Tracey Shipley
Youth, family and addictions counselor/creative therapist
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When our adult kids move back home

Be firm, employ 'reflective listening,' and be sure you know the difference between communicating and nagging

I doubt there is a problem more vexing than parenting a semi-adult son or daughter who moves out to and then moves back home. Living on your own as a young adult in Israel is very expensive unless they live in the outlying areas, so this phenomenon is not uncommon. So what do we do when, for whatever reason they ask “Can I come live back home for a while?” As parents we are accustomed to teaching and interfering in our young children’s life applying consequences when needed. Is it the same with our adult children? Do our rules apply as they did when they were young even when they are used to living by their own rules in their own homes? One of the families I work with is dealing with this issue. Their son moved out a year earlier. He managed to maintain a job but was clueless about budgeting. He made a lot of foolish mistakes and asked to move back home.

At the age of 26 there was nothing he wanted more than to feel like a successful adult and to earn his parents respect and trust. The problem was that there was so much history all they saw were his transgressions and the reasons he had to come home. Their lack of trust was out of fear. “How can we trust him to drive our car? How can we help him to be ready to move out over the next year? Should we be giving him money, paying for his treatment, cooking for him, letting him sleep most of the day, forcing him to truly look for a job? What’s the difference between sharing our care and concern and nagging?”

It is valid and natural for us to not trust them when they have demonstrated that they are not trustworthy. However we must develop a plan to allow them to earn back our trust. In this particular case he had been stopped while driving their car and found to be driving under the influence. So in the case of the car I suggested they buy a drug test at the local pharmacy and drug test their son before allowing him to drive the car. Next give him guidelines for living with them. Come up with a due date that he must either move out or pay for rent, food, etc. He’ll need to know that should he not find a job by the assigned date he will be asked to leave the house possibly with no other place to go. You don’t need to remind him of this ultimatum; however it is important to help him plan for this day. You can do this by planning a weekly meeting to see how he is progressing toward his goals so that he won’t find himself on the day agreed upon unprepared.

As to the goal of preparation you can help him to open an online budget plan and write down everything he spends now as well as what he will need to spend in the future when he is on his own. This will prepare him for understanding his realistic monthly needs and hopefully avoid him moving back home again. And most important: stick to your guns!! One bout of inconsistency and your credibility is lost.

Now for “Shalom Bayit”. Dealing with how to make life at home bearable and even beneficial to their relationship became our main focus. There is nothing more important than good communication. In reference to the difference between nagging and communicating, here is the general rule: Should we mention something once, we are communicating. Should we keep speaking about it trying to control the outcome we are nagging. This never works. To begin with it takes the responsibility off of them and gives it to us. Allowing them to suffer the outcome of their choices is the only way they will learn. In this case his mother was constantly nagging him to prepare for his life as an adult. It caused power struggles and he never wanted to talk to her for fear the rant would begin.

I shared that in my opinion the most effective way of communicating is through I messages. For instance: I feel scared when I see you sleeping late and uninterested in getting a job, I wish you would share with me how you are feeling and what your plans are. The I message avoids beginning a sentence with the word You which always puts the other on the defense.

When they respond, a useful tool is reflective listening. “I heard you say that you have applied for jobs and your plans are to find one within a month, is that what you said?” By verifying what you hear you avoid miscommunication and give your young adult the feeling that you are actually listening and care about what he has shared. You can always ask if he would like your input. If yes and you can give it without judgment, go for it. If he says no respect that and wish him good luck. In this case when the mom changed the way she spoke to her son and allowed him to make his choices on his own, their relationship became better than ever.

The final important point is being on the same page with your partner. In this case he always called his dad and made deals with him knowing that his dad generally gave in to his requests. My conversation with his father emphasized the point that you never have to answer on demand. Tell him that you have to talk it over with his mother first and together they would make a decision. All of the tools I mentioned are tools our young adults can take with them when they do finally leave home. There are no power struggles, just honest respectful communication and our kids always have the opportunity to earn their good graces back again.

Tracey Shipley is a youth and family counselor in Jerusalem and an addictions specialist. More of her articles appear on her website:

About the Author
Tracey Shipley is a youth and family counselor specializing in addictions and family communication. She was born in the US and moved to Israel in 1984 to continue her studies in Art Therapy. She moved back to the US in 1989 and began working in a drug rehab for teens where she was trained while she worked as a primary counselor. She moved back to Israel in 1996 and continued her work in addictions at the Jerusalem Methadone Clinic for a total of 9 years. She initiated projects for the children of the addicts at the Methadone Clinic, Established a program for Ethiopian Teens educating them about their culture and opened the Jerusalem School of Rock program which helps to create teen rock bands and established monthly teen music events at downtown venues where teens perform for their friends in a teen friendly exciting atmosphere. In addtion to her projects Tracey is the English Speaking Volunteer Coordinator for Emunah Jerusalem.
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