The question: My son recently moved back home into the basement – with his girlfriend. I want him to be on his own two feet, but my spouse won’t take a stand. What should I do?
The answer: You were a walking zombie during the sleepless, colicky nights. With some creative disaster-proofing, you made it through the terrible twos. And you are still stunned that you survived the hormonal teen years without committing a felony offence. So, haven't you paid your dues now that you have an adult child?
If you are like most parents of a 20-something, the answer should be yes, but unfortunately these days, it may also be no.
The 2011 Canadian census tell us that the percentage of young adults (ages 20 to 29) who continue to reside with their parents is significantly higher than 25 years ago and sits at over 40 per cent. This is no surprise when we think of the range of societal changes and financial pressures that we’ve become familiar with over the last few decades.
There is nothing unequivocally wrong with your son residing with you, and it can be a helpful interim situation that actually helps your son, so long as the boundaries and parameters are clearly outlined. But, I’m assuming from your question that the issues are not as clear-cut and that there are compelling reasons you feel this is not a helpful arrangement.
Bigger than even the issue of where and how long your son and his girlfriend reside with you is the difference of opinions between you and your spouse. This is the most important issue that you need to address. The two of you must take a united parental stand. Children, regardless of age, are extremely adept at identifying differences in opinions between parents, and they either intentionally or inadvertently exploit those differences in their favour.
You need to start by having a candid discussion with your husband. Pick a time when the two of you are not stressed, are getting along well, have dedicated time to talk and are free of other distractions. Tell him there is something important you want to speak about. Acknowledge you have different opinions, but want to arrive at an outcome that satisfies both of you. Ask him to hear you out fully without commenting, and let him know you will offer him the same courtesy. Then present your position. Give specific reasons why you feel your son moving back home is not a good idea, and why you feel it doesn’t help him in the long-term. Whenever possible, use words and language that convey to him that you ultimately have the same goals in mind. (“I know we both want him to be independent and to be able to succeed on his own.”) Chances are, from a fundamental values perspective, you and your spouse are more likely to be on the same page than not. Then ask your husband for his perspective and thoughts. Listen to him, without interrupting.
Try to arrive at a compromise that both of you are comfortable with. Perhaps you each give a little; for example, you could work toward a time-limited situation where your son stays with you, but stipulate there be a six- to 12-month plan where he works toward being on his own.
Regardless of how long your son stays, it is integral to the plan that you set parameters that create a motivation for him to move out. It is reasonable and fair for you to expect him and his girlfriend to pay rent (perhaps it is a reduced rent, but ensure you are asking him to contribute in some way); contribute to household bills; be responsible for household chores; and respect certain household rules that you may have (no smoking and no loud parties, for example).
Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network's Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV’s The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra.
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