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SANDY BANKS

Home is where Mom has to take you in

November 15, 2008|SANDY BANKS

It's no surprise that young adults are moving in with their parents in record numbers. They finish college with staggering loans. Many can't find jobs these days; others get laid off because business is slow.

And some -- like my oldest daughter -- hedge their bets. Economy trumps independence in times like this.

Boomers, meet the Boomerangs.

She'd spent five years away from home, first in college, now at a great job. It took me years to adjust to her being gone. So I was delighted when her company transferred her in September to Santa Monica from Northern California.

She'd be living at home with me in Northridge "for a few weeks," she said. She began scouring Craigslist for rentals.

But reality hit when she saw the cost of Westside apartments. A few weeks became a month. Then, "Wouldn't it be nice, Mom, if I stayed here until Christmas?"

In other words, why pony up for an apartment when you've got a free bed and breakfast? Why trade Mom's French toast and banana bread for yogurt and Cheerios?

So how do I welcome a 23-year-old back to the nest? I went looking for advice from experts.

Act like a landlord, not a parent, they said. Set a time limit on the stay. And charge them rent.

I'd already botched the time limit part. The mention of rent drew rolled eyes and a laugh.

If she's going to pay rent, my daughter said, why not live with roommates she likes. Instead, she gets 17- and 19-year-old sisters who rifle her closet, swipe her stiletto heels and return them scuffed and make off with her pricey curling iron.

Perhaps I should have had the rent conversation on a day that didn't involve a sibling scuffle. But in the month she's been back at home, we haven't had a day like that.

Our household seems to be in perpetual chaos. Because despite what the experts said, it's not just about contracts or conversations. My daughters still call me Mommy and they're still "my girls."

But the reality is that I'm living with three nearly grown young women. Our relationships are shifting.

It takes me back to when they were toddlers, learning to walk: Step, step, fall. Cry, comfort, get up and start over.

Now they're lurching toward adulthood. And I'm learning that the back-and-forth process of setting a child free requires us all to forge new identities.

Acottage industry has grown up around the concept of the empty nest. I think it needs to be reoriented: Those kids who left are coming back.

"Parents want to know 'what's my role now?' and that's tough," Natalie Caine told me. She's a Studio City counselor who runs the website www.emptynestsupport.com.

Her site is full of advice for lonesome parents mourning the empty nest. Take a cooking class, make a scrapbook, don't berate yourself when you burst into tears when you pass your college student's favorite fruit snacks in the grocery store aisle.

But the first query this month on her blog's Q&A section: "How long before they move back in?"

I can answer that: Just when you've gotten used to their being gone.

When I finally balanced loss with freedom, there she was: back in my kitchen, waiting for her French toast in the morning and wanting to know when I would be home from work.

"It's confusing," said Caine, who recently welcomed her own 23-year-old college graduate back home. "What does 'Mom' mean to them now? Laundry, homemade soup? What is an adult? Can I have a glass of wine with my daughter? Can she bring a guy she met at the gym back home?

"You can negotiate the basics all you want: 'Park your car in the street so you don't block me. Text me if you're not coming home.' But the emotional piece is tough. I caught myself the other day reminding my daughter to wear a sweater. It embarrassed me," the expert said.

I'm not so easily embarrassed. She may have gotten out of paying rent. But she is still expected to call me at night. I need to know she's OK before I go to bed.

--

sandy.banks@latimes.com

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