Home Alone – or Maybe Not

Mean what you say, say what you mean, but don’t say it mean.

Holidays bring a frenzy of excitement and visitors, relatives visiting from far away, friends having holiday happenings, towns and community lighting trees and menorah’s, children bustling all around hyped up on all the goodies and treats, and young adults returning home after time away seeking to reconnect with family traditions.

After the yuletide fades, and the ball falls on New Year’s Day, the excitement starts to settle like falling snow, slow and steady, as the familiar scents of holiday foods and laughter fade into the echoes of the past. The spirit of the season departs as you put the last of your decor in totes to stash away in the attic or under the stairs till next season. And as you get back into the routine and calendar of the new year, hopefully with a renewed sense of purpose and committed to some reasonable goals, you are acutely aware of the juggle of all of the above and the delayed departure of your young adult.

Then, you find yourself no longer home alone.

Whatever the reason for the guest who didn’t leave, it is not time to relegate your young adult back to the life of adolescence. Allowing them to slip back into the safety of the nest, bar a sudden injury or loss, is not a viable option if you are to help them get this “adulating” thing down and help them be able to weather future disappointments that are inevitable in life.

No one gives us a book at the birth/adoption table, nor were the children given a book on “adulting.” Therefore we must glean our expertise from other sources. Some from our own experience with a generous awareness that times have changed, and some from trusted resources. Most recent studies show that our young adults are being forced into dependence by the overwhelming cost of living and perhaps some mountain of student loan debt. Whatever the reason, falling back into the caregiver role is what will stunt their ability to claim the life you dream for them: a life of independence and fulfillment.

Do not start taking on their laundry, picking up after them or footing the bill for everything. It’s time to create the clarity needed to re-launch them into their lives. So whether they are home from a semester of studying Rugby, or they have returned from traveling to find out it’s hard to manage in the great big world without a job, or perhaps they are needing a landing pad to bounce back from a failed marriage, it is time to create a space of resilience. And I get it; those are all challenges that many people face in life; you love them, want to help them, are able to offer that support, but find yourself saying, “now what? And how?”

It’s time to sit down and get real. Here is some Young Adult Parenting Tips:

  1. Clear Boundaries. After a brief period of bereavement and support, as needed, for their unique set back, it is time to inform about what the house conditions of occupancy are for all involved, including you. If you don’t do it, you surely can’t mandate them to do more than you are willing to do. Modeling self-care and personal responsibility is the best form of education we can give our children.

  2. Reasonable Timelines. Barking orders at your young adult as if they are some lazing adolescent is disrespectful. Here’s where you model again. Mean what you say, say what you mean, but don’t say it mean. If disrespecting reasonable curfews (yes it’s okay to say on work nights you don’t want the garage door opening after midnight, or dogs barking, or cooking like its a mid-day BBQ) is the offense, predetermine what happens, and use the rule of three. Three strikes and you are out, LOCKED OUT. May be uncomfortable at first, but sleeping on the sofa or in their car for the night is not the worst thing that could happen. Having a bedroom and the creature comforts of a home come with responsibility and commUNITY. Your home is your commUNITY and members of a commUNITY know and share common values and norms or they must find another community. 

  3. Let the consequence be fair to the offense. Coercive control never usually works; all it does is create animosity and foster an environment where people you attempt to coerce only find ways to make you wish you hadn’t made them do something they didn’t want to do.

  4. Empathetic Support. Do not, I repeat: DO NOT feel sorry for your young person and try to over compensate for where they are. Remember what it was like to have a young mind. You cannot put old heads on young shoulders. Remember, too, some of the best lessons in life are the ones you had to persevere through. Perseverance creates resilient adults and many of our young people will hopefully out live us, so resilience is the quality for success. Have empathy for whatever their struggle is. Find resources or contact someone who can help you do that, and help your young person connect the dots. As Dr. Wayne Dyer says, “Guide and step aside.”

I remember my mother saying, “Once you have kids you are never alone; even when they are not with you, you worry.” Support your young person to be resilient, resourceful, and ready to take on whatever life throws their way. Guide and step aside, and watch the amazing things they are capable of if you let go and let the good orderly direction of their life unfold.

Jacqueline Muller is Clinical Director and Owner of Dynamic Intervention Wellness Solutions. She is a NY State Licensed Clinical Social Worker.