9 Essential Rules for Living at Home
During normal times, college grads can face a great deal of uncertainty when they enter the real world. This year, that’s an understatement.
While grads find their footing, living at home is one way to keep costs low. It might not be ideal, but it buys young people time to search for jobs and make housing arrangements. For some, rent-free housing might be a necessity. For others, a prudent choice.
But conflict can arise.
To make the arrangement work, it’s important to observe a few guidelines and establish them from the start. Here are nine expert-backed rules that can help grads — and their parents — keep the peace.
No. 1: Set expectations
When a grad moves home, things change. They change for the grad and they change for the parents. It’s tempting to avoid frank conversations and hope for the best. But this can create problems down the road.
Mental health consultant Claire Barber recommends an initial sit-down talk to set expectations.
“You want to make sure that everyone is on the same page so that there are no miscommunications that may lead to fights,” she said.
For example, a parent might have concerns about the timeline of searching for and committing to a job. A graduate might have opposing concerns about finding and settling on a job in a tough economy. Barber suggests discussing anything that might lead to conflict — housework, household finances, car usage, and anything else.
No. 2: Define success
Before setting rules, it’s important to define what success looks like for the family. Is it a child that finds a job, completes chores, and cooks dinner? Surprisingly, maybe not.
Melissa Corkum, a certified life coach and parent trainer urges parents to throw away their traditional definition of success.
“Some parents may want to define [success] as what their child does … but I always coach parents to define success by something they actually have control over,” she said.
Consider defining success in the following ways:
- Creating a home that is a safe space physically and emotionally
- Providing support regardless of failure
- Believing in your child’s ability to find their own way however and whenever it happens
“Using these definitions as a backdrop helps us determine which hills to die on,” Corkum said. “While a lot of rules are meant to protect our young adult children from themselves, they often also damage the parent-child relationship.”
Focus on creating rules for the household. Instead of asking “what does my child need to do,” instead ask “how can we make sure that everyone feels heard, respected, and protected.” This takes the pressure off of individuals by prioritizing the collective family unit.
No. 3: Communicate effectively
It’s important for parents and their adult children to communicate as equals. Not only does this show reciprocal respect, but it allows everyone in the conversation to feel heard and understood.
“When we speak to each other in an understanding tone of voice, and genuinely show compassion for each other, we can hear the meaning behind what the other person is telling us,” said Lynell Ross, a certified life coach.
The key to effective communication starts with the way a conversation is framed. Parents and children should approach the conversation about living arrangements as, “let’s talk about what each of us needs.” And then do so calmly, rationally, and compassionately.
“Refuse to allow yelling, arguing, name calling, judging or blaming,” Ross said. “When things get heated, and tempers are up, there is no communication.”
No. 4: Set boundaries
Think of a boundary as a line drawn around yourself. It defines where you end and where someone else begins. Boundaries separate the wants and needs of parents and children — honoring them as individuals.
“We all need to have our own space and things, even if we are sharing a room with someone,” Ross said.
Discuss boundaries that pertain to possessions and spaces. For example, family members should be in charge of cleaning their own space. They can share duties for cleaning common spaces.
Typically, graduates expect different boundaries as an adult compared to when they lived at home as young adults. This may stand in stark contrast to what parents envisioned. But parents aren’t immune to crossing boundaries themselves. Sometimes it is done as a way to protect a child from a mistake or to fix it when it occurs.
If a boundary is crossed, address it upfront.
Distance from the situation can cool tempers and allow family members to gain a new perspective. Then come back together and discuss.
“Suggest some quiet time in the house, or going outside to get fresh air,” Ross said.
Boundaries are our personal stance on what we will or will not allow, Ross said. In every relationship, someone must compromise. Be flexible and willing to adapt boundaries that aren’t working.
No. 5: Balance privacy
One boundary that takes extra compromise is privacy. Parents and graduates must set clear boundaries for privacy issues.
“It can be hard for kids moving back home to feel that they have no privacy after they’ve been living on their own for a while,” Barber said.
Establish a privacy boundary to balance a parent’s worries with a child’s sense of independence.
“For instance, one rule could be that the child has to tell their parents how late they’ll be out, but they don’t have to tell them where they’re going or whom they’re going with,” Barber said.
Each family must find its own balance with these specific conversations — ideally, before a problem arises.
No. 6: Create a chore schedule
Although keeping up with studies, jobs, and extracurriculars is often a top priority, family members need to be aware of the tasks that keep a household operating smoothly. Once expectations and boundaries are set, families should create a schedule of agreed-upon chores.
