When Grown Kids Return Home to Visit

Reviewed Nov 22, 2019

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Summary

  • A grown child’s visit can upset a family’s balance.
  • When dynamics change, prepare for stress.
  • Plan for a successful visit.

If your grown son or daughter lives away from home, you might be enjoying an empty or emptier nest at home. Maybe you have adjusted to the quiet or the financial pressure of sending a child to college, but every time you pass the kitchen table, you see that empty chair.

Your child, on the other hand, is learning how to live in a new environment, without the comfort of familiar faces or expectations. This may be the first time he has needed to juggle both time and money. He may be new on a job or on a campus in another state. She may be traveling or serving in the military in another part of the world.

It hasn’t been easy for any of you.

An upcoming visit will bring everyone together at home. What should you expect?

How family dynamics change
 
All families operate like mobiles or wind chimes. Parts are interconnected, each with an assigned role. Remove or add one piece and you upset the balance or the melody, explains Kelly Welch, a professor of human development. 

“As families age—or as we launch children—they get unbalanced,” she says, in part because people try to hold on to old roles. We say, “I’ve been a parent for years and you don’t just turn that off!” in spite of our good intentions to let go.

Children resist change, too, maybe even more than parents.

In spite of what they say, most young people expect everything at home to be the same is it was the day they left, experts say. If you’ve painted their room or turned it into a den, be sure to tell them before they come home, or prepare for the consequences.

Actually, they want everything the same, but different. They expect points for taking on new responsibilities or making some of their own decisions. Consequently, they don’t want parents telling them what to do, where to go, when to go to bed, when to get up, or how much time they must spend with the family.

Parents, on the other hand, have their own list. They want to hear all about their child’s new life. They may have invited guests for a holiday dinner, or bought favorite food or tickets to a special event, to celebrate the homecoming. 

Be prepared for stress

“Nature provides that we get older and don’t have to parent after 20 years or so, but kids don’t see it that way,” explains Donald K. Freedheim, a retired psychology professor. He warns that kids tend to regress the minute they walk in the door.

Short visits are fraught with expectations, Freedheim says. If your family life was joyous before your child left home, you can expect more of the same. If not, you can also expect more of the same, he says, at least for a little while. 

Are they adolescents or young adults?

Those who have married, been pregnant, or gone into the military grow up fast. They’re forced to take on responsibility for themselves and others, often moving almost overnight from adolescence to adulthood. 

Others take the slow route. Human development researcher Timothy Rarick looks at the lives of emerging adults, a new age classification for those who are more mature than adolescents but less than young adults. This group—which includes many college students, age 18 to 28—says they don’t feel like adults and aren’t in any hurry to take on that much responsibility.

Although parents assume their twentysomethings are anxious for complete control over their lives, many—especially emerging adults—are treading water, hoping their parents will protect them from disaster but ignore everything else, Rarick says. Eventually, most move on to the point where they make independent decisions, take responsibility for their actions, and reach financial independence.

Don’t rush them. They’ll get there, Rarick promises. Until that time, if you don’t understand or recognize much of what they say or do, don’t fret because most eventually “will come back to the values that were instilled at home.”

Make it a successful visit

Tips for parents:

  1. Discuss ground rules in advance. Plan ahead to avoid bumps and bruises. Say: “This is when dinner is going to be, and I would like a chunk of your time while you are here. What’s a good time?”
  2. Put aside hot buttons (about grades, jobs, money) until a more relaxed time.   
  3. Lay off criticism. Your kids are trying to learn to be adults and that is how it should be, advises psychology professor Linda Bips. 
  4. Ease up on house rules. It is your home, so you can set certain rules, but consider their needs, too. 
  5. Don’t expect your child to stay home all the time. You may have to settle for less time with your child than you want.
  6. Keep changes to the house and routine to a minimum. Many young people living on their own are homesick for a while and return home for comfort. Until they’re ready to fly solo, you might want to slow down plans to move, if possible. 

Grown children can help, too:

  1. Discuss ground rules in advance. Work out a schedule that’s acceptable to everyone. Don’t just run off.
  2. Put aside hot buttons until a more relaxed time. This might not be the best time to announce your plan to quit college or get married, unless you’re certain the news will please everyone.
  3. Expect to share the load. Your home is not a free hotel. Pitch in. Clean up after yourself. Help with chores.
  4. Take your bad habits elsewhere. If it bothers anyone, smoke or drink outside the house.
  5. Respect sleeping hours. This may be your vacation, but not your parents’. Set up a plan to not disrupt anyone’s sleep by coming in late at night.
  6. Your sibling’s life may have changed, too. He or she may enjoy being in the spotlight, for a change. Respect that new status or space. 
By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Linda Bips, PhD, professor of psychology, Muhlenberg College, Muhlenberg, Pa.; Donald K. Freedheim, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio; Timothy Rarick, MS, doctoral candidate, instructor, School of Family Studies and Human Services, Kansas State University, Manhattan Kansas; Kelly Welsh, PhD, professor of human development, School of Family Studies and Human Services, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas

Summary

  • A grown child’s visit can upset a family’s balance.
  • When dynamics change, prepare for stress.
  • Plan for a successful visit.

