My Facebook feed is filled with happy pictures of cap-and-gown adorned college graduates embracing their families. Parents are either proudly smiling on their child's achievement or because they just got a meaningful increase in their cash flow. Young graduates are smiling because they have entered a new stage of their lives and are ready to tackle the world.
Not to burst anyone's bubble, but the ensuing year (or years) can be more difficult than you realize, so let's have a plan.
The first harsh reality is that for many college-attending kids, the advice unceremoniously changes from "Work hard in school and don't worry about what you are going to do when you graduate" to "What are you going to do now?"
This bait-and-switch runs up against the reality that graduates are probably not comparing themselves to the host of other kids in their same predicament but rather the fortunate few who seem to be laser-focused on their career and have hit the ground running.
Then combine this with them reluctantly moving home to get on their feet, and, for those who matriculated out of state, realizing that many of their high school friends have built some semblance of a life without them.
What can we as parents or grandparents do?
First, recognize the situation. No matter how much your child loves their home and family, they have been used to an independent lifestyle where they turned to you to announce their current crisis rather than inform you of its resolution. Now you get to be an eyewitness to everything that is going on in their lives in real time, as they are trying to understand it themselves.
And you, after having adjusted to the grief when the child moved away, are confronted with a more subtle grief of your own loss of independence when they move back home. This is not about love, this is about freedom.
Because this is going to be new to all of you, the second step is to establish ground rules. It can make great financial sense for the child to move home until they get more settled because they don't have to incur the expenses of living away. But they are not customers or boarders. They are family members and as such are subjected to your rules and routines of the home. But this is where it gets touchy. As they are interviewing and doing the things necessary to move on in the world, they are being treated as adults.
We, unfortunately, still see them as children. This means you need to make sure that your expectations are reasonable for what you need and what they need. If there is not common agreement, then you win, but it may be a Pyrrhic victory.
The next step is that the child has to find something to do. They may be frustrated because they are not finding jobs in the careers for which they were educated, but we are better off understanding their frustration than enabling it. The benefit of doing something they don't like is that it allows them to gauge what they want to do.
At this stage, most jobs are not careers, but experiments. They may not have expected to use their biology degree in retail or restaurants, but by working, they will either realize they may enjoy what they are doing or understand that they have to figure a way to escape it. If they simply sit at home philosophizing about how they are better than this and how unfair the world is, they are preaching from a pulpit where you are the unwilling parishioner.
Working also gives them a little bit of money. You may think that your children want to sit around and leach off you, but they don't. They probably lack the confidence to move on and may be grieving a bit that after ending on top after the past four years, they are starting again from the bottom.
Another step in the ground rules is to determine how long you expect this arrangement to last. For many parents (and children), a year seems to be about right for the adjustment. While the deadline can create pressure on the child, it also creates some accountability.
The point is to not remove the backstop, but continue to move it further and further back. As parents, we are permanent safety nets, but we may differ on the degree of the fall before we catch them.
As an aside, one of the things that I have noticed in planning is that many clients are not trusting their 20-somethings with decisions for their lives, yet have in their estate plans provisions where, if the client dies, the child will inherit something in their 20s. Doesn't this seem inconsistent?
Lastly, one of the most important things that you and your child can do during this stage is to serve. Volunteering is a critical strategy for a couple of different reasons: First, it helps the child realize that while this stage is difficult, many people have it worse, and second, it helps you appreciate your child for who they are.
Graduation is a huge passage, but so is the year after.
Ross Levin is the chief executive and founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.