MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on December 17th, 2012, 0 Comments

Haley Slides Back into a Role She Should Have Outgrown

Season 4, Episode 10

The Framework

Tonight’s major storylines were about flipping a house and turning a field into a baseball diamond for Luke and Manny’s underdog team. But it was a sideline story about Haley that caught my attention.

It’s breakfast time in the Dunphy household. Haley has been home for only a matter of weeks after being suspended from college, and today is the day that she is set to start a new job. Today is also the day that Claire and Phil slide back into a parenting routine that Haley should have outgrown years ago. And with her parents again in takeover mode, Haley slides right back into a role that she should have outgrown even earlier:

Claire: Haley! Hurry up! I’ve made chocolate chip pancakes.

Phil (to Haley a few minutes later as he sits down next to her at the table): Honey, you excited about your first day? … Listen. Ahem… I want to give you some advice.

Claire: Do it fast! She’s going to be late.

Phil: Work hard. Keep your eyes on the ball. Stay focused. Never… (and then his phone chimes with an in-coming text from Mitchell and all three – Phil, Claire, and Haley – right on cue, lose their focus.)

Haley: Well, I’ve got to go. Don’t want to be late my first… (and then as she glances at her phone to check the time) Oh, my God! Why didn’t you guys tell me the time!!!

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

As Claire warns her boomerang daughter not to be late and Phil offers her unsolicited advice, it’s clear they’re more than a bit anxious. And why wouldn’t they be? When a young adult moves back in – regardless of the reason – it’s normal for parents to worry that, at some level, this is a judgment about their parenting skills.

At least the Dunphys can take comfort in knowing that they are not alone. Today over twenty million 18 to 30-year-olds live with their parents. And like many of these parents, the Dunphys have found that it’s hard to give up the controls when kids move back in. That’s because when we parents fear that our kids are going in the wrong direction, all of our instincts tell us to hold on to them tighter.

And let’s be honest, if Haley is not moving in the wrong direction, she certainly isn’t moving very quickly in the right direction either. I mean it’s not as though she’s actually ready for college – much less adulthood.

But Phil and Claire would do well to remember that their main mission as parents is to help their boomerang daughter on her journey to full adulthood. And to successfully fulfill their mission they need to give up on the idea of trying to control her and instead look for ways to work with her in a partnership based on mutual respect.

The Dunphys (and all of us with young adults moving back in) can increase the odds that what happens in our households will be positive by having a meeting of the minds before the move in takes place to lay the groundwork for the new partnership, highlight the expectations, and work out the details of the transition. It’s a good idea to take and keep notes of what transpires so that you can refer back to what was agreed upon as you work to hold up your end of the bargain and hold them accountable for theirs. If your young adult is already living at home, you can still have this conversation by finding a good time to talk and beginning the conversation with something as simple as, “You know, I’ve been thinking more about your transition back home…”

Regardless of when the conversation takes place, here are some things that you’ll want to include in the discussion:

Set a time limit. You can always renegotiate the timeframe later if you need to, but it’s wise to set a target date for moving out before your young adult even moves in. The date will depend on the specific reason(s) that brought them home in the first place. It may be weeks, months, perhaps even a few years in the future.

Help clarify their goals. Candidly discuss your young adult’s reasons for moving back and help them come up with goals they’ll be working to achieve while they’re home. Are they (like Haley) back home on a school required break? If so, you’ll want to consider what they need to be able to do to be more successful the next time around. Or did they move back to get some work experience? Or to payoff credit card debt or save up for a down payment on a place of their own? Whatever the reasons for their move back home, help them set measurable goals based on those reasons.

Talk about rent. There’s nothing wrong with offering free room and board. But too much dependence on you can create resentment on both sides, so your returning young adult should contribute to the household in some significant way. A recent survey showed that about half the parents with young adults living in their home charge rent. Some parents add or increase the rent by a predetermined amount as time passes. And some charge rent and then return it to the young adult in a lump sum when they move out.

Settle on chores. Returning young adults should cleanup after themselves and help around the house – whether it’s in addition to rent or instead of it. Make it clear that they’re not guests. To treat them like they are does nothing to nudge them towards independence. So together settle on clear expectations about their responsibilities while they’re living at home. They might be in-charge of making dinner on predetermined nights or doing supper dishes or the laundry or yard work. Whatever it is, it should be significant, and it should be spelled out in detail.

Negotiate rules. It’s important to discuss and come to an agreement on any issues that affect smooth and happy family functioning. While it’s probably not appropriate to have a curfew for a returning young adult, it is reasonable to ask that they keep you informed of their plans and give you an approximate time when they’ll be home, so you’re not up all night worrying. Other issues that might need to be addressed include overnight guests, drinking, and use of the family car. And don’t forget to talk about the small things that can drive you crazy – things like how long they can leave their clothes in the dryer or dirty dishes in the sink.

The BottomLine

The theme that tied all tonight’s action together – flipping the house, turning a field into a baseball diamond, and getting Haley launched in a new job – was “your family has your back.” While there is more than one version of this saying’s origin, my favorite version involves ancient battles. When the battle got bad, each man would fight against his most trusted comrade’s back to cover what the other could not see.

And this is exactly the kind of partnership we parents should strive to have with our young adults. They still need us to be close to them. But it needs to be a different kind of closeness. When Haley complained Mom, I’m not twelve! in the breakfast scene, she was reminding Claire of this fact.

In the spirit of helping them grow up, we can’t continue in the same relationships that worked when they were younger. If we continue to offer unsolicited advice, they’ll not learn how to make good decisions for themselves. If we resume making their beds, doing their laundry, and paying their bills, we’re not allowing them to become and feel self-sufficient. Over the long haul this can damage their self-confidence and self-esteem. Plus this comfy lifestyle can mean that they never want to move out.

Our goal as parents should be the same as that shared by the comrades who had each other’s back on the battlefield. That is, we should only do for our young adults what they cannot do for themselves. This ought to be our goal no matter where they live. It’s just harder to achieve when they’re back at home and living right under our nose.

Flipping the Frame: From My Life as a Parent

I wasn’t quite this savvy several years ago when my son returned home after being away at college. Many of the things I’ve suggested above are things I wished that I’d done. We did set a move out date though. And because we wanted to send a clear message that this was his last launching, we asked that he not only pack the things he was taking with him as he returned to college but to also pack up the things he was leaving behind. We told him that his bedroom was going to be used for something else. The movie “Failure to Launch” had just been released, so we teased that we might turn the room into his dad’s naked room as the parents in that movie did when their son finally moved out. But in reality our son’s former room became a guest room that he and others used when they came to visit.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• What message do you think Claire and Phil’s anxious hovering sent Haley? What did they say or do that might have unintentionally undermined Haley’s belief in her ability to handle the responsibilities of her new job?

• How might the breakfast scene in the Dunphy household have gone better? What specifically could Claire and Phil have done to be supportive without sliding back into takeover mode?

• Did that breakfast scene have a familiar ring? Do you sometimes find yourself being more controlling than you meant to be with your older teen or young adult? What kinds of things trigger that micromanaging instinct for you?

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