for a man-child who eats like a horse.
“You’re telling me I can’t get something to eat?” he’d ask, and I’d reply in the affirmative. The impasse was somewhat alleviated when I bought him a handful of McDonald’s gift cards and told him to hit the drive-thru on his way home.
My daughter is quieter in the kitchen, but still claimed I “looked at her funny” when she was prowling around for snacks.
On a more serious note, it’s one thing to wonder about the safety of our children when they’re out in the world, which we do. It’s entirely another when they’re living with a parental unit and have outgrown the house rules. Especially with my daughter, it was hard to fall asleep if it got late, until I heard her come in.
If your kids return home for an extended length of time, you’ll start getting their mail.
You’ll find letters from municipal courts, bills from drop-in clinics, and adverts from Joe Camel in your mailbox. Under no circumstances should you open your kids’ mail, but you must insist that all letters be opened by them. Otherwise those student loan default notifications will go unanswered, and to a collection agency. The only exception to the mail privacy rule is for offers of lines of credit. You’re within your rights to shred those immediately.
For mail-in ballots, as long as they fill out and sign the ballot, there’s no law that says you can’t attempt to influence their vote.
However much you’ve helped your children financially, plan on spending more when they return home. If economics are the reason behind their retreat from being out on their own, you’re probably going to go easy on charging them for any portion of household expenses.
My daughter paid a monthly stipend out of her unemployment check, but I will never recoup the hundreds upon hundreds of dollars I spent on extra home heating oil. I did require my son to swing a brush in my painting business to offset his impact on the budget, but getting him out of bed each morning after his revelries was a real chore.
It won’t work to put expenditures “on their tab” for future repayment. They’re going to need every red cent when the time comes to move out.
I won’t bore the reader with how the messiness factor will again become part of your daily life. Suffice it to say that arriving home from work each evening will not be the end of your workday. And plan on discovering that items that were once and forever in their places (flashlights, business envelopes, hydrocortisone cream) will turn up missing.
The next issue is one that I must address carefully, because I realized I was guilty of a horrible double-standard when it came to my prodigal children having intimate relations under my roof. I would be less than honest if I denied that if my son was likely to “get lucky” in his downstairs room on a Friday night, part of me was secretly pleased.
Conversely, the very idea of some young buck invading my daughter’s upstairs bedroom did not sit well, and, as far as I know, I put the kibosh on such dalliances.
Clearly, in the department of sex for returning progeny, I’m the one who needs guidance.
There’s a great scene in Lost in Translation where Bill Murray’s character is talking to Scarlett Johansson’s character about the trials and tribulations of raising children, and how he feels about his grown children.
“And they turn out to be the most delightful people you’ll ever meet in your life,” says Bob Harris to Charlotte.
I feel the same way about my kids, and can confirm that my son and daughter are doing fine, he, age twenty-nine, as a team supervisor at a health insurance firm (a growth market, no doubt) and she, age twenty-five as a restaurant manager.
But we had some rocky disagreements and difficult adjustments when the economic realities of life in these United States necessitated their return.