If your grown son or daughter lives away from home, you might be enjoying an empty or emptier nest at home. Maybe you have adjusted to the quiet or the financial pressure of sending a child to college, but every time you pass the kitchen table, you see that empty chair.

Your child, on the other hand, is learning how to live in a new environment, without the comfort of familiar faces or expectations. This may be the first time he has needed to juggle both time and money. He may be new on a job or on a campus in another state. She may be traveling or serving in the military in another part of the world.

It hasn’t been easy for any of you.

An upcoming visit will bring everyone together at home. What should you expect?

How family dynamics change
 
All families operate like mobiles or wind chimes. Parts are interconnected, each with an assigned role. Remove or add one piece and you upset the balance or the melody, explains Kelly Welch, a professor of human development. 

“As families age—or as we launch children—they get unbalanced,” she says, in part because people try to hold on to old roles. We say, “I’ve been a parent for years and you don’t just turn that off!” in spite of our good intentions to let go.

Children resist change, too, maybe even more than parents.

In spite of what they say, most young people expect everything at home to be the same is it was the day they left, experts say. If you’ve painted their room or turned it into a den, be sure to tell them before they come home, or prepare for the consequences.

Actually, they want everything the same, but different. They expect points for taking on new responsibilities or making some of their own decisions. Consequently, they don’t want parents telling them what to do, where to go, when to go to bed, when to get up, or how much time they must spend with the family.

Parents, on the other hand, have their own list. They want to hear all about their child’s new life. They may have invited guests for a holiday dinner, or bought favorite food or tickets to a special event, to celebrate the homecoming. 

Be prepared for stress

“Nature provides that we get older and don’t have to parent after 20 years or so, but kids don’t see it that way,” explains Donald K. Freedheim, a retired psychology professor. He warns that kids tend to regress the minute they walk in the door.

Short visits are fraught with expectations, Freedheim says. If your family life was joyous before your child left home, you can expect more of the same. If not, you can also expect more of the same, he says, at least for a little while. 

Are they adolescents or young adults?

Those who have married, been pregnant, or gone into the military grow up fast. They’re forced to take on responsibility for themselves and others, often moving almost overnight from adolescence to adulthood. 

Others take the slow route. Human development researcher Timothy Rarick looks at the lives of emerging adults, a new age classification for those who are more mature than adolescents but less than young adults. This group—which includes many college students, age 18 to 28—says they don’t feel like adults and aren’t in any hurry to take on that much responsibility.

Although parents assume their twentysomethings are anxious for complete control over their lives, many—especially emerging adults—are treading water, hoping their parents will protect them from disaster but ignore everything else, Rarick says. Eventually, most move on to the point where they make independent decisions, take responsibility for their actions, and reach financial independence.

Don’t rush them. They’ll get there, Rarick promises. Until that time, if you don’t understand or recognize much of what they say or do, don’t fret because most eventually “will come back to the values that were instilled at home.”

Make it a successful visit

Tips for parents:

  1. Discuss ground rules in advance. Plan ahead to avoid bumps and bruises. Say: “This is when dinner is going to be, and I would like a chunk of your time while you are here. What’s a good time?”
  2. Put aside hot buttons (about grades, jobs, money) until a more relaxed time.   
  3. Lay off criticism. Your kids are trying to learn to be adults and that is how it should be, advises psychology professor Linda Bips. 
  4. Ease up on house rules. It is your home, so you can set certain rules, but consider their needs, too. 
  5. Don’t expect your child to stay home all the time. You may have to settle for less time with your child than you want.
  6. Keep changes to the house and routine to a minimum. Many young people living on their own are homesick for a while and return home for comfort. Until they’re ready to fly solo, you might want to slow down plans to move, if possible. 

Grown children can help, too:

  1. Discuss ground rules in advance. Work out a schedule that’s acceptable to everyone. Don’t just run off.
  2. Put aside hot buttons until a more relaxed time. This might not be the best time to announce your plan to quit college or get married, unless you’re certain the news will please everyone.
  3. Expect to share the load. Your home is not a free hotel. Pitch in. Clean up after yourself. Help with chores.
  4. Take your bad habits elsewhere. If it bothers anyone, smoke or drink outside the house.
  5. Respect sleeping hours. This may be your vacation, but not your parents’. Set up a plan to not disrupt anyone’s sleep by coming in late at night.
  6. Your sibling’s life may have changed, too. He or she may enjoy being in the spotlight, for a change. Respect that new status or space. 
By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Linda Bips, PhD, professor of psychology, Muhlenberg College, Muhlenberg, Pa.; Donald K. Freedheim, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio; Timothy Rarick, MS, doctoral candidate, instructor, School of Family Studies and Human Services, Kansas State University, Manhattan Kansas; Kelly Welsh, PhD, professor of human development, School of Family Studies and Human Services, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas

Summary

  • A grown child’s visit can upset a family’s balance.
  • When dynamics change, prepare for stress.
  • Plan for a successful visit.

