(January 10, 2012 / JNS)
Ah, that peaceful empty nest where the washing machine is finally getting a well-deserved rest, your glasses remain where you put them and there’s always gas in the tank. But you might want to wait to put the down payment on that Florida condo. For an increasing number of parents with grown kids—13 percent of us, according to a recent Pew Research study—that nest may have a rather sizable chick returning this year.
Whether your grown child has been caught in the jaws of today’s incredible shrinking job market, or back home on the heels of a separation or divorce, they’re now officially in the realm of what trend-watchers have labeled “boomerang kids” (throw them out into the world and, before you know it, they’re back.)
And these days this is not an isolated occurrence; the Census Bureau reports more than 80 million of us would-be “empty nesters” have one or more grown chicks back in the nest.
But when the kids bring their kids, unless you’re all very very careful, this 24/7 Quality Time can quickly suck your family into a riptide of resentment that can either simmer or explode in damaging ways.
So, as more of our adult children, often with the grandkids in tow, move back home—even if just for a short run—we’re going to need some strategies to keep family togetherness from deteriorating into family feud. We’re going to need a formula that works: one part patience, mutual respect, humor and a few carved-in-stone ground rules. For starters:
Talk the talk. Even if your family doesn’t do blunt, here’s one situation where you really must be open about expectations: Chores, groceries, and other expenses should be shared equitably, while being sensitive to their income, of course. And in some families rent is charged. Hint: Even if you tend to recoil at the thought of charging your beloved child to stay with you, if they offer to pay it—even a nominal fee—it just might make them feel better, and more adult, about the arrangement and eventually mean less resentment on your end.
Don’t slip them a twenty. No matter how tempting it is, infantilizing your grown kids will only encourage them to act like children. Which, when you really think about it, is not what you want for your children. Your grandkids also need to see their parents as strong and mature adults.
Call on your inner Dr. Spock. When kids are uprooted and given an extra set of parents (you), they can act out, to the point of tantrums or even bed-wetting. Some special time with you—a storybook bedtime ritual or walking home from school together—might provide opportunities for understanding and reassurance.
Administer tough love. That said, you won’t be able to spoil them as you could when they were long-distance grandchildren. Now, though you are sensitive to their plight, you’ll do them no favors if you indulge their every whim or permit them to be little hellions. Discuss the rules with their parents and form a united front of loving-but-firm expectations.
Stay mum. Are your friends, family or hairdresser quizzing you on why the kids are home? Rule one: You do not owe them an explanation. Whether it’s job challenges or marital ones at play, a simple “they’re back in town to explore new possibilities” will suffice.
Try to see things their way. Don’t forget, most of us didn’t have to battle today’s brutal job market and thanks in large part to the Jewish emphasis on higher education and hard work, we could raise our kids in a relatively healthy economy with abundant career opportunities, and often on only one income.
Think twice before opining. Whenever you open your mouth to give unsolicited advice, close it and count—slowly—to 10. As you count, ask yourself if what you’re about to say is truly necessary and worth the resentment it just might cause.
Now that that’s out of the way, has anybody seen my glasses?
Deborah Fineblum Raub plies the trades of writer, editor, life story coach and New Age Bubbe from her home in Sharon, MA.