Wanted: online support group for parents with adult kids at home
Just after my most recent speech on dealing with difficult people, a 40-something woman approached me and confided in a desperate half-whisper, "My problem is my 22-year-old daughter who lives with me. She's a single mother with no job and no plans. She doesn't lift a finger to help around the house. I don't know how much more of this I can take. What should I do?"
Parents all over the continent are asking the same thorny question as downsized, recession-weary children shuffle back to their refuge of last resort: the family home. It's only natural for caring moms and dads to want to help their kids regroup. Yet it's equally natural for resentment to set in when "a few months" morph into a year or more, with no plan to move on or contribution to the family's well-being.
There ought to be an online support group where frustrated parents can learn from the real experts---other parents who have been there and survived to tell the tale. You'd think that somewhere in cyberspace, there'd be a virtual hearthside for parents who want to help their kids without coddling them (talk about a delicate balance). But I've been looking for that haven for months. And I haven't found it yet (if I've missed something, do speak up).
My search began last fall, when Canada's Best Health magazine asked me to find out how two generations of adults can share the family home with a sense of purpose and good will. I interviewed a therapist who knows a thing or two about setting limits and making them stick. I consulted a financial planner who has seen retirees compromise their future to support so-called "boomerang kids." Friends connected me with families who have actually grown closer while an adult child regrouped at home---although they did admit to some glitches along the way.
Meanwhile I put out a call on this website for stories from the front lines of multi-generational living. I expected that some of those stories would be cautionary tales from can't-cope, wit's-end parents worn out by the surly presence of a layabout son or daughter. When weeks went by and no one responded, I pressed on with my magazine piece.
I backed up my research with a wealth of personal experience. Unlike anyone else I knew, I had lived this topic from both the parent's and the child's point of view. When my son returned to the nest in his 20s and stayed around for a year, my husband and I found soon found ourselves itching to reclaim our privacy, yet unable to propose a firm move-out date. I used to complain about this at the office---to the point where one cheeky staffer, about the same age as my son, piped up that she knew the solution: "Why don't you and your husband start having wild sex on the kitchen table? That'll get rid of him!"
Perhaps history was repeating. When I was 23, temporarily estranged from my husband, I too returned home to my old room. I had no money, no plans and a toddler in tow. (Sound familiar?) I expected a well-stocked fridge, and occasionally deigned to sweep the kitchen floor. My mother never told me it was time to start living like a grownup, nor did she set a deadline on my presence in her home. She waited, seething, for the problem to solve itself, which it eventually did when I returned to my marriage.
A literary scholar, my mother had been quoting poems all my life. Her favourite passages included this, from Robert Frost's"The Death of the Hired Man:"
Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.
Maybe so. But that doesn't mean they have to let their daughter veg out in front of their TV, scattering granola crumbs, instead of looking for work.
My mother could have used some straight talk---and a good kick in the pants---from parents who understood her challenge. But none of her friends had seen a household like the one she and I were sharing so uneasily. Back then, more than 35 years ago, it was not considered cool for young people to live with their parents. I felt secretly ashamed of occupying a virginal room with flocked wallpaper and a child-size desk, instead of a funky flat where Chianti-swilling hipsters partied the night away. And I suspect that my normally take-charge mother felt ashamed of her inability to set any limits on my presence in her home, or impose any rules.
Now that I've walked in her shoes, I understand her hesitation. Mothers, especially, tend to want to shield their children from pain and disappointment. We can't bear the thought of our darlings camping out on a succession of couches, when we've got a perfectly good spare room. We don't want them slinging burgers when they dream of writing a screenplay. But some young adults need to rough it for a while in order to learn that they can cope without our nudging, controlling hand. Our task is not to keep them happy, but to prepare them for the world so that they can make their own happiness. And despite what we may fear, we will not lose their love for sticking to that all-important principle.
My article was published this month in the July/August issue of Best Health (if you live in the U.S., check the near-identical sister magazine, Best You). I stand behind everything I wrote but I'm convinced that some parentsn could use more intensive guidance than a magazine piece can provide. They may not be able to afford family therapy, and they may crave a sounding board daily, not just once a week. That's why they need a support group. And they just might be creating one right here.
I thought no one noticed my previous post Parents with adult children at home: do you have a story to share? Turns out I was mistaken. That page has attracted a steady trickle of visits from parents looking for advice (I know because I monitor the search terms that bring you here). More recently, questions and comments have popped up. If you're not sure how to handle an adult child's return to your home, I promise you'll learn from the real-life wisdom of Pamela, Lisa and Susan. Take a look and see for yourself.
Posted by Rona June 28, 2009 @ 3:00 AM. File in Family ties