Due to the pandemic and resulting economic challenges, many adult children have moved back in with their parents. Despite—or in some cases, because of—these familial ties, this living situation isn’t always simple to navigate for the parent or the adult child. Our Founder and Clinical Director Matt Lundquist explores how parents and adult children can create a healthy adult-to-adult relationship while living together for an article in Giddy.
Citing a Pew Research study, which reveals that 2.6 million young people moved in with their parents from February 2020 to July 2020, the article opens by asking Matt whether cohabiting with a parent or adult child is a good idea to begin with. According to Matt, it depends on the state of the individual relationship: “For many people, living with adult parents when there’s a history of toxicity is just a bad idea…But, yes, in some fortunate instances, there’s a chance to heal.”
The key here, Matt observes, is to “avoid repeating old behaviors and find a way to have a relationship that is adult-to-adult.” Given the history between parents and adult children, the pull towards old patterns can be substantial. We’re also in a cultural moment of extended childhood so parts of the adult child may desire to be coddled or managed as a child. Likewise, there may be parts of parents that may wish to do the same out of nostalgia or habit.
One way to avoid old patterns is to create clear boundaries while being cognizant of not infantilizing but “not to such a degree as to sacrifice clarity.” Adulthood needs respect and responsibilities, as well as space and privacy. Adulthood also comes with dating and sex, alcohol and drugs (all of which can be done responsibly). While it’s silly to pretend sex isn’t happening, for example, it’s important to be aware that this has an impact on everyone in the household even if it isn’t expressly named. For instance, it’s polite to inform people you live with if you’re having a guest.
Granted, boundaries are not always easy to set. “In this situation,” Matt explains, “being explicit and direct is often harder in the short term but better for the bigger picture. When a boundary is stipulated in an unclear way, the messaging is fuzzy, and this makes it more likely that feelings will be hurt.”
When talking about these household rules and arrangements, Matt encourages both parents and adult children to approach these discussions with curiosity and openness, as well as explicit buy-in. Invite the other participants in the conversation to state clearly that they’re interested in having the conversation and what the parameters are. He also suggests, “If things get really heated, stop. Think about the kind of environment that’s needed to do this. If tempers are at a simmer (or higher), don’t try to proceed. If they don’t end up calming down, you’re going to need more help.”
In these cases, family therapy can be helpful. Many of our patients, both adult children and parents, ask about how to start family therapy and get the other, occasionally hesitant parties in the door. Matt recommends “that the request be that they come once, rather than assuming they’ve bought into a whole course of treatment.” “A family therapist can anticipate that the buy-in is very often an issue and provide leadership once everyone is in the room. A common concern is people fearing they’ll be ambushed, so making the parameters clear and establishing some transparency is important,” he says.