She Said, He Said: When the nest fills up again, time to redefine parenting roles
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My wife and I had been enjoying the first year without our kids in the house, as they are both in college out of state. Because of the virus, they’ve both been sent home and now we have a full house once again. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending more time with my kids, but they’ve gotten used to a more “unsupervised” lifestyle at college so my wife and I feel more like residence hall assistants than parents. We’ve also lost our privacy, which our kids don’t understand. My wife seems to be more accepting of the situation and I feel like I’m the odd man out. How do we stand firm together without creating an unmanageable situation?
Empty Nester No More
Lori and Jeff: Since the early 2000s, approximately 1 in 4 young adults have moved back in with their parents. With COVID-19 and the resulting economic and logistical uncertainties, these numbers are likely to continue to rise. As parents, the responsibility lies with you to be proactive in making cohabitation healthy for everyone.
Jeff: The unexpected disruption of having your kids back home emphasizes the need for you and your wife to be on the same page when it comes to setting boundaries and expectations for the smooth operation of your household. Kids often test the solidarity of their parents by pitting one against the other and now, having tasted a bit more freedom and independence, they may be even more inclined to attempt to triangulate this relationship. It may be time to create a plan with your wife that clearly delineates these boundaries and expectations and then to express them explicitly to your kids.
The other side of this situation is for you and your wife to be proactive about creating time and space together. If having the kids back home has created more tension in the marriage, recognize these added elements of stress and understand that it’s hopefully just a temporary challenge. Offering some extra appreciation and gratitude for each other can go a long way during this unusual time.
Lori: How you perceive your children will have a significant impact on how you manage your crowded nest. College “kids” need more structure and support than young adults. Your offspring have been living on their own and managing their lives independently at least to the extent of eating, sleeping, laundry and maintaining their own schedules. Reverting back to taking care of them as kids will only lead to resentment from you and them. Babying them sends the message that you don’t believe they’re capable of being adults at a time when they’re already feeling insecure and unsure of themselves. Your children can and need to contribute. If they’re unable to chip in financially, they should at least be pulling their weight around the home as roommates rather than dependents.
You will never stop being parents. But now that your children are grown, it’s time to refocus attention and energy on yourself and your marriage. If your wife is struggling to appropriately shift her parenting role, it may be that she needs more support in redefining her sense of identity. She’s been mom for so long, it’s easy to revert back to the role she understands and excelled at. Encourage her to take time for herself, to engage with her friends, and to explore new interests and hobbies.
Lori and Jeff: Transitioning from being the parents of children to being the parents of adults is challenging for every family. As independence increases, parental control is lost. And for parents who have invested so much of themselves into their children, the change in the role of mom or dad can leave a void. Living together again is an opportunity for parents to redefine themselves, and to embrace their new positions as mentors and coaches in helping their children to define themselves, as well.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.
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