Our adult children (i.e., 18 or older) can feel paralyzed, overwhelmed or unprepared when it comes time to transition to the next phase of their lives, whether that is to attend college or graduate school or to hold down a full time job. For this reason, many petition to live at home, or to return home. This post is designed to address some key questions and issues for you to consider in these circumstances.
Parent question: Is there a priority I should keep in mind?
Answer: Yes. The key question is: Does your adult child have a viable vocational plan that stands a reasonable chance of accomplishing effective independence? If yes, count your blessings and try to keep the other issues in perspective. If no, that is the place to start. There are multiple methods that may be used to create such a plan. For instance, vocational counselors offer questionnaires that can be useful in narrowing down career choices (e.g., the Strong Interest Inventory). Moreover, if your adult child graduated from college, his or her university likely has a career services center that can help. Former teachers, guidance counselors, professors and mentors can also be invaluable resources.
Parent question: What if my adult child is completely clueless about what she or he wants to do for a vocation. Where is a good place to start?
Answer: Don’t worry if this is the case, as there are millions of adults in the same position, across the lifespan. A key first question is: What are your adult child’s top strengths? The premise is that all humans, barring significant brain dysfunction, have top strengths, or things that they can do in a superior fashion. Resources like the Signature Strengths Survey (www.authentichappiness.com) or Tom Rath’s book Strength Finder 2.0 can be of help in generating theories regarding your adult child’s top strengths. Once the top strengths have been identified the next question is : What vocation will allow my adult child to execute those top strengths in service to others? Those who effectively realize the answers to these two questions tend not only to have a viable vocation, but also tend to experience great meaning and purpose in their work lives.
Parent question: Okay, let’s say my adult child has a viable vocational plan that requires her or him to live with me for a while. Should I set some rules about chores?
Answer: Most families find it important to have a collaborative discussion about these practicalities, which, of course, is different from a parent unilaterally deciding what the chores should be. You might start things off by creating the circumstance to have an extended discussion (e.g., going out to a restaurant, going for a walk, etc.). Then you can begin by affirming your adult child for the things in her or his life that you appreciate and value. You might then segue into the topic of dividing up tasks as follows: “Of course, whenever adults live together they share the household labor. What do you think would be a fair way for us to divide things up?”
Parent question: Should I charge rent? And, if yes, how should I calculate it?
Answer: There is no answer that can apply equally well across families. However, the more your adult child is working at a viable vocational plan, and the more she or he is scraping by financially, the more I might let this go. On the other hand, the more your adult child doesn’t seem invested in accomplishing independence, or the more she or he has a decent income, the more I might consider charging rent. Of course, how much you charge, and whether you charge at all, will also depend on your own financial health.
Parent question: Should I set a curfew?
Answer: I would not initiate a discussion about this unless a problem has emerged or is emerging. However, if your adult child is coming home at an hour that interferes with your getting a good night’s sleep or if your adult child seems to be developing self-destructive habits, then I would suggest initiating a discussion using the same strategy that I reviewed above regarding chores.
Answer: These sorts of dynamics happen whenever adults live together, no matter what the relationships are. In this context, I would probably try to keep the key issue in mind. That is, if she or he is working a viable vocational plan, and assuming I don’t feel too taken advantage of by cleaning up after someone, I might keep this agitation to myself. However, if you decide it is worth mentioning, I would do so by asking your adult child how she or he would suggest that you handle these situations.
Parent question: Do you have any other guidelines for communicating?
Answer: Remember that for a lecture to change human behavior two conditions must be met. First, the person must not already possess the information. Second, the person must want to receive the information. Hence, when lectures are used to try to change someone’s behavior in a family it is like a carpenter trying to drive a nail into a piece of wood with a screwdriver. There is nothing inherently wrong with the tool, it is just not designed for that particular job. Methods that are much more effective for modifying behavior include expressing empathy, asking questions (i.e., a method used by the best teachers), affirming what you like and partnering in decision-making.
Parent question: Is there anything I should avoid doing?
Answer: Yes, letting your adult child live with you without him or her having a viable vocational plan. I’ve seen many instances of adult children maintaining a vampire sleep schedule while filling their lives with some combination of electronic media, socializing and avoidance of responsibility. These sorts of “secondary gains” make it harder, not easier, for an adult child to experience the riches life has to offer.
Parent question: What should I do if my adult child and I are getting into regular and heated conflicts about these things?
Answer: I’d seek out a mental health professional competent in doing family therapy. It can be a remarkable and rewarding experience to have a well-trained and objective professional help to ease or completely resolve long standing family conflicts. For a referral in your community, click here.