When Your Adult Child Lives at Home

Learn how to deal with your adult child when he or she moves back home after college.
Table of contents

When Your Adult Child Lives at Home

You may have a young adult child who moves back into your home after college or never leaves. This is frequently a difficult situation to handle well. If you expect to exercise the same control you had before your child turned into a young adult, forget it. Your child may make decisions with which you heartily disagree, but you are going to be living in a war zone if you expect to change things through force or intimidation.

If you have an adult child living in your house, you need to set firm rules that must be accepted as a condition of his or her continued right to remain. This is, after all, your home, and you have a right to expect that your standards of civility and family life are respected. Explain to your child, if need be, that in his own home he will have the right to set the rules, but here in your household, you and your spouse have ultimate authority.

Womanly Wisdom

Expect some conflicts. Don't feel guilty if you find yourself feeling a bit territorial, and don't be surprised if your returning child doesn't appreciate your having converted his old room into a walk-in closet.

Setting Expectations

If your child is legally considered an adult (over 21) you may need to hold him to responsibilities you would not have expected of a younger child. You want to reinforce the idea that you have a family system that only functions when every member participates. There is, in other words, no free lunch.

If your adult child is not willing to contribute to the betterment of the family, you have a problem that must be dealt with before it gets completely out of control. You do your child no favors by indulging such behavior.

Working Through Conflicts

If your adult child moves back in with you after being away at school, serving in the military, or even after a divorce, you may find it awkward at first. When a person has been on his own for any length of time he is not going to want to step backward into the “rule zone.” And you may well have come to truly enjoy your own freedom from day-to-day parental responsibility.

Breaking the Old Motherhood Mold

You are going to be tempted in one of two ways. Either you'll want to overmother your returnee, or you'll want to drop the whole idea of mothering. If you choose the latter you might find a young adult trying to guilt-trip you into giving her the attention she thinks she deserves. Every child, regardless of age, expects a mother to nurture and nurture until the end of time. They often find it difficult to accept the possibility that you might want to actually have a life that isn't centered around their needs.

Womanly Wisdom

This is the time in your life when it's important for you to recognize that you are a woman with many more important attributes than your ability to scramble eggs and clean your home.

Now be honest with yourself. If you have never been one to show any desire for an individual identity distinct from your role as mother prior to your child's return, it is partially your fault if everyone expects you to continue in your established role forever. You have laid the ground rules and then changed them. You are going to have to give everyone time to adjust to the new you.

If you do not want to get back to the grind, do not let your adult child pull you back into the pampering routine. Fight that impulse to cook breakfast and ask your son whether he remembered to brush his teeth. Do not even think of doing your daughter's laundry unless she is willing to do yours in return. There is a limit to how much you have to devote yourself to the caretaking of people who are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves.

You Reap What You Have Sown

Maybe you were one of the smart mothers who started your children taking care of themselves from an early age. But if you are like most of us your children probably are used to having things magically taken care of for them. It is a part of the expectations associated with our role as mothers that we should take on more than our share of domestic duties. Even though you may have made it your personal crusade to break free of this stereotype, don't be surprised to find that you are still expected to be the one in charge of managing the home. If you don't mind having this expectation thrust upon you, that's fine. But it is too easy to simply accept such a role assignment, even when it is contrary to what you personally would find fulfilling.

Insisting on Assistance

If your child wants the status of an adult, then he or she has to behave like one. That means helping out and taking care of things for himself. Any adult child is fully capable of opening a can or operating a microwave—there is no reason that he or she cannot handle the basic necessities of life. Emancipate yourself so you can enjoy the presence of your child rather than enduring her presence in your home as a burden.

Your House, Your Rules

If your adult child moves home you may also have conflict about choices like overnight guests. As much as we don't like to think about the things our children choose to do, we know what we might have chosen to do at the same age. If your child is living with you, you have to decide how comfortable you are with his having an overnight guest. This is a question that is best decided before it becomes an issue. In the end, this, like every other issue of your adult child's behavior and participation, is up to you. If your child cannot accept your preferences, he or she is free to move away.

Ultimately, having an adult child in the house means you are going to have to establish some kind of pecking order. You want to work toward mutual respect, but in the end, it is your wishes and those of your spouse that must be respected.