The End of the Empty Nest: Establishing Boundaries with Adult Children in the Home

When your children move out after reaching the age of eighteen (or twenty, or twenty-three, or well, these days, any age), whether they are going away to college or moving into an apartment while working their first job, most parents experience “empty nest” syndrome, where they struggle with filling the time once spent with and for their child(ren). Typically, after a few weeks, parents are able to adjust to their new lifestyle and quieter house. This may include remodeling the child’s bedroom to accommodate a hobby or home office. It could also mean that the parents take up new hobbies or even start a new job themselves.

However, these days, many adult children find themselves in a position, often not due to any sort of personal failing, where they have to go back home to their parents. For the parents, it can be frustrating, confusing, and stressful to invite an adult child back into their home. Setting up firm boundaries is one of the best ways to avoid unnecessary strain on the parent/child relationship.

Embrace the New American Dream

Long gone are the days when recent college graduates jumped straight into a promising career following the completion of their degree. These days, many college graduates (and drop-outs, and those who lose a job to outsourcing, etc.) are finding themselves moving back home with mom and dad.

Instead of being openly frustrated and angry, do your best to be accommodating and open-minded. Let your adult child know that they are welcome in the family home, provided they respect the house rules. While these boundaries may not be the same as they were when your child was in high school, they are as important, if not more so, than the rules of the home during those teen years.

As soon as the conversation about moving home has happened, you and your spouse (if applicable) should sit down and discuss what boundaries are necessary and appropriate for this new living situation. Examples of boundaries you will likely need to set include, but are not limited to: a late night curfew (to avoid disruption to household sleep schedules), a limit on the number of guests and the time of day when guests may visits, rules pertaining the to the legal use of alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis (where applicable), and restrictions on space usage.

Consider Creating a Rental Contract

Because your home is probably what your adult child considers a safe space, they may try to bend or ignore rules that are put in place. This is likely more out of selfishness than overt disrespect. To avoid rule-breaking complications, you may want to create a basic rental contract for your child to sign prior to moving back home. While this contract will probably not be legally binding (though you can go the route of having them execute a legally enforceable rental agreement if you foresee issues), it can help ease possible tensions when rules are disputed.

Especially if your adult child is moving home to live rent-free, they should be aware of boundaries affecting your personal space and time. By putting those boundaries in writing, you can prevent unnecessary complications. Whether you require that they apply for a certain number of jobs a week or perform certain chores around the home, those expectations should also be clear. Having to sign a contract agreeing to clean up after their cat, or to not bring friends back home after 9 p.m., or maybe to not have partners or friends staying the night will go a long way to preserving peace in your home and ensuring that your adult child understands and respects the rules you’ve put in place.

 Discuss the Importance of Rules

Now that your child is an adult, they should have at least some level of respect for your needs as a human being. Make sure that your child understands that these rules and boundaries are being put in place to protect your relationship, as well as your mental health during this stressful transition. Hopefully, they will respect your position as well as the rules, which could mean that their moving back home will help strengthen and reconnect your relationship with them, instead of straining it.

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