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Setting fair ground rules when college grads come home to live

It didn't take long for my husband and me to wonder about whatever happened to the empty nest we'd heard so much about. Economic uncertainty, coupled with the escalating cost of apartments, added up to our children coming back home after college.

It was an easy solution for them and a familiar one for me. But after six months of mountainous laundry and grocery shopping, I faced facts. Instead of growing up and moving out, our offspring were settling in. It was cheaper to live at home, but I felt it would be emotionally healthier for them to live elsewhere.

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We developed an after-college set of guidelines for our eight children and ourselves.The most important one is to set a time limit when a child moves back. There are many good reasons for a temporary stay, such as job hunting, saving money for graduate school, looking for a roommate, or preparing to get married. But whatever the reason, limit the time to less than a year and stick to it.

We require room and board for family members who are working. We feel that $ 100 a month is reasonable, yet considerably less than apartment rent. A room in somebody else's house rents for between $20 and $40 a week. If a child is unemployed or saving money for graduate school, he takes over specific household tasks in lieu of rent, such as grocery shopping, maintenance, or heavy outdoor work.

Everybody takes care of his or her own personal needs, including laundry, although this was a shock to those who had been used to having mother run errands for them while they were in school.

My eldest son, who was struggling with his first 9-to-5 job after college, bleated, "Mom, you know I have no time," when I refused to pick up his ski jacket at the laundry. I felt like a traitor until I realized that my goal was to raise an independent adult. Later he told me that it was a turning point. He had to plan his life to take care of his needs, because I wasn't going to help.

We insist that the kids behave in such a way that our beliefs and the quality of life are not disturbed. After all, it is our house. When one son came banging home at 3 a.m. after the Eagles lost the Super Bowl, the issue wasn't the hour, but the fact that the slammed door woke us up.

Sometimes our beliefs are different from our children's and they accuse us of being square, which by today's standards we probably are. The world beyond our gate may live together, but at home I still insist that men and women have separate bedrooms until they are married.

Now that we no longer encourage our offspring to stay at home, we aren't sapping their initiative to leave. It hasn't always been easy for me to push them out. But when I falter, I remember the spring robins pushing their little one s out of the nest so that they will learn to fly.

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