Maybe you’ve been living on your own, but you’ve just lost your job, started a side business, or gone back to school. Or maybe you want to save rent money to buy a house, travel or get married. Whatever the reason, you’ve found yourself back in your childhood home. And that transition can be stressful and taxing.
When your parents become your roommates, the boundaries can become, well, blurry. Do you really have to abide by their house rules? Is it possible to respect them, but live your own life? How do you live side-by-side when you disagree about pretty much everything? It won’t always be easy, and you should prepare for rough patches, but there is a way forward.
In his book “The Next America,” author Paul Taylor points out that the older and younger generations are more different from each other now than in any other time in living memory. More millennials are abandoning religion, getting married later (if at all) and struggling with debt. And of course, more 20-somethings are living at home than previous generations.
Because of the generational differences (and the child’s shift to adulthood), there are bound to be disagreements, conflicts and a greater need for conversation.
You’re about to get in very sticky territory. Proceed with caution.
“As kids get older, the nature of the parent-child relationship changes,” said BJ Gallagher, a sociologist and author of “Everything I Need to Know I’ve Learned from Other Women.” “Parents (tend to) still think of their kids as being younger than their current age, so it’s hard for them to cultivate the respect that adult kids need.”
This is why she suggests that parents and children have a conversation about roles, responsibilities, expectations and boundaries before the child moves back home.
Questions that should be addressed between a parent and child, said Sarah Epstein, a marriage and family therapist, include: “Will the adult child be expected to pay rent? Who will cover the cost of food? Do parents expect their child to attend dinner? Will there be responsibilities around the house for the child? Do the parents get a say in the adult child’s life choices while they live under their roof? Does the adult child expect to be taken care of while the parents expect the adult child to take care of his or herself?”
Even if you establish boundaries with your parents, you will likely encounter conflicts daily, especially if you disagree with your parents’ rules. If your parents have a problem with premarital sex, for instance, they may ban sleepovers. They might also establish a “no drinking or smoking in the house” rule, especially if you have younger siblings who still live at home.
Susan Newman, social psychologist and author of “Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily,” said that adult children should honor their parents’ house rules for as long as they’re living under their roof.
If a parent disagrees with your lifestyle, however, it’s not okay for them to make judgements or to invade your personal space. Your parents should no longer be parenting you, either. They should be treating you the same way they would another adult.
As the adult child, you can determine what topics are off-limits, like dating, politics or religion. Don’t be afraid to say, “I understand you want to help, but I am an adult and I can make my own choices.”
Talking money with your parents is never fun, especially when you’re an adult. But, Gallagher said, “money is a fact of life and shouldn’t be a taboo subject.”
If you’re planning to live at home or are already are, you need to get the money talk out of the way—the sooner, the better. You should talk about rent: if you can pay it or if you can’t. If you’re not paying rent, you should ask what else your parents expect of you.
Many times, adults who can’t contribute financially want to contribute in other ways, so they feel like they’re pulling their weight in the family, Newman said. This might mean mowing the lawn, doing the grocery shopping or taking over a household chore like dishes.
Whatever the agreed upon contributions, “money should not rule the relationship,” Newman said. “Don’t let money problems cloud personal feelings.”
Alison Carville, 28, a self-employed public relations professional, lives at home with her parents. She pays $120 a month in rent, pays the family cell phone bill every third month and does her share of the household chores.
Even though she and her parents have established clear expectations, issues still arise.
“Be mindful of how much space you’re taking up,” Carville said. “Are you leaving rooms (messier) than when you found them? Are you eating all the food and not replacing anything? Try to adjust your habits, as needed, so things at home flow smoothly.”
Living with your parents as an adult is challenging, especially when you’re used to living on your own, but Epstein said that it’s important to “express immense gratitude that your parents are allowing you to live in their home.” They don’t have to, after all.
In her book, Newman offers cardinal rules for adult children living with their parents. Among them: “Don’t rehash past negatives. Move on. Use humor to ease sticky situations. Retain a ‘We’re in this together’ attitude while holding on to your separate life.” To avoid conflict, she said, “stay away from hot-button issues.”
This means you shouldn’t try to change your parents’ political views or beliefs, and they shouldn’t try to change yours. Ideally, this living arrangement is temporary. Try to be patient, respectful and understanding of your parents, no matter how frustrating the situation gets.
When you were growing up, “parents were ruling the roof, they were calling the shots, (but) there is a power shift,” Newman said. “Ideally, the power is split, (and) building that relationship becomes a cooperative effort.”
Remember, even as your parents suggest what jobs you should be applying for, or who you should or shouldn’t be dating: You’re in this together. If you’re lucky, you’ll agree to household rules, live in harmony, avoid disagreements and, eventually, shift from a parent/child relationship to one of mutual respect. Maybe even friendship.