Q: Just as we were looking forward to the freedom of an "empty nest," our adult daughter decided that she needs to come back and "get her life together" before "moving on to the next step." But we don't know exactly what this means, and we have no idea how long she's planning to stay. Do you have any advice?
Jim: There isn't necessarily anything "wrong" or "abnormal" about accepting a previously launched child back into your home. And you're certainly not alone. Census figures indicate that millions of so-called "empty nesters" now find themselves with at least one grown child living at home -- experts call it the "boomerang generation." Some come back hoping to save money for school. Others return so they can take time to search for the perfect job. Still others may have personal problems; they need a refuge.
Take comfort in the thought that it's only a temporary situation -- and be thankful that your daughter likes you enough to want to come back. She obviously thinks of home as a safe, accepting place to land while she regroups, and that's a positive thing. There are several practical measures you can implement to minimize conflict and maximize the opportunity to strengthen family bonds while she's with you.
Start by clarifying your standards. Do this as early as possible to prevent misunderstandings and friction later on. You might even want to spell them out in a brief "contract" for her to sign. Make sure that the contract specifies consequences for infractions.
At the same time, don't forget that these rules should be different than the ones you put in place when your child was a minor. For example, curfews aren't appropriate for an adult. As long as your grown child acts responsibly (holding a job, contributing financially or helping with meals and household chores), she deserves the same liberty to come and go as any adult. Respect her personal boundaries and preferences.
Don't be afraid to ask frank and straightforward questions during the course of this conversation. How long does your daughter envision staying with you? What would you both consider reasonable rent? If rent is not an issue, exactly how will she contribute to the cost of food and household expenses? What chores will she be expected to carry out?
You didn't mention any specific problems or concerns, but common sense suggests that you shouldn't enable a grown child who's merely looking to avoid adult responsibilities. Naturally, if your daughter is dealing with more serious issues -- for example, addictions or mental and emotional illness -- then you'll probably need to seek intervention or enlist professional help. But if she just seems a little too comfortable at home, it might be a good idea to set a move-out deadline (and stick to it). Knowing the clock is ticking at the "Mom and Pop Hotel" may be precisely the motivation she needs to get serious about "moving on to the next step."
Finally, keep a few things in mind as you interact with your daughter:
-- Trust her to make wise choices, even when she doesn't. After all, she is an adult now.
-- Squelch the impulse to give advice unless it's asked for.
-- Remember that communication is key. Set a regular time to discuss issues, clarify expectations or simply clear the air.
-- Three or more adults living in one house is a challenge, whether you're related or not. So give one another some space and grace!
If you need further help sorting out this or other relational issues, call Focus on the Family's Counseling Department at 800-A-FAMILY (232-6459).
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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