Having taken back spiritual territory from the culture, many Christian grown daughters, who haven’t married yet, are currently living in their birth home, under their parents. In previous generations, this was not the case. Generally, the grown daughter got married and was gone, or she moved out while still single, and was gone. In both cases, she was gone. But recently, as a result of our shift in thinking as believers, we now have a very different dynamic to deal with, as aging homeschooling mothers. We solved the problem of how to protect our daughter from severe temptations during her tender years (scores of temptations that could have ruin the remainder of her life), but now we have a very different kind of challenge to deal with. Now we have two matured women, capable of running households apart from each other—the mother AND the daughter, presently reigning over ONE domestic domain. Because of the strong nesting instinct in both women and the territorial preferences of each one, there can be friction.
Because of our wide exposure to hundreds and hundreds of homeschooling families through state convention work, we have seen examples of this older mother/daughter duo that work out well and conversely, examples of this duo that are relational disasters—and everything in between. Here is some clarity about why this dynamic may not work out well sometimes, and how to fix it.
In every case, where the grown daughter/aging mother relationship is under severe stress it is due to unspoken engulfing expectations, each of the other. Because it is a living situation and not a job situation, there is no way to get away from the chronic pain 24/7 of unspoken, brooding expectations on both parts, taking place in one of the closest relationships on earth—with one’s own mother or one’s own daughter, who have hardly taken a breath apart from each other for 18 long years. Because women are feelers and have social antenna out 100 yards from themselves, there can be deep anguish going on that is never spoken about, and a feeling on both parts of being trapped.
So let’s get up and out of the morass and clarify some issues that are true in every case of this duo. There is blue sky up ahead, if we’ll understand these issues and talk about them. The sooner we do it, the better.
Re: the daughter:
If one plays this chapter right, not only the spiritual advantages, but the fiscal advantages of continuing to live at home can be real and can be very significant, particularly if one doesn’t go to college. (For more on that, read Chucking College to see inside the college loan debt nightmare.) Never again will a grown daughter have a chance to earn money to build a nest egg for her future, at this exponential speed. By not having to pay rent and in some cases food and gas bills, as well, the daughter can contribute to building up her own future home, whether she remains single or marries. Just because she may marry, doesn’t mean these short-lived, rare, fiscal opportunities are to be squandered. Who doesn’t need more money, while building a young family or when one’s parents age and/or die? The young man, if he is smart, will be using his early years to save up for these eventualities, as well. Just because he will bear the lion’s share of this job, doesn’t mean the young woman can’t contribute to doubly bless their lives together. Every stable future individual fiscal mini-empire is built with a nest egg as the starter rung on the ladder. Without a nest egg, there is nothing to lay as a foundation that is strong enough to stabilize growing fiscal pressures. Such a chance to build sure future fiscal growth for the future, by aggressive savings now, doesn’t come around again in one’s lifetime.
Now, here’s the rub. In exchange for this chance to partake in rapid savings, mothers, often without verbalizing it, expect a return of shared domestic output to run the home. The problem is that in many cases, the expectation becomes infinite. This greatly frustrates the grown daughter. She eventually, comes to desperately realize that no time is her own. She is always “on duty”—always “on call”—because she knows that her parents are due an infinite debt of gratitude for this fiscal arrangement.
Re: the mother:
If the mother sees that the daughter is not using her hours for either domestic output or to earn a living, this gnaws on the mother and is taken out upon the daughter through disparaging looks, withholding affirmation, smoldering silences, etc. This becomes torture for the daughter who is oblivious to the problem she is creating by her laziness.
To compound the problem, both mother and daughter define laziness/free-time differently—everyone does, even after young gals marry and run their own households. Many a mother-in-law and/or mother look upon even their married daughters with what they think is bull’s eye accuracy, which manifests in condescension, and withholding affirmation for anything else that is going on that is good in the emerging daughter’s life.
