Expert Q&A: Having a Life When You Live at Home
Q: I'm in my thirties and I've been living with my parents ever since I lost my job. How can I convince my parents that I still need a personal life?
A: No matter how great the goodies are at your parent's house, you'd probably like to live on your own in your own space. More adult children who have lost their jobs often have no choice but to move back in with mom and dad. Many families underestimate the stress levels and the issues of this new living arrangement.
Think about the daily—and weekend—lives that have to mesh. How can mom and dad enjoy intimate time with you in the house? And what are the rules about bringing home a date for some intimate time? Few families talk about that. And what about those other hot-button topics like who pays for what or who eats what and when?
No two situations are identical, but here are some things to address when adult children move in with parents:
1. Don't criticize, blame, or get defensive. Even very smart and gifted people can lose a job. Be supportive and then play it forward by listening. Ask your child to "tell you what happened." Keep the emotional environment warm and interested rather than cold and accusatory. And if you are the one who is moving back home, don't get your dukes up. You should tell your parents what happened.
2. Offer each other help. Parents might be able to mine personal and work contacts to help find work. If you are the adult child, offer to help around the house. If you haven't been home in a while, ask what needs to be done and how you can help.
3. Establish an emotionally productive environment together. Unfortunately, many holidays and family events feel disappointing and sour—and sometimes confrontational. The Norman Rockwell, white picket fence, apple pie in the oven feeling weakens because it's too easy to fall back onto your emotional default drives from childhood. Sulkers sulk, favorite children beam.
But you can lessen the slide into dysfunctional ways by acting as a loving team. Parents should listen to their child express anger and frustration without believing that they must "fix" the problem. You can't make someone else happy, and you can't really fill in all the blanks about how a person should run his or her life. If you are the jobless adult, tell your parents that it is normal for you to be upset.
For example, when Sally moved back home, she often masked her struggle until night time when she could be alone in her old bedroom. One night her mother heard her crying, and the mother burst into the room and yelled at her for being so down in the dumps. The daughter explained that she has been very proactive in pursuing contacts and going to business events but that a good cry often re-fueled her. The mother calmed down and expressed her own frustrations at seeing her daughter so unhappy.
One of the other issues that jobless adult children face is the sense that their dream is over. You might be hoping to find another job that is your passion. But now is not the time to limit yourself by looking only for jobs that excite you. Talk out your dashed hopes with your family. For example, when one of my clients who lost a prestigious position discussed with her parents her frustration of having her life "on hold," both parents talked about their own career and life detours. They told their daughter about the adjustments they had to make and what coping skills they developed. Crises like joblessness can be opportunities for closeness and personal growth.
4. Develop a job strategy together. Losing a job is a major life trauma. You lose your footing, a sense of making a difference and of using your talents. It's a terrible experience, but it is not the end of your happiness. Talk out and brainstorm plans with the family. Perhaps a job or career change is necessary. More schooling might be needed. Or, a job hunting strategy has to be developed.
Parents shouldn't feel they are "interfering" if they recommend people to contact, revisions to do on the resume, or job and career avenues to explore. And jobless adult children hopefully are mature enough to seek and accept parental help. Strategies might include, for example, contacting a professional head hunter, seeking career counseling, or networking and volunteering in your career area. The goal is to establish openness, team work, and an emphasis on productive actions.
When Tad told his parents that he was going to take a part-time job as a waiter at an expensive restaurant, Tad's father was extremely outraged. He said he "hoped none of his friends would see Tad carrying away dirty plates." Tad explained that he was lucky to get the job. The restaurant was frequented by well-placed people in business, and Tad thought it was a creative networking opportunity as well as a way to earn lots of money in a short time. Tad's father grunted in agreement.
5. Set rules for living together and become mindful of your interactions. Adult children who have built a life for themselves miss their freedom. So do empty-nest parents. Establish early rules about dinner, money, space, cleanliness, and privacy. When Martin moved into the finished basement, he made his own dinner, but he left his dishes in the sink. He also tended to eat the last of something—the last apple, the last brownie. His father was furious and felt taken advantage of.
The best way to limit these aggravations is to think about your daily life and the areas that need to be discussed. Here are some issues for you to address:
Do you want or need your child to contribute money? How much?
Do you want or expect to eat together? Is it going to be "every man for himself" at supper time? Perhaps you can set up a message board or calendar in the house or leave messages on your phones about your evening plans.
How can you all divide up chores so no one feels burdened? Who does the laundry or the dishes? Goes grocery shopping? House cleaning?
How will you handle the need for private time? Will you always watch television together? One of my parent clients developed a rule: "If the bedroom door is closed, don't knock or bother us—unless it is urgent." Embarrassing issues such as adult children bringing home dates or—gasp—having sex in the house must be addressed. When Louis moved in with his divorced mother, the mother made it clear "no girls." Louis couldn't stand the loneliness and moved in with his father—who then wanted to hang out with his son and his dates!
Finally, don't use your adult child as "medicine" to fix an ailing marriage. Several of my young adult clients said they were happily surprised when one of their parents urged them enthusiastically to come home. Tracey said that it "took a while to realize why her mom was so insistent that she come home. "My parents didn't really have much of a marriage. I was like a buffer zone and a breath of fresh air to them. I think I was like a stopper to their depression." By the beginning of the second year, Tracey moved into a house with several other women until she finished her paralegal training.
Living with adults is not easy at any time, but it is particularly challenging during these hard times. Do your groundwork now so that you won't be blindsided later.
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D, MSS, MA, is a nationally recognized psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, specializing in women's issues in love, life, work, and family. Sign up on her website, http://www.lovevictory.com, to receive free advice, blog, cartoon, and information about her two upcoming research-based, self-help books for women: The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie—a cartoon, self-help book and Smart Relationships. You can follow Dr. Wish on Twitter.
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