House rules for when the kids move back home

Back home: Ask your returned offspring to help share the household tasks.
Back home: Ask your returned offspring to help share the household tasks.

Census data tells us that adult kids are moving home in droves. The number of non-dependent children living at home has climbed 20 per cent in just five years – and two of mine moved back well after I'd filled out the form. After five years of dancing naked down hallways, two of my three children moved back within six months. But you can't be the same parent you were when you were actually in charge. So, may I offer some guidance on living with your adult children?

1. Do not ask them how they are spending their money. Not even joking. The mention of the A word, smashed or otherwise, even in jest, will result in lengthy conversations about the cost of living, house prices and work insecurity. And that's them telling me a thing or two. Try not to pretend you know everything about their lives. It didn't work when they were 11 and you insisted on buying school uniforms two sizes too big. It won't work now. Yesterday's adorably precocious child is today's well-informed young adult. You only have yourself to blame.

2. Ditto sex lives. It's quite likely they've returned home because of heartbreak. Even if they haven't, there are actually things which are none of your business. When was the last time you discussed your sex life with your children? Never? Extend them the same courtesy. Likewise, if they do come home with a new shag, keep calm. Try not to behave like an excited schoolchild at the thought that – hurray – your genes will eventually be carried on. In addition, don't ask putative life partner 10 questions in five minutes. Your child is frightening enough. Asking a stranger where they live, what they do, what sport they play and do they pay their bills on time is not welcoming. Your children used to rely on you to keep the nits away. Now they have their own methods.

3. Don't be mercenary. If you own your own home, you do not need to charge your children rent. Think of other ways they can contribute. My fantasy is that they will read to me in just the same way I read to them for years. Sadly, this will remain a fantasy.

4. You aren't seriously going to ask them to pay a share of internet usage, are you? When they lived at home – the first time – the internet had a lot in common with my left knee, damaged in netball nearly 50 years ago. Stop. Start. And only one person could download at a time. The cost was insane and when you had used your “quota”, your access was limited or “shaped”. The minute they moved out of home, the internet became inexpensive and pretty fast. And the cost was about half what it used to be when you had seven people all living in the same house doing work at home at the same time.

5. Surprisingly, the bills don't go up all that much. Why is that? It's made me revisit some of my own energy-using practice and that's a good thing.

6. Share the cooking, shopping and cleaning. As a very untidy person myself, it gives me great pleasure to see how much like their father my children have become. A place for everything, everything in its place; and strange new kitchen equipment. Those stick blenders are quite something, aren't they?

I was so pleased when my children moved out of home. It was evidence we had created and developed three lovely independent adults who could all cook, clean and pay bills. My partner really was a hundred per cent sharer of all the responsibilities, but I still found it hard to be a good parent of three children. The workload sometimes was overwhelming.

Now – astonishing to me – I'm pleased they are back. Aw.

Jenna Price is a Fairfax columnist.