Family relationships develop and change as grow older. As children move into the teen years and adulthood, communication takes on new dimensions. When children move out of the house, everyone must adapt to a certain separateness. When children who have moved out of the house return, there need to be certain boundaries to define behavior.
For example, the child who has moved out may resent ‘their room’ being used for other family members or uses. Parents need to set boundaries early on, especially if their are other family members to consider that the bedroom that they used when they lived at home is not owned by them. Other simple boundaries may need to be set. When adult children lived at home, they may have been allowed to do things that they are not allowed to do when they return. Simple things like helping themselves to food or laundry facilities are privileges that the child who has moved out may give up. Adult children need to learn that our family home is not their personal storage facility or dumping ground. Parents are not a shelter for unwanted pets. When adult children are of age to drink alcohol, they need to be respectful about how they do so in the family home. Parents are not a convenient address, answering machine or secretarial service for transient adult children. When adult children come for a visit they should be expected to act like any other visitor.
These may sound like petty restrictions. The fact of the matter is that it’s easy for adult children to take advantage of the family home. The adult child may undermine the parents authority with younger children. They may involve themselves in discussions which are none of their business. They may question choices made by parents about the care of younger siblings. Adult children tend to think of the family home as ‘my home’ and not a home where other people still live and interact.
Often the adult child secretly misses living at home, being a child and being cared for. Many adult children while not necessarily cognizant of this fact, want the benefits of living at home with the freedom of living away from home. This is unrealistic and to allow them to indulge in this delusion is unfair to everyone. Of course, most parents want their children to feel comfortable at home. But when the choice is made to move out, the child becomes a separate ‘household’ as it were. Just as I don’t want my friends or relatives rummaging through my cupboards or possessions, I don’t appreciate grown children doing this. There is a difference between making people feel welcome and comfortable and letting them take advantage of your hospitality.
The reason that I’ve devoted an entire article to this issue is that while setting boundaries with people outside the family may not be difficult, many parents find it challenging to do so with adult children. We miss our adult children and enjoy their company. The last thing we want is to set boundaries for them. But like it or not, our adult children are adults. They need to learn to behave as such. This is especially important if there are other siblings still at home. If we let them get away with acting like kids in our home, they will not learn those valuable life lessons. Setting boundaries with adult children is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.