Five Ways to Cope When Your Child Returns to the Nest


May 9, 2008   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Final exams at Kansas University begin next week. My daughter, Caitlin, has been working very hard and will successfully complete her freshmen year in very good academic standing. Caitlin has learned a lot about being on her own and other important life skills, too.

However, she has already informed her mother and me that her car will be packed and she will be ready to pull out of Lawrence, Kansas and head back home as soon as she completes her last exam. While Mary Beth and I are looking forward to spending the summer with our daughter, we just hope her return to the nest will be equally successful.

In anticipation of her return home, my wife and I have been discussing how to embrace this change to our routine. We want the next few months to be happy and productive ones for the sake of the entire family. We have settled on these five ways to cope when our daughter comes home, again. I hope you will find these useful too:

  1. Establish Some Ground Rules.The first place to start is with establishing, and communicating, the fact that the house rules have not gone away even though Caitlin has been away from the house for the past 10 months. Things like curfew times, noise levels, keeping up with assigned household chores and friends coming over will all be redefined and enforced.

Being part of a family is a privilege. The ability to enjoy a comfortable home, food in the fridge, cable television and a computer with a fast Internet connection all come with responsibilities. The most fundamental of these responsibilities is to be accountable and to follow the family-approved rules. No one is exempt for these and there are no exceptions.


  • Set Boundaries. I have resigned myself to the fact that the peace and quiet Mary Beth and have enjoyed since last August will be interrupted over the summer months. This is not an indictment or criticism about Caitlin’s behavior; it’s just being honest to say our house has a lot more energy in it when our daughter is here.


With that said, my wife and I still have a right to privacy and to our personal space. It’s important for all of us to have some personal space to retreat to when the need arises.


  • Caitlin’s Contributions. In addition to respecting the house rules, there is also an expectation our daughter will contribute to the family in other ways, too. Helping with dinner, getting Emily, our younger daughter, to and from where she needs to go, and pitching in with the laundry will all be expected contributions.When children return home, they should not be considered as invited guests, but as fully engaged and productive members of the family. Their contributions, however, are not limited to how they can help their parents; their presence, spirit and love are all valuable contributions as well.



  • Cultivate an Adult Relationship.It’s very fulfilling watching our children grow up and grow in to becoming mature and responsible adults. An expectation Catlin may have this summer is to be treated as an adult – I can’t wait to meet her expectation.


We invest so much time and effort in our children when they are young. This investment yields very, very favorable returns when we get to experience them as adults. The years of reading bedtime stories and believing in Santa Claus are indeed magical. The time spent talking about who should win the next presidential election over a cold beer can be just as delightful. Gradually, and without much notice, our children become our friends.

I’m looking forward to finding out more about the reasons behind Caitlin’s choice for president. I’m looking forward to nurturing an adult relationship with my daughter this summer.


  • Create an Exit Strategy. As the August days begin to get shorter, so will our time with Caitlin. With every homecoming, there is also a farewell. When my daughter pulls up into the driveway in a couple of weeks, no one will be thinking about the day she will need to back out and head for Lawrence. It will be important to drop-in reminders of the inevitable departure along the way.


Within a few days of her return home, we will quickly develop a new routine and grow accustomed to her new-found presence in the house. We will also need to help transition her back to her college life.

Shopping for new items for her apartment, gradually giving her more autonomy as the summer wanes into the fall, and planning the Thanksgiving holiday details when we will unite as a family again, are all things we can do to help with the transition from the nest and back into her independence.

Thomas Wolfe may suggest “you can’t go home again,” but you can welcome your child home again and begin building a new relationship that can be sustained for the rest of your lives together.



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