Hey Baby Boomers, how would you react if your adult son or daughter called today and asked to move back home, perhaps bringing along spouse and one or more grandchildren? In today’s struggling economy, more and more adults in their twenties and thirties are doing precisely that, seeking refuge until they can find a decent job or bounce back from foreclosure on their under-water mortgage.
Let’s asssume tou are well into your forties, fifties or sixties. Your youngest child moved out of the house several years ago. Assuming you’re still together, both you and your spouse embrace an active “empty nest” life style and you’re loving it! What do you do now? You don’t live in a mansion. Of course you love your son or daughter and grandchildren and wouldn’t dream of leaving them out in the cold! Can you take them in and still maintain your sanity, much less your quality of life? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Set aside your very own private living space and, if possible, set aside private space for returning offspring and family. Ideally, you’ll have enough room in both private areas for a bathroom, TV, desk or work table and a computer. Even if small, seek agreement that private spaces are to be sacrosanct; you will not enter their space without permission and they will not enter yours. I trust you can share common areas–living room, dining room, kitchen and family room–in a spirit of harmony and cooperation. If you have limited bathrooms and showers, perhaps you can work out a daily routine for sharing.
2. Make it abudantly clear to returning son or daughter that your offer of accomodations is not 100% free. If they can afford to, adult offspring should pay modest rent or, at the very least, reimburse you for the extra cost of food. Returning offspring also need to commit to help out with cooking, housekeeping, laundry, yardwork and errands. If they simply don’t have the cash, let adult offspring earn their room and board by performing projects around the house.
3. Nurturing and disciplining of small children–your grandchildren– remains the primary task of your offspring as parents, not yours as grandparents. At times, you may be more than willing and eager to help but childcare should never become primarily your responsibility.
4. At all times keep in mind that your prodigal son or daughter is no longer a teenager, so don’t relate to him or her as such. So long as they perform no illegal acts in your home, it’s none of your business where they go or who they hang out with at 3 AM.
5. If your returning son or daughter brings along small children, be certain to emphasize that you and your spouse are not built-in baby sitters! It’s OK (and probably fun) to volunteer to watch the kids one or two nights a week but the rest of the week is yours to come and go as you please.
6. If son or daughter (or his or her spouse) is seeking work, offer encouragement, occasional advice and introductions if you have them but don’t nag, pry into prospects or imply that the job search is taking far too long. It’s tough out there!
7. Don’t spoil the grandchildren. Above all, respect the wishes of a son-in-law or daughter-in-law when he or she says “no!” Except in instances of immediate danger, it is always best to defer to a parent when a small child misbehaves.
Most adults returning to childhood homes do so as a last resort and may be ashamed to ask. Don’t make them feel worse by demonstrating resentment or hard feelings. It is perfectly fair and sensible to iron out groundrules, mutual responsibilities and conditions well before the moving truck arrives. In fact, this is the only sensible formula to ensure a pleasant stay for all.
If done right, living together with two, three, even four generations can be both joyful and invigorating. After all, that’s the way it always was done in generations past! If mutual respect, accomodation and sharing prevail, you will get to know your adult offspring all over again and will assist them in moving forward to a brighter tomorrow. Wouldn’t you be inspired to observe grandchildren every day as they grow up, explore the world around them and change a little each day? Looking back a few years from now, I’ll bet you won’t want to exchange your extended family live-in experience for any other in the world!
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