Things are not looking so good for this year’s college graduates. Unemployment among those under 25 is at a record-high, they have more debt than any graduating class in history, and starting salaries are plummeting. That’s right, mom and dad, according to a Department of Labor poll, some 85% of the class of 2011 will be moving back home at some point in their lives.
We feel your pain, so we spoke to Linda Gordon, co-author of Mom, Can I Move Back In With You?, to find some simple tips any parent can use to get their son or daughter to step away from the video games and into a job interview.
1. Whose home is this?
The first way to get your kids off the couch and into a job, is to make sure they never get too comfortable to begin with. While you may want to go as far as setting a limit for the length of the stay, at the very least, immediately after they move home have a conversation to establish some ground rules.
Gordon says that parents should make sure those rules meet the changing needs of your 20-something child. A common sticking point, for example, is whether you expect the child to be home for family dinners. “My feeling is no — you don’t expect it, but you do expect courtesy,” Gordon tells TIME. “If they say they will be home for dinner, they need to come and not cancel last minute. That’s what they would do if they were having dinner at anyone else’s home, and you should expect the same courtesy.” You may also want to discuss if there will there be separate (private) areas for the child so they can come and go as they please. What are the expectations for the cleanliness of the common areas and doing chores? Who will cook the meals and do the laundry?
2. Nothing says “forever” like a free ride
While you may want to consider setting a limit upfront on financial support, the larger goal should be for your child to become financially independent. Set some rules for how the family finances will be handled. Who will buy the groceries? Pay the phone bill? Will the child be expected to pay a fee for room and board? “The question I get most often is, should I charge my kid rent,” Gordon says. “I would say ignore the conventional pressure to charge rent. If they are in an internship or low-paying first job, having them pay you rent means they will not be saving any money. As a result, they will be dependent on you longer.”
If a financial contribution isn’t an option, then make it clear that your child will be expected to contribute in other ways. Perhaps they can babysit their siblings who still live at home, cook dinner once a week or drive grandma and grandpa to the doctor. This time can also be a good opportunity to teach financial planning. Consider letting them balance the family checkbook or sort the bills, which can provide them with a set of valuable skills for after they’ve flown the coup.
3. Make a road map and then get out of the way
Sit down with your child and discuss their plan of action for getting a job. But it’s important to remember you are the parent of a college graduate now — he or she is an adult — and will want to be treated like it. (That said, if they don’t act like an adult, you are under no obligation to treat them as such.) The best way to avoid nagging is to establish a timetable with specific goals so that you and your child can chart their progress. Once the road map is in place, back off. “You can’t be the one who writes a note and says ‘thank you’ for the interview; you can’t set the alarm or call to make sure they are up on time,” Gordon says. “Doing these things undermines the child. They will not feel like they did it on their own.” However, she adds, if they are not doing these things on their own, then that is the time to sit down for another (perhaps more stern) conversation.
4. Use your network.
While you don’t want to do everything for them, don’t be afraid to work your connections. Fresh out of school, your son or daughter may not have a network to reach out to — but you do. Put your feelers out. Who do you know in the field? Is there anyone who might be willing to pass around his or her resume on your behalf? Can you set them up on informational interviews with acquaintances from your church, gym, book club or social circle? What about that accountant who lives down the street? However, Gordon cautions, you can open the door, but your child has to be the one to walk through it. “Your son or daughter needs to be the one doing the correspondence. All you are doing is making sure that person is happy to hear from them,” she said. “It’s important for the child to learn how to sell themselves.”
5. Make sure they are putting their best foot forward.
You have a job, and you know what it took to get that job. So make sure they know all the proper etiquette and rules. Edit their resume and cover letters — trust us, they need help. Stage mock interviews. Maybe even buy them a new suit. (Expensive, yes. But hey, the better they look, the better their odds of landing the job.) And be sure they know to send a thank you card post-interview.
6. Use the time wisely.
Remember, though the end goal here is to get your son or daughter into a job and out of your hair, this time can also be a wonderful opportunity to grow and strengthen your relationship. Your best bet is to avoid over-parenting and work on transitioning the parent-child bond into a mature, adult stage. As Gordon says, “This is really bonus time for parenting. It’s your last moment to still be a parent. Enjoy it and use it wisely.”
Kayla Webley (@kaylawebley) is a guest contributor to TIME Moneyland; she writes about education for TIME.