The first half of 2020 has upended our lives and those of our families. For many of us, this means getting accustomed to new living situations, like our children moving home after years away. And if you’ve been an empty nester like me, making the transition back to parent-in-residence may require some reorganization and compromise in your house. But it also gives us the opportunity to reconnect as adults, spend some quality time together, learn new things, and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Shelter-in-pace has been tough on many people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some are lonely, some are bored, many miss seeing their grandkids, and more than a few have their hands full juggling work, childcare, medical concerns, and financial stress.
That’s why I consider myself one of the lucky ones. For the last few years, I’ve been an empty nester. My 20-something daughter works as an engineer in San Francisco and my son is in flight training in Orlando, but my daughter returned to Florida mid-March to shelter-in-place at my house. Her company’s bullpen-style open office in California was no longer a safe place to work, and her tiny San Francisco studio was way too cramped to live and work for weeks on end.
It’s hard to believe that she (and her cat) have been camping out at my house for almost 12 weeks. During that time, here’s what I’ve learned about making a successful transition from empty nester back to parent-in-residence during the pandemic.
It’s better together. I’m enormously grateful to have one of my children home again. Once kids leave the nest, it’s so difficult to spend quality time together, especially when they live cross-country. We’ve been brought together by tragic circumstances, but it has been a wonderful opportunity to have her companionship during this difficult time. Unexpectedly spending time with family is truly the silver lining to the pandemic.
Carve out personal space for everyone as best you can. We’re coexisting quite well in the house because we each have our designated sleeping and working spaces. She’s now taken over the dining room table for her work setup, and I migrate between a desk in my bedroom and the kitchen. We have enough electronics running at one time to power a small city, but so far, no fights have broken out over who’s hogging the Wi-Fi.
Division of labor. We each contribute to keeping things up and running. Our routine is that she does the grocery shopping once a week, because she’s younger and less at risk, and more vigilant with her social distancing and mask-wearing. She’s an adventurous foodie, so she plans the menu, makes the shopping list, and takes over as head chef. I pay for the groceries, fill in as sous chef, and oversee cleanup. We’ve both been working long hours, so it’s great to have an extra pair of hands onboard and a good meal at the end of the day. Unfortunately for our waistlines, we’re eating far too well, and my grocery bills haven’t been this high since the kids were home and in high school.
Young adults need to keep “adulting.” My daughter is still paying her San Francisco rent while she’s here, and all her other bills. Of course, if she had lost her job and needed help, the situation would be different. I’ve always told my kids that a parent’s job is to help them become financially independent adults, not hand over a golden ticket to an all-expenses-paid lifestyle they can’t afford on their own. Parents should be willing to help if they have the means to do so, but unearned handouts can too easily undermine a sense of accomplishment and create entitlement in its place. The good news is that since she’s been here, my daughter has been able to save money, and she has wisely directed some of her surplus funds to pay down a persistent credit card balance.
What if your grown kids need help? If your adult children have lost jobs or are in tough financial straits, you may want to extend more of a helping hand. Just make sure you set boundaries. Provide moral support, but only limited funds, if helping them will put you or your retirement in jeopardy. That’s a hard lesson to put into practice for most parents, who love their children and want to help. But bankrupting yourself won’t make their lives easier; it will just put an additional financial burden on their shoulders.
You always have a green light to help if grown kids have immediate medical, safety, or housing needs. One couple we work with gave financial support to their daughter as she went through a difficult divorce and needed to move quickly. Another helped her son with the security deposit on a new apartment, and yet others stepped in to cover health insurance and childcare costs after a job loss. If you have the space, consider inviting a grown child to move back home for a while to cut expenses and build up their emergency reserves.
If you have the means to do so, consider pitching in to cover student loan payments, keeping rent or mortgage payments current, covering costs for gas, car insurance, or utilities, or helping out with groceries. (While the CARES Act contains provisions for delaying student loan and mortgage payments, it’s often more expedient to keep payments current).
The takeaway. This is a tough year for people in so many ways. Spending time with grown kids, and helping them overcome these unexpected challenges, can create priceless memories long after the pandemic is over and gone. Ultimately, the ability to spend your time and money on the people who really matter to you is what financial freedom is all about.