If you have a student graduating from college or graduate school in the next few weeks, chances are you may be getting that bedroom or basement ready to welcome them home again. It can be an emotional time – and you and your student may have different emotions about the impending living arrangements.
The last few weeks of senior year, including senior festivities and all of those activities surrounding “lasts” and Commencement, are both exhilarating and exhausting. Your student will be moving from the ultimate high to coming face-to-face with the reality of determining what’s next. Or it may be possible that your student graduated a year or two ago, gave a try to a new job and living on their own and is now returning home once again to rethink whether that was the right move.
Your student has become one of the Boomerang Generation – returning back to where they started. They aren’t alone. According to the Wall Street Journal, the percentage of students living at home with parents is the highest it has been since 1940. The Pew Research Center in 2016 found that 32 percent of young adults 18-34 were living at home. Seventy percent of those were happy with the arrangement, 96 percent helped with routine chores, and 75 percent contributed to expenses.
Your graduate has lots to think about – and so do you. Having your young adult living at home impacts everyone. In her book, Don’t Bite Your Tongue, Ruth Nemzoff calls this “second stage parenting” and Katherine S. Newman, in her book The Accordion Family calls this stage “in-house adulthood.” It can be an adventure for everyone.
Knowing how your student feels
Making this new arrangement work, and helping your graduate feel better about it, begins by understanding how your grad may view it. They are entering a phase in which they are untethered and in between. Like the summer before college when they were no longer a high school student but not yet a college student, they are now no longer a college student but not quite yet an adult on their career path. It can be an uncomfortable place to be.
While some graduates leave school with a job and have a clear idea of where they are going, others may not know what they want to do yet and still others have many ideas but can’t pin them down. We’ve told our kids they could do anything – and now is the time they need to face that “anything.” There are decisions to be made. Keep looking for that dream job? Compromise and take something less ideal? Take a temporary, part-time job while figuring it out? And then there are real world demands – rent, car insurance, health insurance, groceries, student loans, taxes, etc.
Returning home can give your graduate a chance to catch their breath, get their bearings, and prepare for what’s to come. It makes sense, but to your grad it may feel as though they are regressing, taking a step backwards, returning to their childhood.
Reverse Culture Shock
By now, your student has acclimated to the culture of their college. They’ve made the transition and been on their own for several years. But they’re not sure what to expect when they return home. Home may not have changed much, but they have.
The reverse culture shock of returning home may take your graduate by surprise because they may not realize how much they – and you – have changed. Everything once familiar now feels foreign. It’s strange and disconcerting. It’s natural for your grad to feel frustrated or irritated. Knowing that change and adaptation is sometimes difficult will help both your student and you.
Making the move back home feel better
There are no easy “how-to” solutions to smooth out the transition back home. Each graduate is different, their reasons for returning home may be different, and each family has a unique dynamic.
Begin with some general principles that will help everyone.
- Three keys to a successful arrangement are planning, communication, and mutual respect. Engage in all of these yourself – and demand them of your grad as well.
- Plan to be a consultant not a CEO. Offer advice, but it’s up to your graduate to take it or not.
- Treat your graduate as an adult. Respect their independence and maturity.
- Your student will be exhausted and possibly feeling a bit like the proverbial “deer in the headlights.” Give them a bit of time to crash, sleep, and adjust before you work on arrangements. But agree together on the length of time they need – a week? A month?
- Remind your graduate that they are not alone – many students are returning home. They may feel better if you reinforce this as a transition time, temporary time to regroup, a stage, a gap period or a dry run for adulthood.
- Congratulate your graduate on making a smart move to take time to get their bearings, save money and pay loans.
Working out a clear arrangement
Once your graduate has had a bit of a break, it’s time to have a sit-down meeting to get started, come to some agreements, and proactively prevent potential issues. Your graduate will appreciate participating as an adult in a process to determine what will make this arrangement work.
- Discuss everyone’s expectations. Will your grad pay rent or contribute financially to household expenses? Will they have responsibilities in the house? Do you expect them to find a job – even if it is a temporary job while they look for something else? Are there house rules?
- Expect some contributions around the house. If your student had roommates, they would all contribute. This is good practice.
- Discuss how long this arrangement is expected to last. Set a time limit and plan to have another meeting to discuss how things are going at that time. This doesn’t mean your grad needs to leave in that amount of time, but it will be a good time to re-evaluate.
- Make your own limits clear. What are you willing to do for your grad and what are you not? Make clear that you won’t “fix” things, but will be there to coach your grad through any rough patches.
Helping your grad make a clear plan for moving forward
- If your grad doesn’t yet have a plan, help them create one. Make it specific. For instance, a plan “to save money” is too vague. How much money? Where will it come from? How much put aside each week or month? In savings? Invest? If they are looking for a job, how will they do that? How much time will they spend and what will they do? Having a plan gives your grad a sense of purpose.
- Talk about student loans. How will they pay them? Help your grad make a plan for repaying loans as quickly as possible.
- How can they contribute financially? Whether or not you’re charging your grad rent, it helps them develop a habit of setting money aside if they contribute regularly to expenses. Some families put this money aside for the student to use later as a deposit on an apartment while others need it to help make ends meet.
Once you and your graduate have agreed on clear expectations for this arrangement and your grad has a plan for moving forward, it’s time to settle in and enjoy this new arrangement for both of you. A few suggestions may help things go smoothly.
- Give your grad permission to change and/or redecorate their room. Moving back into your childhood bedroom can make you feel like a child again. Let them make it an adult space they will enjoy.
- If you have it, provide some storage space for all of those things your grad brought home. Let them store (and perhaps begin to collect some new) things they may want when they move out but don’t need now. Help them keep thinking about the next phase.
- Don’t give advice about things unless you are asked – or you ask permission to share your thoughts.
- Plan periodic meetings to discuss how things are going. If you can, save any issues to discuss them then so you aren’t constantly bringing things up or complaining. Be sure to ask your grad’s perspective on how things are going as well. Expect there to be ongoing negotiations as you work through issues that may arise.
- When in doubt, back off. Remind yourself that you are dealing with an adult now. It’s difficult for everyone to change eighteen years of habits overnight. Give it time.
This can be a wonderful opportunity to get to know your child all over again – now as an adult. In his book, When Will My Grown Up Kid Grow Up? Jeffrey Arnett lists the following guide.
How to Be a Good Friend to Your Grown-Up Kid.
- Observe respectful boundaries; be available but don’t pry.
- Listen more than you talk.
- Do what you both love together and intimacy will follow.
- Set ground rules for how to disagree.
- Be the first to forgive.
- Make room for the significant others in their lives.
It’s a whole new, mostly wonderful adventure!