Most of us think adolescence ends at the age 18, but the American Medical Association has defined adolescence as going all the way to age 23. What used to be a period of seven years is now fourteen years! And for many parents reading this article, this means that your kids may come back home to live with you after college.
We set our kids in motion to live as independent adults, and like a boomerang they just come right back to where they started. Sometimes it happens for good reasons because of issues outside their control. But when a child wants to disengage from a normal growth opportunity and fails to establish their own independence, it’s a sign that emotional problems are in play.
It’s been great for Jan and me to be empty nesters. We love it. Oh, sure, I like it when the grandkids pop in with their parents, but it’s good when they leave, too. Gratefully both our son and daughter have established independent lives of their own.
But maybe you’re in a different place. Maybe you’re dealing with the boomerang effect. So let me offer some helpful perspective and a couple suggestions.
Some kids come home after college until they get a job. That’s one thing. And in this economy, finding a job takes much longer than ever before. So it’s understandable when they need a place to stay while aggressively pursue the next phase in their life. But when kids get too comfortable in your home and can’t launch from that spot, they’re in trouble. They can’t get to the next place, and they show their inability to function at a higher level.
Mom and dad, when you take these kids back in, you aren’t doing them a favor. Parents want to be helpful, but they’re just postponing the inevitable. I’m talking about when a child wants to avoid growth. Moving back home becomes a way to avoid the challenge of becoming independent. A child can try to live like they’re in high school, or have everything provided, or take an “extended vacation.” We all have a plan for our lives. When your child comes back home, it’s kind of outside of the plan.
When Coming Home is Healthy
Sometimes, it is healthy for kids to come home. But just because the reason they come is appropriate doesn’t mean that your transition will be easy. To help, you need to line out your expectations for your son or daughter and set up some new rules.
To help you get along with your adult children, spend necessary time with them. But not out of obligation. Your child doesn’t want to spend time with you if they think it’s a burden. Love your child in a way they can receive it. Sit down and talk. Be a servant to them. I want to be a servant to anyone who walks in my door. But being a servant doesn’t mean being a doormat.
You need to build an understanding of how you’re going to live together. Your child is the new person to the house, even if they’ve lived there before. So he should fit into your household’s current agenda. Parents, you need to openly say to your children, “You’re welcome here, but you’ve gotta follow the current game plan.” Talk to your child before he comes home. Determine whether they will pay rent or not, whether or not they will be required to work. There are a lot of times in my life that I haven’t liked what I was doing for work, but I did it because I knew it would strengthen my work habits and would help me financially.
If your child is not following the plan you talked about, and it’s becoming disruptive to the house, you may need to kick your child out. Sounds harsh, but if you don’t take action, if you allow your child to keep the same attitude, they will find it easy to stay like a child longer. Not to mention that they may influence the habits and attitudes of your other children.
Adults are adults. You need to treat them that way. And if your child isn’t acting like an adult, you may need to push them out. Every adult’s goal is to live an independent life. This means moving on to another place. You need to respect this goal in your child’s life. If your child doesn’t see the need for this movement, and you don’t act, you are enabling your child’s foolishness.
Parents: Plan, Act, and Let Go!
If the presence of your boomerang child has become a negative situation, and they’re still enjoying the benefits of living under your roof, then you are probably kidding yourself about their maturity. You could be justifying their childish behavior. You’re allowing it to happen. Kids are hampered by their parents’ inability to act. I have seen some of these kids at Heartlight, and I think, “You can’t be serious!” By letting your kids stay at home, you are allowing them to rely on you when the Scripture says we are to train up a child in the way he should go. Hear that? Go. If they stay because of excuses, these kids won’t grow up to be good husbands, good wives, good fathers, or good mothers. They’ll repeat the cycle with their own kids.
If you are the problem, you need to let go! Parents, remember that your child is more important than you. If you aren’t releasing your child to move onto the next step, it’s your issue not theirs. When you finally let go, let me tell you this; you’re going to love it! Where they are going is more exciting than where they have been. You need to trust God to take care of your kids.
The moment when the prodigal son came back to his senses was right after everybody quit giving him everything. You need to consider what this means for your family. Come up with a plan of transitioning your child into the real world. Move them to a point where they are either in school, working, or waiting for a move to the next step in life.
You can hear us talk on this subject by listening to our radio program. It’s called, Parenting Today’s Teens. Next time, we talk with Family Coach Tim Smith. Tim, whose philosophy of parenting is “don’t do anything for your children that they can do for themselves,” will share his personal experience and perspective on having children return home.
You can hear Parenting Today’s Teens online, as a podcast, or find a radio station near you. All the information is found at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.