Welcome home! Please don’t unpack!

When the bird needs the nest again, does it ever work?

Is there ever a time when the parent of an adult individual (I have a hard time saying “adult child”) invites said individual back home to regroup, and they don’t end up needing therapy? I’m asking about any parent-son or parent-daughter relationship, but specifically about those that have rocky, unresolved pasts.

It’s natural for us as parents to want to be of help our adult individuals because we are parents for life. It’s the one job that never ends. But is it possible for a parent to see and respect their child as an adult if they come back home with children in tow? And more importantly, have the parent and their adult individuals grown enough to handle living together again with poop-like piles of old hurts threatening to topple over?

I’d like to think that it’s possible; that time has healed old wounds; that even issues that were never talked about have somehow freed themselves out into the universe, and that two adults could co-exist peaceably. Yet I see evidence to the contrary all around me.

I recall sitting in my apartment one quiet afternoon, and hearing voices escalating from the apartment below me – loud talking at first, then ear-splitting curses wrenched out of the apartment to agitate the 90-degree stillness outside. I peeked around the blinds and the two people I recognized as mother and son were squared off in fighting stances, cussing each other out, threatening to call the police, and proclaiming their long-felt hate for each other. Two days later, this same mother-son duo were lovey-dovey, and he was living with her again because, as she put it “I’m not gonna be the kind of mother that kicks her son [her grown son who balled his fists up to hit her two days ago] out on the street.”

But when does the statute of limitations run out and give parents a guilt-free get out of jail pass? And forget about cutting the apron strings, at what point do parents burn the apron and insist on respect in the apartment/house where her adult individual is now a guest?

At the risk of being redundant, I’d still like to think that it is possible for a parents and grown individuals to live in the same space. But in order to actually feel peaceful inviting her grown individual into her physical and emotional space again, perhaps guidelines might help.

  1. Remind her offspring/guest that he/she is grown, and, by law, beyond 18 years old parents are not required to allow him/her to move back in if it’s going to be unduly stressful.
  2. At least one of the two, preferably the parent since it’s their space, needs to activate an immediate grow-up plan and lay down some boundaries and expectations. It would be a mistake for the parent to insist on “taking care” of everything.
  3. Discussing the past is probably not the best idea – unless both adults can agree to disagree without hurtling insults and objects at each other.
  4. As the elder adult, parents should make it clear to grown individual that if he/she wants to be allowed to unpack, it’s agreed that communication (about current issues) is key, respect is necessary, and an expected exit date couldn’t hurt.
  5. Parents reserve the right to include a #5 to this list whenever necessary.

I think these guidelines can be useful when the bird needs the nest again, and create an atmosphere of mutual respect without delving into past problem areas. No parent wants to see their loved ones hurt, angry or frustrated; and most would be happy to able to sit with the person they raised and over glasses of champagne, celebrate the relationship that withstood the dark days of youth and young adulthood.

But it takes two.

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