If your grown son or daughter lives away from home, you might be enjoying an empty or emptier nest at home. Maybe you have adjusted to the quiet or the financial pressure of sending a child to college, but every time you pass the kitchen table, you see that empty chair.

Your child, on the other hand, is learning how to live in a new environment, without the comfort of familiar faces or expectations. This may be the first time he has needed to juggle both time and money. He may be new on a job or on a campus in another state. She may be traveling or serving in the military in another part of the world.

It hasn’t been easy for any of you.

An upcoming visit will bring everyone together at home. What should you expect?

How family dynamics change
 
All families operate like mobiles or wind chimes. Parts are interconnected, each with an assigned role. Remove or add one piece and you upset the balance or the melody, explains Kelly Welch, a professor of human development. 

“As families age—or as we launch children—they get unbalanced,” she says, in part because people try to hold on to old roles. We say, “I’ve been a parent for years and you don’t just turn that off!” in spite of our good intentions to let go.

Children resist change, too, maybe even more than parents.

In spite of what they say, most young people expect everything at home to be the same is it was the day they left, experts say. If you’ve painted their room or turned it into a den, be sure to tell them before they come home, or prepare for the consequences.

Actually, they want everything the same, but different. They expect points for taking on new responsibilities or making some of their own decisions. Consequently, they don’t want parents telling them what to do, where to go, when to go to bed, when to get up, or how much time they must spend with the family.

Parents, on the other hand, have their own list. They want to hear all about their child’s new life. They may have invited guests for a holiday dinner, or bought favorite food or tickets to a special event, to celebrate the homecoming. 

Be prepared for stress

“Nature provides that we get older and don’t have to parent after 20 years or so, but kids don’t see it that way,” explains Donald K. Freedheim, a retired psychology professor. He warns that kids tend to regress the minute they walk in the door.

Short visits are fraught with expectations, Freedheim says. If your family life was joyous before your child left home, you can expect more of the same. If not, you can also expect more of the same, he says, at least for a little while. 

Are they adolescents or young adults?

Those who have married, been pregnant, or gone into the military grow up fast. They’re forced to take on responsibility for themselves and others, often moving almost overnight from adolescence to adulthood. 

Others take the slow route. Human development researcher Timothy Rarick looks at the lives of emerging adults, a new age classification for those who are more mature than adolescents but less than young adults. This group—which includes many college students, age 18 to 28—says they don’t feel like adults and aren’t in any hurry to take on that much responsibility.

Although parents assume their twentysomethings are anxious for complete control over their lives, many—especially emerging adults—are treading water, hoping their parents will protect them from disaster but ignore everything else, Rarick says. Eventually, most move on to the point where they make independent decisions, take responsibility for their actions, and reach financial independence.

Don’t rush them. They’ll get there, Rarick promises. Until that time, if you don’t understand or recognize much of what they say or do, don’t fret because most eventually “will come back to the values that were instilled at home.”

Make it a successful visit

Tips for parents:

  1. Discuss ground rules in advance. Plan ahead to avoid bumps and bruises. Say: “This is when dinner is going to be, and I would like a chunk of your time while you are here. What’s a good time?”
  2. Put aside hot buttons (about grades, jobs, money) until a more relaxed time.   
  3. Lay off criticism. Your kids are trying to learn to be adults and that is how it should be, advises psychology professor Linda Bips. 
  4. Ease up on house rules. It is your home, so you can set certain rules, but consider their needs, too. 
  5. Don’t expect your child to stay home all the time. You may have to settle for less time with your child than you want.
  6. Keep changes to the house and routine to a minimum. Many young people living on their own are homesick for a while and return home for comfort. Until they’re ready to fly solo, you might want to slow down plans to move, if possible. 

Grown children can help, too:

  1. Discuss ground rules in advance. Work out a schedule that’s acceptable to everyone. Don’t just run off.
  2. Put aside hot buttons until a more relaxed time. This might not be the best time to announce your plan to quit college or get married, unless you’re certain the news will please everyone.
  3. Expect to share the load. Your home is not a free hotel. Pitch in. Clean up after yourself. Help with chores.
  4. Take your bad habits elsewhere. If it bothers anyone, smoke or drink outside the house.
  5. Respect sleeping hours. This may be your vacation, but not your parents’. Set up a plan to not disrupt anyone’s sleep by coming in late at night.
  6. Your sibling’s life may have changed, too. He or she may enjoy being in the spotlight, for a change. Respect that new status or space. 
By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Linda Bips, PhD, professor of psychology, Muhlenberg College, Muhlenberg, Pa.; Donald K. Freedheim, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio; Timothy Rarick, MS, doctoral candidate, instructor, School of Family Studies and Human Services, Kansas State University, Manhattan Kansas; Kelly Welsh, PhD, professor of human development, School of Family Studies and Human Services, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas

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