Stepfamily Issues

Personal stories about stepfamilies, childhood and general family issues.

October 06, 2007

bang goes the overseas trip

When their daughter left home, Rob and Janet were shocked because she, like most adult kids, didn’t think about giving them a warning. She just went. Trouble is, she came back at at time when they had almost forgotten they had a daughter!

Julia was their only child and they did not expect her to leave until she was at least 25. They had more or less built their life around their daughter and her departure left a void in their lives for a considerable length of time.

"To make matters worse," sighs Janet, "Julia did not appear to want to know us after gaining her independence. She never visited home once in the two years she was living independently, and she did not return our calls or letters until about six months after she had left."

"Were it not for mutual friends who saw Julia and told us she was well and happy we would have been worried sick about her," says Janet. "After a while, we gave up trying to be part of her new life and started making a new life of our own without her as the central focus."

"We had each other for support through the anger and grief stage of the empty nest syndrome," explains Janet, "and we had plenty of things to do to keep us busy. The best thing we did was get to know each other all over again. We started ‘dating’ to regain the romance of the relationship that somehow petered out after Julia was born. And, we also started planning a romantic overseas trip as a belated honeymoon!"

"Rob turned Julia's old bedroom into a study," says Janet, "and it was great to have a home looking neater and tidier than it had been for years."

"It’s amazing," says Janet, "how Julia had taken over the house. Once she took away her stuff the bathroom and living room, particularly, were practically bare!"

After two years of bliss, spent refurbishing the house and developing new hobbies and friends, Janet and Rob’s life was about to be shattered again. Julia called to tell them that she had lost her job and couldn’t pay the rent.

Rob and Janet couldn’t afford to give Julia enough money to maintain her independence until she had found another job, so after long drawn out discussions with neither Julia nor her parents being happy with the solution, it was agreed that she should come back to live with them for a while.

When empty nesters allow adult children to return home it’s usually on the understanding that the situation will only be temporary. After the initial separation process, parents and adult children should be able to relate as equals and this is impossible to achieve when everyone is back living together under one roof.

Unless strict limits are set for the length of stay - and a financial agreement is reached - the adult children either revert to childlike behavior and become more dependent than ever, or they become belligerent and threaten the authority of their parents.

"Unfortunately," sighs Janet, "Rob and I didn’t set any limits or ask for money."

Janet is learning that adult children are not only leaving the nest permanently at a much older age than they did twenty years ago, but they are also returning to the nest at an alarming rate. This process is known as the revolving door syndrome and the coming and going can continue for years if the adult child fails to gain independence.

"Mostly," says Janet, "the adult children are forced into returning home because of financial difficulties. Job loss would have to be the most common reason for financial difficulties, but sometimes the young adults are just spendthrifts and return home merely to sponge off their parents when they get into debt. I fear that Julia falls more into the second category than the first."

"Whatever the reason for returning home," explains Janet, "the experience can traumatize both the empty nesters and the adult children."

"Job loss and financial difficulties may be problems the parents themselves are experiencing," says Janet, "but thankfully Rob has managed to keep his job and doesn’t need me to work. Anyway, having a young adult return home jobless and heavily in debt is not only an extra mouth to feed but also an extra responsibility at a time in the lives of middle-aged parents when they need to put away some money for retirement and, probably for the first time since their children came along, they also need to spend a little bit more on luxuries for themselves."

Rob and Janet are really remiss in allowing Julia to use them in the manner she is doing, but it’s understandable how difficult it would be for them to request a nominal amount from her for her board and lodging. They would rather do without than teach Julia that she needs to cut back on frivolous spending and start supporting herself.

So, bang goes the romantic overseas trip for Rob and Janet!

Janet's story first appeared as boomerang kids and is reprinted with permission.

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