My husband and I have had an empty nest for a few years now and we’re enjoying the freedom and flexibility of not having to raise kids on a daily basis. My married son called me recently and said that he and his wife are struggling financially and want to move back home so they can get back on their feet. He swears it’s not going to be for very long, but I’m nervous about where this could go. They have three small children and I can see myself becoming their built-in babysitter. I love my grandchildren and my children, but this feels like it’s too much right now. Do you have any suggestions on how to make this work?
I hope you’ve shared these concerns with your son and not given him the impression that you’re welcoming him and his family with open arms. While this may be urgent for them, it doesn’t have to be for you. Since nobody knows the parameters of how long this will last as well as expectations and roles, a nice formal sit-down conversation is in order.
This is a conversation that needs to be directed by you and your husband. Your son and daughter-in-law need your support, not the other way around, so you guys need to call the shots and ultimately have the last word.
This may go against your typical way of relating to your children, but this isn’t a typical situation. He’s asking a lot of you and this is a time to be more direct and clear on the front end instead of letting petty irritations and resentments build up over time.
I encourage you to outline three main areas: 1) the exit strategy, 2) covering financial costs, and 3) expectations of roles. I’ll briefly elaborate on each.
First, find out specifically when they plan to leave and do everything you can to stick to that date. This can be a moving target if you don’t get specific about time frames.
Second, it’s going to cost money to have them in your home and it will help them preserve some self-respect if they are required to pay something to stay there. Perhaps they buy all of the groceries or pay certain bills. You might charge them a small amount for rent. Whatever you decide, it’s important that they continue to have financial responsibility for their family.
Third, get clear about what they expect of you and what you expect of them. For example, you will most likely expect your son and/or daughter-in-law to find adequate work so they can be financially secure. You will also want to be clear about expectations for childcare. If you’re open to helping them with their children, be clear about how often and for how long. Also, clarify how housework and other responsibilities for care of the home will be assigned.
Again, the more specific you get on these areas in the beginning, the less likely you are to ruin your relationship with them and set everyone up for failure.
And, please remember that you don’t have to do any of this if you don’t believe it’s a good idea and won’t be in everyone’s best interest. You can still love and support them in a variety of ways without having them live in your home.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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