There aren’t many phrases in the English language that are as soothing as “coming home.” It says safety, shelter, comfort. It’s the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in. Coming home to yourself means finding your true nature.
Unfortunately, homecomings are often fraught with challenge and conflict, sometimes made all the more painful by our high expectations. Here are a few situations of this kind, and ideas on how to manage them creatively.
After graduating from college, our son moved back in with us. I thought I’d be thrilled to have him at home, since I missed him like crazy when he was halfway across the country. However, my husband and I feel he’s beginning to intrude upon our life together. As he continues his slow job search, we’re debating how long to allow him to live with us and whether to charge him rent. I pride myself on being a take-charge advisor, but I’m at a loss on this. Isn’t it ironic that parents are sad when their kids leave home, but conflicted when they return? Ironic, yes, but also natural, so don’t waste any time feeling guilty.
I’d suggest that the two of you sit down with your son and talk honestly about your complex feelings. Does he feel embarrassed by having had to return home, or is he perfectly fine with being taken care of again? Tell him how glad you are to be seeing him more often, but also tell him how you have just begun to get used to living by yourselves.
Next, I would spell out the expectations you have for him. This should include what chores he is responsible for while living at home, how long you are willing to allow this living arrangement, and at what point you will start charging him rent.
Even if you choose to waive the rent to help him save money, it would be a good idea to decide on a mutually agreeable time limit for his stay. You don’t want to encourage him to collapse, veg out, or regress to being a kid happily sheltered under your nurturing wing. Your son needs to develop the ability to fly on his own, and gently but persistently nudging him out of the nest will be the healthiest move for him and for you.
A military officer who has just returned from the war in Iraq consulted me yesterday to review his financial situation. I sensed that there was a lot of tension with his wife. He says she’s constantly nagging him to do more work around the house, and often goes out with her girlfriends. I’d like to work with him, but I wonder if he’s headed for a divorce. What’s your take on this? I’d begin by meeting him where he is now. If you try to skirt his marital strain to talk about money matters, he’ll probably zone out and not hear a word you say.
Reassure him that this kind of stressful reentry to a relationship is very common. In fact, it’s much more the norm than the exception. Remind him that his spouse had to do a lot of emotional work to adjust to his being gone. Once she did, it’s natural that she would hold onto her newfound sense of autonomy. Now that he’s home, she has to struggle with making space to welcome him back wholeheartedly into her life. If there was tension between them before he left, his absence may well have widened the rift.
You can also empathize with what I imagine is his post-war exhaustion. Needing to replenish body and soul after whatever he went through overseas, he might find it hard to do enough work around the house to please his wife. I would encourage him to consider the possibility of couples counseling, at least for a limited time, so that both he and his wife can have a safe place to air their feelings and negotiate how they will live together in harmony.
Once you have given him compassionate feedback and concrete suggestions about where to turn for help, you may then be able to steer his attention back to the financial arena and make recommendations that he can listen to and act upon.
My 80-year-old mother-in-law moved in with us a couple of months ago, and it’s really starting to get on my nerves. My kids like having Grandma around, and my wife seems fine with this arrangement (although she’s become rather short-tempered with me lately). But I don’t feel at home in my own house anymore. What can I do? Few things are more difficult than trying to maintain harmony in your life amid the tremendous stress of an elderly parent moving in, with all their limitations, foibles, and eccentricities.
I suspect that your wife is less happy with this situation than you think, and that’s why her irritability is leaking out at you. It would be a good idea for you both to schedule “dates” together out of the house, even if you have to pay for help with your mother-in-law, so you can rekindle your relationship away from these multigenerational pressures.