01 January 2021

8 important rules for adult children living with their parents

01 January 2021

Even before the pandemic, record numbers of young adults were living with their parents – and now it’s likely even more ‘adult children’ will have returned home so they’re in a family bubble until the virus crisis eases.

But having grown-up children living in the family home is very different from when they were dependent children, and a new set of rules applies. But what should those rules be?

Counsellor and parenting educator Suzie Hayman, a trustee of the parenting charity Family Lives  (familylives.org.uk), says: “Grown-up children living at their parents’ home was a bit of a phenomenon anyway, and then in came Covid and suddenly you’ve got more people out of work who couldn’t afford where they were living, and there’s been more break-ups, so people are going home to their parents – or they never moved away in the first place.”

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And Mumsnet (mumsnet.com) founder Justine Roberts says:  “We all know how incredibly hard it is for young people to save up enough money to afford their own place, and many parents of adult children are only too happy to help their children out by offering them somewhere to live.

“Parents in this situation on Mumsnet have lots of different thoughts about what the rules should be, but they tend to agree that having some rules is vital – and that you need to be clear about them early on if you’re going to avoid rows further down the line.”

Here Hayman and Roberts share their advice on sensible rules for adult children living at home..

1. It’s your house

Roberts says adult children living in their parents’ home have to accept it’s their parents’ house and it’s the parents who say what happens in it. “If you can’t stand cigarette smoke, or don’t want pets, that should be the end of the discussion,” she says. “If they resist you on this, it might be a sign the arrangement just isn’t going to work.”

2. Have a proper talk about rules

Applying the same house rules as when children were young isn’t going to work, of course, and Hayman stresses: “Sit down and say, ‘We have to work out a new contract’, because whether you realise it or not, you have to have a contract with them. It’s not you telling them what to do, it’s saying this is what needs to be done in the house. It’s give and take – how can you do it so it’s OK for you and it’s OK for them?”

Discuss everything, from are they allowed to have partners staying overnight to do they do their own laundry, advises Roberts. “Whether you’re indulgent or strict, Mumsnet users say you must be clear in your own mind about which rules are important to you, and lay down the law right at the beginning if you want to avoid arguments later on.”

3. Negotiate using shared spaces

“You need to have an understanding that you’re sharing living space, and that means you have to compromise and negotiate,” Hayman points out, explaining this might mean arranging that on certain nights they can have the living room and mum and dad will go up to the bedroom and leave them with their friends.

“Negotiating access to shared spaces and making sure people have their own space is incredibly important,” she stresses. “There shouldn’t be assumptions that the living room, kitchen etc is ‘always ours’ – you need to talk it through and have an understanding that in order to live together it needs to be negotiated and sorted out.”

4. To charge or not to charge?

Roberts says some Mumsnet users charge a peppercorn rent, some charge around the market rate, and others don’t charge at all. “This will partly be determined by your own circumstances,” she points out.

“If you need a financial contribution, then you should go ahead, and feel no guilt,” she continues. “If your child objects, a quick show of your monthly incomings and outgoings should bring them up to speed. But even if you don’t need the money, some parents believe paying at least some rent helps bring home to adult children the terrible truth that things cost money, and nice things cost even more money.”

And Hayman adds: “It’s not a good idea to ‘help’ them by letting them become irresponsible. It’s incredibly important as a parent to help your children become self-sufficient and responsible, and if you take the responsibility of paying rent away from them, while it may feel like a holiday for them at first, what it’s actually doing is setting up bad habits.”

Both  Hayman and Roberts agree it’s ok for parents to be lenient with rent if their children are job-hunting, or saving up to buy a house etc.

“If they’ve got jobs and money, they should contribute,” stresses Hayman. “If they’re desperately saving for a mortgage or rent then maybe you could be lenient, but it’s incredibly important to say you’re not a dependent child, you’re an adult, and if you haven’t got money to contribute to the house then you contribute work.”

5. What about chores?

“Everybody in the house should be pulling their weight,” insists Heyman, who suggests families may choose specific chores for specific family members, or perhaps allocate them on a weekly basis. “Adult children are benefiting from living in the household and getting clean clothes, food etc, and they also need to put into it.”

6. They should behave like grown-ups

Adult children should behave like grown-ups “for the sake of their future partner’s sanity, if not yours,” says Roberts. They should do their own washing up, and buy more milk if they use the last of the bottle. “It’s just good manners,” she says. “The bottom line is you should never, ever find yourself picking up their dirty pants.”

7. Parents should respect their child’s adulthood

“You’re dealing with adults. so their social lives and their sex lives are their own, and not for you to comment on or make any rules about,” stresses Hayman. “You can say ‘Not under my roof’, although I think that’s pretty unreasonable, but you certainly shouldn’t be saying there’s a curfew, I don’t like your friends, etc. They’re adults and you should give them the respect you’d give your friends. How you manage all this is mutual respect.”

8. Parents should be treated with courtesy tooHayman stresses adult children shouldn’t expect to ‘swan in’ and be looked after like little children while enjoying the privileges of adults, and they should treat their parents with courtesy if they expect to be treated with respect themselves.

“Things like going out – that’s a matter of courtesy – are they going to be in for a meal? That’s not telling them when they should be home, it’s about how many meals you should cook and it’s a matter of courtesy for adult children to be at least explaining their schedule or telling parents what they’re doing. But that’s not for parents to regulate their child’s behaviour, it’s simply about the child being courteous.”

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