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Ask Mr. Dad: When the empty nest fills up again

By Armin Brott, Tribune News Service on

Published in Health & Fitness

Dear Mr. Dad: Almost exactly a year ago, my husband and I sent our last child off to college. We were thrilled. Our house is paid off and we'd just started thinking about selling it and traveling around the country and the world. Then COVID hit and everything changed. Our youngest's college closed and she had to come home. Then, our oldest lost his job and now he's back in his old room too. Of course, we want to be supportive of our kids, but we're starting to feel a little resentful that we've had to give up our plans. What can we do?

A: Honestly, aside from hoping for the best (a quick end to the pandemic, colleges reopening, and a great job offer for your son), I'm not sure there's much to be done at this point. In fact, you should be grateful that your house is paid off and that you and your children have a place to live. I don't mean to be harsh, but, sadly, an estimated 40 million Americans may be facing eviction, and tens of millions more are already dealing with food insecurity and hunger. And my guess is that things are going to get worse before they get better.

You can also take some (small) comfort in not being alone. As you've experienced firsthand, the COVID outbreak has pushed more than half (52%) of young adults (aged 18-29) to move in with one or both of their parents, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center. That's more than at any other time in U.S. history since the end of the Great Depression in 1940. And since our total population today is nearly two-and-a-half times greater than in 1940, the sheer number of young adults living with dad and/or mom is far higher. And this trend is true across all races, genders, geographies, and other demographics.

But as bad as COVID has been, it's not the only cause of this massive reverse-exodus. Another big contributor is the fact that a growing number of young people aren't getting married or living together (with a romantic partner). And those who do are getting married later. Back in 1960, the average woman was 20.3 years old at her first marriage, and the average man was 22.8. By 1990, women were 23.9 and men were 26.1. Today, those numbers are 27.9 and 29.7, respectively - a huge change since your grandparents got married. Again - thanks to men's higher unemployment rate, slipping wages, and declining levels of college enrollment - things will get worse before they get better.

In the meantime, now's the time to set up some house rules, which may be similar to the ones you had when your kids were living at home the first time around. Do you have a curfew? What's your philosophy on bringing lovers home (your house, your rules)? Do you want them to call home if they're going to be late (if only to keep you from worrying)? How about drugs or alcohol?

 

Finally, keep in in mind that this whole situation is probably pretty hard on your kids - you're not the only ones whose plans have been derailed. You may be tempted to shout, "This isn't a hotel!" but that's just going to create conflict. Adult kids don't want a hotel either. They want a home, independence, and self-respect. If your children had responsibilities as teens, and they had a respectful relationship with you and your husband, it's pretty safe to assume that nothing will change. They know that coming home is a temporary solution - something to help them over the hump - and, like you, they're looking forward to getting back to their lives and their plans.

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(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to armin@mrdad.com.)

(c)2020 Armin Brott, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.