“This is a time for everyone to pitch in and help with housework, cleaning, picking up, cooking, and yard work,” Ross said. “No one should get a free ride.”
Create a weekly schedule with clear ownership of each household task. A consistent routine is the best way to ensure that the house is cleaned in a timely manner and that everyone does their part. This also helps avoid miscommunication, arguments, and the chores falling to one person. No one can argue with a schedule that tracks who does what and when.
No. 7: Schedule a family meeting night
To stay on track, families should schedule a family meeting night. View these weekly discussions as an opportunity to address concerns and assure everyone feels heard.
Ross outlined a typical family meeting night.
- Select one evening each week for the family to come together – preferably after dinner.
- Set ground rules ahead of time. For instance, each person will have a chance to speak, but when one person is talking no one else is allowed to interrupt with a negative comment.
- Begin the meeting with one person explaining the importance of open communication.
- During the meeting, each family member should speak about an issue or concern. It doesn’t have to be negative — speak about positive topics, as well. Discuss how to fix concerns or compromise for a better outcome.
“If everyone works together as a team, you will all be much happier,” Ross said.
No. 8: Treat college graduates like adults
Twenty-somethings shouldn’t be viewed or treated like children. While away at college, their views, habits, and personalities change. Oftentimes, this is a difficult new reality for parents to accept.
“The best way to establish rules for your now adult child is to view them as an adult living in your home,” said Shelley Meche’tte, a certified life purpose coach.
A parent’s role with an adult child is to be a consultant, not a manager. Parents can enforce agreed upon rules, but don’t expect grads to follow unsolicited advice.
In a way, an adult child living at home is like a guest. Meche’tte said to consider this question: What rules and privacy would you afford a house guest? The answer is likely a compromise between both parties — parent and child.
“When creating these new rules … don't look at your college grad as just your child coming back home,” Meche’tte said. “Make a commitment to view them as a young adult, creating sensible rules together. This will open dialogue between both parties, which in turn will build trust and allow the child in this relationship to explore their adulthood more freely.”
No. 9: Parents have the final say
Ultimately, the ability for a college graduate to live at home is a courtesy extended by their parents. That means parents get to make the final call about house rules.
Lynell Ross stressed the importance of establishing and upholding needed rules.
“Letting your college kids run all over you is a perfect storm for creating entitled adults,” she said.
If a child doesn’t agree with the rules, that's a greater incentive to find a job and secure different housing.
When a grad moves home, tensions can run high — especially now. By adhering to rules, families can adjust to a new normal and emerge with stronger relationships.
Claire Barber is a mental health consultant, relationship expert, and dating coach. She has a deep passion for helping people build stronger connections with each other and grow in their relationships. She believes healthy relationships are vital for mental health and vice versa. Looking at relationships and dating from a holistic perspective, Barber loves to help people improve in multiple areas in their personal, romantic, and spiritual life. Besides the advice she shares on her blog, Treeological, Barber has also been published on BestLife, HelloGiggles, Romper, Mind Body Green, and Yahoo Lifestyle.
Melissa Corkum is a certified life coach, Empowered to Connect parent trainer, and speaker, who has helped dozens of parents shift to a brain-based view of behaviors so they can laugh more and yell less. Corkum is a mom to six kids by birth and adoption which has led her to learn a lot about what creates thriving parent-child relationships … and what doesn't. Parents can connect with her at The Cork Board.
Shelley Meche’tte is a certified life purpose coach, speaker, and women’s change agent. Meche’tte is extremely passionate and dedicated to the empowerment of women through strategized personal and professional development. She is the author of “70 Days of Happy: Life is Better When You Smile” and founder of the women’s organization,The PowHERful Woman. She challenges women to take responsibility for the actions – both positive and destructive – of the person staring back at them in the mirror, while reminding them of the fact that they are powerful, valuable, and unique. Meche’tte has been featured on Yahoo, Bustle, Ask Men, Authority Magazine, and BYU Radio. Find her online at Shelley Meche’tte.
Lynell Ross is the founder and managing editor of Zivadream, an education advocacy website dedicated to helping people improve their lives. Ross is also a certified life coach, a certified health and wellness coach with a psychology and behavior change specialization, and a relationship expert. Leading workshops on stress management, teaching wellness classes, and bringing people together through conflict resolution is one of her greatest joys.