Marilyn Heins

Ilustración por Tammie Graves / La Estrella de Tucsón

Illustration by Tammie Graves / Arizona Daily Star

Parenting adult children sounds weird. By the time they are adults our children should be on their own, right? Not these days. For the first time since 1940 more children between the ages of 18 and 34 are living in their parents’ home than are in any other living arrangements.

Some of these children are going to college or working at a low-salary job. Some are “boomerang” kids who were living independently or at college but for financial or other reasons returned to the nest. From what parents tell me many children today cannot find a job that pays enough for them to live independently including, sadly, some of those who are college-educated.

The economic, social, and political upheavals in our country today have created what I call the “un-American dream.” Living as well or better than one’s parents is not possible for many of our young people while in my generation it was a given.

Recent questions on my desk deal with the pragmatic problems of two-generational households. “My daughter is a college freshman living at home so she doesn’t have to take out loans. She just turned 18 and wants her boyfriend to sleep over weekends. We are horrified she would even ask us.” “My son lost his job and has moved back in. He is 26 and tells us he needs money to make his car payments to look for a job but he also wants money for weekends.”

Both the parents and adult children are likely to have have strong, rarely spoken feelings. The parents may look forward to, or already enjoy, their empty nest. The college student seeks autonomy and probably would rather be in a college dorm than under her parents’ thumbs. The adult child was definitely happier when he had both autonomy and a paycheck.

I always advocate prevention. Take the time to write a “contract” stating expectations of both sides in the areas of common space, privacy, hours, noise, chores, and meals. When we had a boomerang child we did this. It may sound like we lived in a boarding house instead of a family but it worked for us.

Decide together how common space like the kitchen and TV room will be shared. Be specific about hours. Decent attire for all and at all times. Respect locks and boundaries and remember both children and parents need pivacy.

Courtesy demands that all adults let each other know when they are leaving and when they expect to be back. If there is a delay, call.

Housekeeping? List tasks and agree on who does what. Parents should not do a grown child’s personal laundry or room. Wise parents remind the children about parental idiosyncrasies like freaking if anybody leaves dirty dishes in the sink (one of my personal intolerances).

Noise can lead to conflict. Decide what decibels are OK for TV and music. Merely using the microwave or the washing machine at 2 am can wake others.

Meals and food shopping can also be problematic. When one of our adult children came back home after being on his own for several years, we learned to get everybody’s schedule in advance so we did not purchase and prepare too much or too little. The rule for everybody was always a phone call, never a no-show.

Call a family meeting to tweak any arrangements that need tweaking. Communication before seething is the best way to coexist.

Moving in ideally includes a plan for moving out. Flexibility may be needed in these uncertain days but an adult child should be job-hunting or in school, not a couch potato in Mom and Dad’s pad.

That was the easy stuff. Here come the tough topics: money and sex. We don’t know anything about either the son or parents’ finances. Yes, a car is an essential but an “allowance” for partying at age 26? Even if the parents can afford it? There is a danger in doing so because the man might feel like an adolescent and men, not juveniles, get hired. Gas and lunch money if he is flat broke? Of course. However as soon as the son is getting on his feet he should be paying rent based on the costs of running the house. The daughter at college should know these costs so she understands the magnitude of her loan-free ride.

Sex in adolescents is not an easy issue. As in many issues I can see both sides. An 18-year-old is legally an adult and if the daughter in today’s question was living in college, parents would not know if the boyfriend was sleeping over. But parents are people with strong feelings too and it is their house. You can say no.

Over the years as sexual mores have changed I have wrestled with and dealt with the sleeping-over issue. Parents today tell me they would rather know what their teen is doing and be confident that their teen (both daughters and sons) knows how to prevent a pregnancy and avoid a sexually-transmitted disease.

I have come to feel the same way. For me my child’s health and the assumption of responsibility to avoid pregnancy far outweigh other considerations.

What I am most squeamish about today is the combination of binge-drinking and promiscuous sex as well as campus rape. If I had adolescent kids today I would talk with both my daughters and sons about party binge drinking and casual sex. An important goal of adolescence and early adulthood is to find love and a lifetime mate. Falling into oblivion and waking up in bed is the antithesis of love. Parents, teachers, preachers, and all the responsible adults our kids look up to should take this stance.

Dr. Heins is a pediatrician, parent, grandparent, great-step grandparent, and the founder and CEO of ParentKidsRight.com. She welcomes your individual parenting questions. Email info@ParentKidsRight.com for a professional, personal, private, and free answer to your questions.