Living with your parents, especially when you’re in your 20s and 30s, is becoming the new norm. Currently, almost 15 percent of American adults live with their parents. And according to recent research from the Federal Reserve Board, that’s largely due to soaring student loan debt and lofty mortgage prices.
Sound familiar? Real women who have moved in with their parents, along with family therapy experts, share the simple strategies that will help make your time back in the nest as smooth as possible.
1. Broach the topic in the right way
Don’t hem and haw. Tell your parents that you want to move in with them, what amount of time you foresee being under their roof and, most importantly, why. Be clear about how the time back home will allow you to move out later but in a much better place, financially, professionally or personally, recommends Laura Kowalski, 28, who, with her husband, moved into her parents’ home in 2014. “When I asked my parents if I could move in, I was five months pregnant with our first baby, and I made sure to emphasize that this would be just one step on our journey to get our family into our own home,” she says. “My mom and dad shared that vision for our future, so that made it much easier.”
Taking this clear, direct and well-thought-out approach shows your parents that you’re not trying to use them as a crutch, but rather making a responsible decision for your future, says Dr. Karen Ruskin, a family therapist. It also suggests that you’ll be a responsible roommate, which is a huge selling point.
2. Lay out ground rules
Before you move in, tell your parents that you want to have an honest conversation about each of your concerns and expectations, recommends Carrie Dowling, 30, who lived with her parents while completing an 11-month graduate school program during her early 20s. “When you go back into your parents’ house, you need to be prepared to contribute as an adult, whether that’s financially or by helping with chores, cooking and errands,” she says. “Meanwhile, have your boundaries and stipulations prepared.” Do you want your parents to stay out of your room? Do you expect a significant other to sleep over from time to time?
Establishing these rules, roles and responsibilities is critical to not only figuring out if moving back home is a viable option, but also to keeping the peace if and when you do relocate, says Ruskin. “It’s all about determining expectations. Unspoken expectations are rarely met and generally lead to conflict.”
“That was my mistake,” says Kowalski. “Prior to moving in, we loosely agreed that I would help keep the house clean as my ‘payment’ for living with my parents, but we never specified exactly what that meant. After the baby was born, I was working from home, and I felt overwhelmed. I did what I could, but my mom became frustrated if I didn’t do specific things that she hoped I would do. Setting clear expectations from the beginning would have made for a much smoother transition into living together again.”
3. Remember that old habits die hard
Whatever rules and responsibilities you agree upon before moving in, keep in mind that your old child-parent dynamic is still your default, says Dowling. “It can be easy to revert back to your childhood and expect your parents to clean up after you or pay for you, and you can’t let those things happen or there may be resentment or arguments.”
Likewise, parents can easily fall back into their old child-rearing roles, from doing your laundry for you to prying into your personal life, says Dr. Susan Newman, social psychologist and author of Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily. Tell your parents up front if any topics, from politics to your weight, need to be declared as off-limits. “This is a new regime, and you want to try to put old hurts behind you,” she says. If you all agree from the get-go that the goal is to function as roommates and that you’ll gently tell each other if anyone slips into old habits, you’ll make a big move toward minimizing snafus.
4. Check in regularly
“Clear communication is key,” says Dowling, based on her experiences. “If you’re feeling stifled or frustrated, then you need to be vocal but also respectful to ensure that problems don’t escalate.”
To make sure everyone gets a chance to voice concerns and that no frustrations build, set regular family meetings. As corny as it may sound, they’ll give you a chance to discuss how everything is going, to make sure that expectations are being met and to talk through what, if anything, needs to change, says Newman. The first check-in might feel a little awkward, but it only takes 10 minutes—and you’ll find that it makes everything run much more smoothly.
5. Plan an exit strategy
“If you don’t proactively work on getting out, it’s easy to get comfortable back at home and overstay your welcome,” says Kowalski. “So my advice is to carefully plan out the steps necessary to achieve that exit. For us, we knew we had to implement a savings plan and carefully monitor it until we had enough to purchase our home, and we did that. We also had to be prepared for any complications. In our case, we bought a house that needs extensive renovations, which added an additional six months to our stay with my parents. While this can feel disappointing, we had to be flexible.”
That flexibility is key. While Newman advises having an agreed upon move-out date in mind from the get go, things change and everyone needs to understand that. What’s more, everyone needs to have a clear picture, at any point in time, of how you’re progressing toward your goal of moving out, she says. If you need to adjust your move-out date, make sure to ask your parents if you can stay longer, rather than simply telling them that you aren’t leaving when you had originally planned. “When it comes down to it, they are doing you a favor, and you should show them the necessary amount of respect,” says Dowling.
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