THE BLOG
12/15/2012 07:44 pm ET Updated Feb 14, 2013

Back To The Nest after Divorce

Today it is estimated that about a third of homeowners are currently putting out the welcome mat for boomerang children or aging parents. Oddly enough, the family domicile tends to be expanding rather than shrinking. That includes making space for an unexpected guest: the son or daughter seeking a safe harbor when his or her marriage is in trouble.

It is not uncommon for parents to find themselves opening the sleeper couch for what they hope will be a temporary stay. While most want to do whatever they can to help their children get back on their feet, but they do not necessarily want to be "Mom" or "Dad" all over again. Grown men and women who have been on their own would likely only seek their parents out as a last resort, however, in tough economic times, more and more sons and daughters (with or without grandchildren) do not have the luxury of maintaining two households and are landing on their parents' doorsteps.

Parents are expected to provide unconditional support and, when appropriate, financial relief until the divorce settlement is hammered out. What most children do not realize is that their parents are struggling with their own recovery issues after the split and having a son or daughter living with them makes it that much more difficult, especially if a parent is having trouble accepting the divorce decision.

The road to recovery from a child's divorce is bumpy for everyone involved. Therefore, the best advice is not to extend the journey any longer than is absolutely necessary. It is a good idea to set a flexible timeline how long the child is planning to stay from the get-go. (Note I said flexible.) If your adult child is fragile, a plan can be misinterpreted as your pulling the welcome rug out from under. Also, if you know your child is only going to be with you for a few weeks, I would let things ride.

Another suggestion is to be up front about divvying household duties and expenses for food, gasoline, etc. This is, after all, Mom and Dad's place. The returning child is not a house guest with bed, board and maid service included.

Typically, an adult child will seek the security of home temporarily because he or she needs the anchor of family right after a marriage crashes. A son may need a place to hang out until he finds another arrangement. Newly separated husbands often run bases on their friends' sofa beds until they finally strike out. Daughters tend to stay longer, especially if there are children, consuming lots of hot tea while they cry on Mom's shoulder. In rarer cases, it's the in-law who needs a place to stay. I know of one case where a son-in-law practically had to be pried off his mother-in-law's sofa. The in-law was his replacement parent and the two were very close during the marriage. The daughter wanted him out but he had no place to go. The mother-in-law, after first checking it out with her daughter, agreed to let him stay, but when Al became a fixture, it was time to have him leave.

There is a lot of retrofitting that has to take place when an adult child's marriage ends. The newly separated or divorced mother is redefining her role primarily as wife and mother when she is no longer married; the son who was once husband and father is no longer a husband, and often spending fewer hours with his children than when he was married. He may devote more hours to work or going out with his buddies.

Understandably, this is a dizzying time for parents who watch from the sidelines while their child is coping with all the changes. Parents are trying to bind wounds and build a new family structure to replace the old one. It is natural to feel ambivalent about a child's homecoming, but there are things you can do to make it less stressful. I offer lots of tips in my book, "Your Child's Divorce: What to Expect ... What You Can Do."