Thus, in this mother/daughter duo there often exists this crisis of expectations that must be talked through. At first, we may shrink back, thinking this is far too fragile a dynamic to openly talk about—that “mother-love”, or “daughter-love” wouldn’t do it. But if the duo don’t talk about it, and it exists, it may ruin the relationship for the rest of their lives. Any way you slice it, this is a long-term, life-time relationship that one must work upon to get it right. One can’t take back the feelings and impressions this chapter of “tight” living situation produces, if it is deteriorating in the hearts of one or both women. Either talk about it, or watch it crash and burn, to your own, far deeper sorrow, than merely that the dishes didn’t get washed today.
So, here is what you talk about:
Since the mother and the daughter both have both domestic burdens and fiscal burdens they need to talk about the boundaries of these individual challenges and pursuits
—have the daughter clearly estimate how much money she will make in a month and how she will make it—given the gift of this free living situation.
—have the mother clearly define what must be done domestically in the home, and who is ideally responsible for what
—thirdly, talk about space issues—what space belongs to the mother and what space may belong totally to the daughter (to either be fastidiously neat in, or looser than her mother organizationally—depending upon her individual wiring). If this space separation is not achievable in the home, then consider an addition of an RV in the driveway or backyard. This accommodation must be made for mature people; every adult has a large private life going on inside her head. There is to be no uninvited reading of each other’s mail, email, diaries, etc. Privacy is an adult rite of passage. The mother must treat the single daughter psychologically the same as she would regard her grown married daughter, as if she has already moved out and now has her own life to express and live. Micro-managing must cease.
Because both women are mature, their work/domestic preferences will be pronounced and strong and will, in most cases, be different. As the daughter becomes more and more developed and differentiated, she will express herself in both of these domains differently from the mother, so achieving mutuality in these spheres of work is a delusion. Both the fiscal pursuits and the domestic pursuits must be given space to be individually pursued in one’s own way—i.e., give each other space to do jobs differently without the invasion of the opinions of the other. The more work fusion, the more emotional confusion there will be. This may even require that the other adult woman gives the kitchen over to the other one—does not interfere with suggestions, opinions, etc.—and is nowhere around as the other one is working. Defer and be polite, here.
—if there is tension over any of these issues, stop and reach agreement on paper about them. Talk about it some more, until there is mutual consensus about expectations coming from both directions.
—then talk about taking domestic “turns of duty”, and what that looks like—so that the mother is fully “on cooking duty” for one day and the daughter is fully “on cooking duty” for the next day—alternating back and forth (or if you prefer you can alternative weeks)—both a mother and a daughter need to be fully off duty to maintain sanity and longevity in the midst of this ongoing living arrangement. Otherwise, chronic long-term grey areas will produce emotional fog and heaviness and stressful private mental gymnastics and escapisms.
—and mothers, be sure that you don’t view your grown daughters as “go-fers”—as personal appendages to yourself to get things done for you. Live your life as if your daughter is not in your home; find your own solutions. Your married children are free of you, and so it must be in your mind regarding your at-home grown child. If your daughter volunteers to help you, or if you pay her, that is acceptable, but no adult can have a private butler/maid on call for any instance or time without compensation. If such a dynamic exists it will boomerang on you. The adult child will flee away from you— if not physically, she will run away mentally. This is a stiff loss, reaping deep sorrow, for lack of a mother’s wisdom in this area.
View yourself as coming up under your daughter to enlarge and serve and strengthen her future life—which will all too soon, in the majority of cases, not be under your domain anymore. The only thing that will live on are the memories of that grown time with you—so see to it that they are good ones.
If your at-home daughter is not earning money, or doing domestic work that amounts to the same (figured by tabulating her hours and duties on paper and valuing that work commensurate with sustaining her life as a single person, living alone); if she is, in fact, freeloading, then you must go back to the drawing board and point out that this existence is not possible in the real world and that if the income or domestic output doesn’t increase, she must leave. By the way, this is an absolute must for any emerging son in your home; where there isn’t the domestic compensations complication in tabulating what exists. Don’t allow your son to freeload for one day. It could ruin his manhood.
For a related eBook, read Waiting for Mr. Right.