Adult children tend to move back home after a crisis, whether it be the end of a relationship, unemployment, or illness. They might also move home in transition, for example while waiting for their home renovation to finish or saving up before going travelling.
Covid-19 has become another reason to come together, but in this case, it could also be mutual, with each generation well aware of the need to look after each other. While everyone understands why, it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to do. Having all been apart from each other and running separate households, it can be challenging to share spaces and give ground again. Some simple structures could assist.
Before the kids move back in it’s useful to formally negotiate the terms. Are the adult children polite guests fitting in with their hosts? Are they back being children in their parent’s regime? Are they equally entitled flatmates?
How you conceptualise the arrangements will influence the behaviour and the reactions you get. It may be that everyone has a different concept in mind. Parents might expect to run things; the ‘kids’ might expect to be equals. No wonder there could be clashes! Ideally, you should do this before the move occurs, however, it’s never too late to call a family meeting and do it anyway.
Over a weekly dinner, it’s good to agree to a review and for everyone to have permission to talk about what’s working and what could improve. The ritual makes the discussion happen. If you leave it to chance, it could go underground, with each group retreating to their rooms and seething in silence.
It’s hard not to be sucked back into the old roles played out in childhood. Some of this is warm and familiar and some of it can feel deeply unpleasant.
Older parents might be lying awake at night unable to sleep until everyone is in bed, even if they know this is no longer required. The ‘kids’ can resent the household rules that they shed long ago and no longer want to live by.
Understanding how seductive and compelling it is to fall into the old roles and the old reactions to those roles, and noticing when it happens, will give you an opportunity to ask yourself, ‘how can I play this out differently now? What other options might I employ here?’
Parents can feel insulted that their children are choosing to live differently. However, you can only really get away with this when raising children. When children are adults you have to be aware that your rules were often your preference, rather than the only way to do things. Trying to insist you are still right probably won’t work.
You will have to tolerate alternatives and by trying to be open to learning you might find new ways are appealing after all. For adult children – it’s true that you are a guest in your parent’s home. Fitting in with your ‘host’ can perhaps feel less triggering than ‘doing what Mum and Dad tell me’, so might offer a better way forward.
This is not the time to correct all the wrongs from the past. Don’t aim too high, but be open to possibilities. It might be that at the end of this you all go back to separate houses, relieved you don’t live together permanently. That is understandable. What is more important is ensuring no more relational harm is done in the process.
Given that we are all in this odd time together as a community, many are finding that being thrown together has some great moments to be had. Families are rediscovering games, outdoor exercise, watching movies together, baking and connecting via video with long lost friends and extended family.
However, some will be doing it tough. Maybe the early years were really challenging and kids left home early to escape, the family fell apart under stress, or there were unresolved hurts or abuses. Where there is a negative history, coming together could leave you floundering about how to work together differently and safely. Bear in mind that there are services such as Relationships Australia NSW that are still open and providing services online.
Family meetings can be guided by a skilled facilitator to smooth a way forward. You can ring Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277 for an appointment. If you need to talk through what is happening and require some advice on how to proceed, you can also ring Time2Talk to get some tips on 1300 022 966.