My son leaves his dirty socks on the coffee table. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s a habit of his I’m desperately trying to get him to break. His excuse is that he’s 12—what’s yours?
Moving home after living on your own can be a bumpy ride. Remember—oh, approximately four years ago—how it was when you did it in reverse? All of a sudden, there was no one there to tell you to take your socks off the coffee table or wait up for you at night. It was liberating, right?
Maybe your habits have changed or you’ve modeled your life around the rules upon which you were raised. Regardless, like many of your peers, you’re now heading back to where you started, or so it seems.
You may have changed over the years, but expectations at home have not. So, how will you adapt?
I’ve seen clients graduate from college with the expectation that returning home should be a no-brainer (and, yes, that was me).
Gathering up your life and plopping yourself, your stuff, and your lifestyle down back home likely warrants good, old-fashioned (i.e. face-to-face, no texting) communication. Useful questions to ask yourself, and your family, are:
- What am I expecting from this situation?
- What am I expecting of my parents and family?
- What are my parents and family expecting of me?
Remember, they’ve been home all along, but you haven’t. You may feel that the hours you keep are only your concern—and, in some households, that may be. But, have a conversation about it with your folks. An early tête-à-tête can go a long way in setting you up for success as you navigate this new territory.
Another productive strategy is to check your intentions. This will help you create parameters and boundaries.
As a child, home was simply where you lived. Your parents put a roof over your head until you left for college. There was no choice involved and, in some ways, you might say it was a means to an end.
But, was their intention to provide an indefinite period of shelter or is post-college supposed to be a deadline of sorts?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Why are you moving back home?
- Is this an open-ended plan or is it a means to an end?
- Are my intentions in sync with my expectations?
After you get some clarity regarding your answers, be sure to ask your parents questions number two and three. Structure is important at a time like this, so it’s necessary to get on a page with them.
Write a contract
Opening communication lines in the service of creating a common understanding of your re-acclimation to home is a great way to start engaging in adult behavior. It’s a foundational aspect of Relationship Building 101.
There are myriad topics regarding household etiquette that are suitable for discussion. Here are some important items to consider:
- What kinds of hours can you keep? Questions to ask: Are you expected to text someone at home if you’ll be returning after midnight? What are the guidelines for coming and going, if any?
- How can you contribute? Questions to ask: Are you paying rent? If yes, when is it due? Are there certain tasks you can perform to “pitch in” around the house? Are there errands you can run?
- Are meals included? Questions to ask: Are you expected to join the family for meals or do you RSVP when you plan on being present? If yes, how much notice does the chef require?
- Can you use the car? Questions to ask: What exactly does this mean? When can you use it? What’s the expectation regarding gas consumption and replacement?
- Don’t leave one tissue behind. Translation: Look around you. Pay attention. You used the last tissue? Then check to see if there are boxes stored away someplace and replace it. Or better yet, replace the box. There is nothing like a bathroom with an empty tissue box—or worse, one with an empty roll of toilet paper!
This is just a sampling of the kinds of issues of which you should do your best to be mindful.
Once you have these conversations, why not write up a contract outlining all the rules? A solidly outlined arrangement is a concrete way to keep everyone in check.
Yes, this is your “home” but, at this stage in life, approach your stay from the perspective of a paying guest. Chances are, if you view it from that angle, you’ll be more inclined to think about ways to be a considerate tenant.
Who am I?
Here is the less concrete part:
You are a different you after having lived on your own.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Left to your own devices, your life became your call. The beauty of having had the opportunity to live away from home as an independent-dependent is that it required you to take control of your life.
Folks at home may not be used to that. Remember, while you’ve been busy becoming independent, they’ve been home adjusting to life in your absence. Give them a chance to get to know the post-college you.
Just because it’s not in writing
Introducing your family to your new self is not something you can write up in a contract. So, engage them in ongoing conversations. Try to hang around for dinner sometimes. Or, identify activities in the past where your family best communicated and show up then. Even better—be the initiator. Set a tone of respect all around and you will likely be respected in return.
Here are some good questions to ask yourself, first:
- Who are you (in this moment, at least)?
- How have you changed (as much as you are aware of this)?
- What are you feeling (which may change moment to moment)?
Getting to know your new self in the context of your old self may be an eye-opening experience for you (and everyone else). Since it can be overwhelming, take it slowly and thoughtfully.
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About the Author | Jennifer Abcug, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist in New York City, where she specializes in women’s life transitions. Prior to this, she counseled patients and families at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Convinced the earth moved after reading Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day,” the question: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” has become a focal point of Jennifer’s practice.