Transition to adulthood:
An evolving or revolving door?
I was listening to a radio discussion the other day in which a psychologist was talking about parent efforts to deal with their childrenís burgeoning adulthood. One father called in and said that as soon as his second son left for college, he and his wife converted both bedrooms into offices.
"We still have a place where they can sleep when they come home for breaks," said dad, "but we are not encouraging long term stays!"
"Wow," I thought, "thatís a tough policy." My own four kids are in varying stages of this adult evolutionary process. One is completely through the door, another is exiting, and the two in the middle are still revolving. Based upon changing circumstances in their own lives, all have come back to live with us at some point following graduation.
While my husband and I could hardly be described as jubilant at the prospect of extra laundry, dirty cups in the sink, and all that disappearing food, neither have we been angry, upset or moralizing (at least, weíve tried to keep the moralizing limited!). Our household has always been one where certainty about the number of plates to set for dinner was never a given.
Thatís the point, really. All families are not the same. What is understood or expected in one home will not necessarily work in another. Parents understand that, and so do children. If you believe children should become independent at age 18, your children will know and accept that concept long before they become 18. They would be as stressed as you if they stayed beyond that age.
If, however, the door revolves back to their old room in your house, here are a few features that might make the return easier for everyone:
Understand the reason
Why are they back? Are they in college, graduate school, a training program? Are they saving money to buy a house or a car? Are they looking for a job? Goal pursuit vs. freeloading should make a big difference in how parents accept a childís return to the home. If your children have no goals, help establish some. Independence should be encouraged. An end goal gives everyone involved positive hope!
We parents are generally very good at rule setting. We have to remember, though, that we are no longer dealing with small children. We now have an "almost" adult on our hands. While we may no longer demand that offspring be in by a certain time, it is still okay to know their planned return. State clear expectations for household chores, payment, friends, music or anything else that may lead to conflict. Setting rules together produces a greater chance for success. Respect for each other can even make the reunion fun!
Assess the situation
Fagin, in the musical Oliver, was forever "assessing the situation." Though Faginís intent was always suspect, his concept of constantly evaluating circumstances in order to make appropriate change is a valid one. Sit down with your child and explore what is and isnít working. Then make the necessary changes. Remember, all changes do not have to begin with the younger family member!
Our children continue to grow and evolve in this complex world, as do we. No matter what our "return policy" is, they will do well if assured of our love and our support.
Rosilee Trotta, LCSW
Urban Youth and Family Specialist