Anticipating the Returning College Graduate


The day you have been planning for (and paying for) is fast arriving! Your college student is graduating and taking that next step toward full-fledged adulthood. What’s not to celebrate?

And please do take the time to celebrate. 😊

After a week or two, however, it’s time to talk about life moving forward with your adult child living in your home for an indefinite period. This can be a wonderful opportunity for reconnection and growth…for everyone. But for some families, it can be a time fraught with stress. Let’s assume that your college grad does not have a job in hand along with that diploma. Weeks turn into months. The sense of joy and pride begins to rub thin when you leave for work with your grad still asleep in bed and you return from work with your grad in lounge-wear watching Netflix or playing videogames. Resentment builds, and you wake up one morning having a hard time mustering that loving feeling for your adult child. I’ve seen this happen.

So, what’s a parent to do? It depends.

Have you known your child to be responsible during the college years? …able to reach out to professors to get help with coursework? …willing to take the initiative to seek out the academic advisor with questions about course of study? …able to complete his/her degree within a reasonable amount of time? …willing to take care of living matters (bills, renewal of driver’s license, etc.) without your direct oversight and involvement? If so, chances are your graduate will be responsible in how they approach the task of finding employment and gaining independence and you will take on a more supportive role.

If the college years have been more of a roller-coaster ride, and you have doubts that your student has the understanding or initiative to grab hold of this next phase of life, your approach might need to be more structured (as outlined below).

Regardless of the scenario, three things remain true:

  • Your child is an adult and trying to exercise control over them is neither useful or even possible. Respect for their adult standing is critical. You can only control what you can control—that’s you. Need a fuller explanation? Read this.
  • It is always best to make expectations clear. A good way to start is to ask, “What does each of us need to make this work?” Know your bottom lines and take responsibility for what you need and what you are asking for.
  • Don’t make things too easy or comfortable. If you find yourself putting your life on hold and taking care of your adult child’s needs and wants without expecting anything in return, you are setting yourself up for more difficult days ahead.

I would suggest that within two weeks** of your recent grad moving home, let them know that you want to have a conversation about how things are going to work now that they are back home for the foreseeable future. Negotiate a time to meet and encourage them to come with their thoughts and suggestions. Emphasize that this is a dialogue and you want their input. As you prepare, review Elizabeth Klarers’ six tips for parenting emerging adults and encourage your child to read Miriam Caldwell’s “A 7-Step Guide to Moving Back in with Your Parents without Going Crazy”. This will prime the pump and enrich the conversation.

Elements to be discussed and negotiated:

Determine the goal. Is it to land a job? …save money for a security deposit on an apartment? …get out of debt? Whatever the goal, operationalize it and then set an agreed-upon target date of when your adult child will be moving out. Be realistic but not indefinite. This can be re-negotiated based on progress toward the goal, not just whim or feelings of guilt.

I’d like to say a little more about the goal of getting a job. It takes time, and if your students didn’t get a head start on this goal while they were in college by seeking out mentoring relationships with faculty, utilizing the services of the campus career center, or securing professional internships during their summer breaks, then they have work to do! Point them back to the alumni services offered by their campus career center, utilize your network to help them schedule informational interviews, and help them outline daily and weekly goals with an accountability framework.

Outline expectations regarding:

  • Expenses. Will your recent grad be contributing to any household expenses (e.g., groceries, Wi-Fi, etc.)? Will your recent grad be paying rent? [This is a good time to remind your adult child what you are already paying for (e.g., car insurance, cell phone, health insurance, etc.) so they have a clearer picture of the true cost of living life.] If your recent grad is penniless, the contribution to the household could include tasks that will lift the load off your shoulders (e.g., preparing the dinner meal 1-2 days a week) or taking on “jobs” like lawn maintenance that you would otherwise have to pay someone to do.
  • Chores. Your adult child is now a member of the household and should participate with upkeep along with the other members. This includes weekly chores which can be negotiated/rotated.

Determine basic house guidelines. What about having friends over? Use of kitchen and pantry? Keeping common spaces clean? Overnight guests? When to expect you home at night? [NOTE: This is not about setting a curfew, but about courtesy. For example, “If you are coming home late (or not at all), have the courtesy to call or text because otherwise my sleep will suffer.”]

Conclude the conversation with these four questions as suggested by Debbie Pincus, LMHC:

  1. How will we know this is working? “We’ll know because everyone will be doing their fair share. We’ll be respectful of each other and keep short accounts.”
  2. How will we know it isn’t working? “We’ll know if someone isn’t pulling their weight or starts overstepping boundaries.”
  3. What will we do if it’s not working? “You will make plans to leave within a month.”
  4. What will we do if it is working? “We’ll continue with our original plan of six months.”

It’s probably best to put this in writing so everyone is clear on the agreements made. Also, check in periodically and revisit the agreements to see if progress is being made. Pincus believes the basic message should be: “To live in this house, you need to show us that you are working toward independence. We need to see that—and you need to help yourself make that happen.”


**NOTE: If you delay the conversation and resentments have already formed, all is not lost. Begin by saying, “It seems we have gotten started on the wrong foot. Can we put that behind us and start over again by having a discussion about what to expect from each other during this time that you are home while looking for employment?” And, parents, if you are easily triggered by your adult child’s missteps—and there will be missteps—remember the “withdrawal-with-dignity” strategy. Say something like, “I realize that I’m getting upset and I’m afraid I might say or do something that will not be wise or kind. I’m going to walk away right now and calm down. Let’s come back together in a couple of hours and talk it through.”


About Author

Page Cvelich

College/Teen Program Manager

Page Cvelich has brought a wealth of knowledge to the Work/Life Center from prior experience as a high school guidance counselor and parent education coordinator. Page has been responsible for setting up a high school college and career center, designing a career exploration program for teens and serving as a counselor at a backpacking camp in the Rockies. In her role as Teen/College Program Manager, Page enjoys interacting with small groups of parents and teens, as well as consulting one-on-one with parents and referring them to resources so that they are better able to provide the support and encouragement their kids need.

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