by Dr. William “Marty” Martin
May and June are the months associated with graduations and weddings. Both represent big transitions in life. The focus here will be on graduation. Not so long ago, graduation marked not just the end of formal education, but also the beginning of economic independence.
While graduation still represents the end of formal education, for an increasingly larger and larger percentage of graduates it does not bring about economic autonomy. For the most part, this has little to do with the work ethic of this texting generation. It has more to do with how the economy has fundamentally changed in structure. In short, it is more than simply a low point in the economic cycle.
Even if you do not have children, the full engagement of today’s youth is important for a fully functioning economy and society. Did your children leave your home many years ago to lead an independent life? Most do, but more and more of them are returning home—and along with them may even be grandchildren. This is not necessarily bad or good, but different from what we have been socialized to believe is the “right way to develop.”
There are clear benefits to living in a multi-generational home. In fact, it can be invaluable to live in a place where the young can assist the old and the older can guide the young. There are also clear challenges about how to develop a relationship with your now adult children who have to depend upon you economically.
The key is to keep the lines of communication open, as well as develop crystal clear rules and expectations. Refrain from engaging in mindreading. That is, you believe that your children, if they love you, will know how you feel, believe what you believe, and follow your “unspoken” rules. One of the toughest issues to bring up with your adult children revolves around money and contributing to the household in some fashion.
It may be that your adult children cannot give you any money in return for living at home. Still, will you expect them to do anything such as clean the house, cook, and engage in other activities that add value to the household? Or, on the other hand, will you allow them to live “free and clear” of any responsibilities? This is a decision that you and your spouse/partner must make first. Then, ideally, you can communicate your wishes together and hold your adult children accountable to whatever decision that you make.
It may be a long time before the economy improves to the point the old pattern returns. The pattern being that after college, children find—and automatically begin working at—a job that offers the newly minted graduate enough money to live independently. In the meantime, be open to the reality that your adult children may be with you in the nest a bit longer than you both of you had planned. The reality is that they may leave, but just like a boomerang return at some point…and that is OK. In the end, everyone involved may benefit from the experience.
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