CYMA SHAPIRO CHATS WITH: Dr. Carl Pickhardt
Dr. Pickhardt, before I begin my questions regarding your book and the wonderful premise and theory behind it, I’d like to pick your brain and offer you some common (mis)conceptions regarding young adults who return to their parent’s home after years of independent living.
Let’s see what this line of questioning provides the reader:
1) Perhaps one of the greatest family “secrets” is the adult child who comes to live back home, and the parents who provide “excuses” for his/her doing so. Can you better explain this co-dependent existence?
Keeping an adult child’s return home a “secret” makes it sound like a source of shame/blame/criticism/guilt — for the child, for the parents, for who? How sad, adding all that painful and unnecessary emotional baggage to a healthy and normal event! About 40% of young people in their twenties, having not yet found or having lost their independent footing, spend some time living back home for a while, if they are fortunate enough to have loving parents able to lend a helping hand. Nothing is “wrong.” Something is “right.” Family is a support system that hopefully is available to all members when times of need arise — just like aging parents will increasingly turn to their grown children for support and care. Rather than be ashamed, be grateful.
2) The current economy is producing an environment where recent grads can’t often financially make it on their own. Do you feel that this societal conundrum is promulgating a mass exodus to ones’ original household?
Certainly hard economic times make it harder to find and keep employment, particularly employment of the well paying kind. Low pay, however, does not keep young people who are determined to live independently from finding a way to do so, without traditional comforts and on the cheap. Those young people who cannot tolerate this lifestyle drop, and who have parents who are willing, do return home to continue enjoying the standard of living to which they have become accustomed growing up.
3) Today’s young adults believe that just following in their parent’s footsteps will produce much “fruit,” but often without much of the “labor.” This ideological belief causes many of them to fail, and return back home. What do you think?
Young people who have become accustomed to part-time work during high school and college tend to have a pretty realistic view of “labor” it takes to create the “fruit” of self-support. Those without any hardworking history of self-support, however, may find working hard for not very much pay not to their liking, and so return home for a while to ponder the work it’s going to take to live independently.
Q: What prompted you to write a book about children who return back home after years of independence?
A: From counseling families over the years, I’ve seen a lot of empty nests get temporarily refilled when young people get into crisis and come back home to recover before trying independence again. I wrote this book to help parents understand that when their teenager graduates from high school, he or she does not enter young adulthood, but begins the last and hardest stage of adolescence, trial independence (ages 18 – 23,) The book is intended to be a primer for parents to help them understand the challenges of this final adolescent stage, extend their care and empower their returning son of daughter during an awkward time, when neither was expecting this family reunion. Now there this more growing up to do and much meaningful (mentoring) parenting that can be done.
Q: Children have always returned back to the nest having: recently graduated, lost a job, divorced, moved away, etc. Do you see this trend as increasing? If so, why?
A: To what degree this trend is increasing, I don’t know, although census figures I seen reported do suggest more young people in their twenties are living (at least for a while) in the parental home. Why this is so may partly have to do with the rapidly changing society in which we live making it harder for young people today to find a stable independent footing than in earlier, simpler times.
Q: Parents of children who “fail” often feel personally responsible for their children’s failures. Through their own denial, these parents agree to take their children back home. Does the healing need to take place between the children and their parents, or within the parents, themselves?
A: Why treat return as a “failure?” All the boomerang means is that a first attempt at independence didn’t result in catching hold, so the return is a chance to learn from the attempt, recover resolution, and get ready to try independence again. The only “failure” here is the failure of grown child and parents to gather positive energy instead of wasting it on pointless, and harmful, self-recrimination.
Q: What suggestions can you offer parents whose children are: broke, alone, jobless, homeless, purposeless other than to live back home?
A: When parents agree to accept a child’s return to live at home, it has to be a conditional, working stay. There needs to be an agreed upon duration of return, agreed upon household terms, and agreed upon objectives to be accomplished. If a son or daughter is in no state to make or keep these commitments, then it may be best to provide some short term temporary financial support for separate lodging, perhaps arrange for some psychological help, continuing to provide committed parental love and faith, all in the hope that these may help the young person find a way to regain their independent footing.
Q: What positivity can be gained by taking a child back into one’s home?
A: A huge amount can be gained by a boomerang home. Most important, parents and older child can learn to live on mutual terms that set the stage for a constructive adult relationship in the years ahead. In addition, parents can learn to respect the right and responsibility of their child to make independent decisions, while the child comes to value the wisdom of life experience that parents have to offer. And in the best scenarios, both enjoy this unexpected extended time living together that they are not likely to ever have again.
Q: What tips can you offer parents and their children regarding this often tense living arrangement?
A: A lot of tension can be avoided when adequate setting of household terms and clarifying of expectations are done at the outset of the stay. If, however, the tension results from unresolved conflicts and unhealed hurt feelings, then this is the time to get some family counseling to work these issues through.
Q: Do you believe that it’s a parent’s “job” to take their young adult/children back into the home if it’s financially feasible?
A: I believe that having children is not a commitment that ends when they leave home, but is life long, and that works two ways: first the old caretake their young, then the young caretake their old.
Q: What do you say to (out of work, unemployed, financially troubled) parents who encourage their child to return back home, for the family’s greater financial gain?
A: Far better to ask your grown child for financial support directly than to indirectly engineer his or her living back with you so you can live off them.
Carl Pickhardt, PhD, and author, Boomerang Kids, is a psychologist in a private conseling practice. He received his BA and MD from Harvard, and his PhD from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a member of the American and Texas psychological associations. Dr. Pickhardt is married with four grown children and one grandchild.