It had been a wonderful 9 months for Jane and her husband. Their youngest child went off to college and they had the house and their lives to themselves. No more picking up after the kids, waiting on them, cleaning up the bathrooms after them, helping them through their emergencies. They got over the initial shock of having an empty nest. They felt free and spontaneous again. Their chores were light. Then their son moved back in for the summer. And it was like having a 200-pound-baby thrashing about in their nest. He was a good kid, had done well his freshman year and they did love him. But it was a royal pain taking care of him again.
What could they do?
They tried the usual ways of asking, lecturing, berating and arguing, but he continued acting the way he had before he’d left. He seemed to think he was an entitled prince. This was his vacation and he wanted to do only what he wanted to do. When they wanted him to do more, he tried to beat them into submission with angry temper tantrums or to manipulate them to back off by using blame and guilt.
Jane and her husband realized they were making no progress. They had training him to expect to do nothing and get away with being surly. Asking without consequences was just begging. Appeasing him didn’t buy them the civil, polite behavior they wanted.
They didn’t want to throw him out; how could he support himself? Or would he start hanging out with bad company?
They finally told him that since he was no longer a little baby and since he wanted all the rights and privileges of a responsible adult, he was now a guest in their home.
- As a guest he had certain responsibilities, like treating their stuff the way they wanted (not the way he felt like), picking up after himself and asking permission to use their things. They knew that he would act like a good guest if he was staying at a friend's or even an aunt or uncle’s house. They loved him and he was doing well at school and seemed to be on his way to making an independent life for himself and they expected him to act like a good guest.
- They said they wouldn’t accept being treated like victims, servants or slaves, cleaning up after their master. They wanted an adult relationship with an adult they might like being with. If he wanted something from them like room and board, loan of a car or college tuition, he had to pay for what he got by being fun, polite and civil. He also had to get a job so he wouldn’t be hanging around all day. That’s what adults do.
- They said that in his absence, they had created an “Isle of Song” for themselves. No toxic polluters allowed. Anyone who wanted to get on that isle had to add to the music and dance. Was he willing? They knew he could because he acted great around everyone else.
Of course be blew up and tried anger (how could they treat him that way) and guilt (didn’t they love him any more?) to continue to get his lazy, selfish, narcissistic, self-indulgent way.
Even though they suddenly saw him as a bully, they laughed good-naturedly and applauded his efforts to get what he wanted from them. Literally applauded. And then they graded his tantrums: was that a 9.2 or a 6.5?
They told him that he had ‘til Friday to find a place with a friend. They were converting his room into the exercise room they’d always wanted. They told him they were going to buy boxes to pack up all his stuff stored in the garage. And then they went out for coffee and left him alone.
When they returned, their son apologized. He could see they were serious and he’d be a great guest. They had previously agreed to act sad if he said this, and to pretend hat they’d really wanted the exercise room.
They’d also agreed with each other previously to take him back provisionally on a weekly basis. They’d provide a list of chores and met weekly to review performance. But cheerful, gracious and polite behavior was graded at every interaction. Harassment, bullying or verbal abuse were not tolerated.
Summer with him became fun; except when his older sister came home for two weeks. But that’s a different story.
- A grown child who is independent but has to move back suddenly because he lost his job or just got divorced. It’s only for a short time while he gets back on his feet and moves out again.
- A grown child who’s life is a mess and needs to move home because she can’t make it on her own. She hates you and blames all her problems on you. And you’re afraid she’ll move in permanently.