Does your adult child have a reluctance or even failure to launch? According to US census data, more than half of the young people between 18 to 24 years old still live at home with their parents, and almost 15% of adults in the 24 to 35 age group still do as well. In Canada, according to Stats Can. more than one in three (34.7%) young adults aged 20 to 34 were living with at least one parent in 2016, a number that has been increasing since 2001.
There are many reasons these young people are still living at home — they may be trying to save money to go to university, pay off student loans, to mortgage a house, or for many other understandable reasons. They may have returned home after a “failed” relationship or a divorce, leaving or graduating college, losing a job or an apartment, or for umpteen other reasons.
However, some are adult children who for whatever reason have experienced a reluctance or even failure to launch and remain quite dependent on their parents to meet their basic needs. They seem unmotivated or even fearful to make the jump to live life on their own. These young adult children that just won’t leave home can become quite financially and emotionally exhausting for their parents! Is this situation happening in your home? Do you have an adult child experiencing a reluctance or failure to launch?
Here are some warning signs that you may have adult children who might just be overly dependent on you.
1. You Are Carrying Them Financially
If you find yourself carrying your adult child’s financial responsibilities, and there are no extenuating circumstances like illness, mental health issues or a run of bad luck etc… If you are paying all of their bills and they are perfectly happy to let you carry their load… you may want to reevaluate your situation. If your child is non-contributing while you have to work longer hours, have to consider putting off retirement, or even take on a second job to support them. If you have to help them pay off their debts or pay their car payments, it may be time to reevaluate and have a serious, sit down talk with them.
2. They Do Not Seem to be Motivated to Change the Situation
This is where you really have to be honest with yourself, and with them. You have to take off your parental filters and curb your tendency to only see the good in your children. You really need to evaluate your child with the “eyes of a third person”. Are they really and truly making an effort to study, work or find a job? Are they making an effort to find a way to support themselves and be contributing members of your household and society? Are they really working towards independence? Are they somewhat motivated, or do they sleep every day until noon? Are they actually contributing to the household? Even if they’re not contributing financially, are they at the very least helping out significantly with chores or other tasks around the home? Has it been a problem for only a few months, or has it been a year or two?
3. They Are Continually Asking For Money
It may be perfectly fine to help out your adult child financially every once in a while, with their purchase of a necessary big ticket item like a house downpayment or with their tuition or books. But if your son or daughter is constantly borrowing money from you because they can’t seem to budget properly or even hold down a regular job. If they constantly promise to pay you back but never do, this is really a big red flag. Be honest with yourself, are you being taken advantage of?
4. Conflict and Disrespect
It’s natural for young people who are striving to find their own new place in the big wide world to be cranky and moody sometimes. But there is a fine line between an occasional bad mood and blatant disrespect sent in your direction.
Does your son or daughter seem polite, appreciative and even loving when they want or need help from you or do they possibly become disrespectful or even nasty when you say “no” to their demands? This kind of behaviour is often a warning sign that your child may be too dependent and some negative patterns may have formed.
Does it feel like you have to walk on eggshells to avoid setting them off or starting another conflict? Have you set boundaries that they keep overstepping? Again, more warning signs that the relationship with your child is probably an unhappy place to be.
What Now? Helping Them Launch
Is your relationship with your still at home adult child sending up some of these red flags? As a parent what do you do then? We want to really take a good look at the scenario and try to do what’s best for ourselves and what’s best for our child. Sometimes to do that, we may need to make some hard decisions that may even increase the conflicts short-term and maybe even cause some temporary pain for both of you.
As parents of an adult child, we’re actually entitled to take our own feelings and needs into account sometimes, especially when we feel that we may be being taken advantage of. Might it be okay to put our own needs first sometimes? We probably would with the other adults in our lives, so maybe its okay to do the same with our adult children? What do you really need to do maintain your sanity and your savings account?
Frequently a parents job is to guide and help your child figure out their own way. Part of discovering “their own way” is that sometimes they may actually need to feel the natural consequences of their own behaviours. This is often the very best way for them to learn the skills, strength and resiliency that is fundamental to their living a successful and independent life.
Parents who always step in to rescue their children from “normal” life consequences may be creating a negative pattern that then perpetuates a cycle in which the child then needs continuous rescuing. If we rescue them they don’t learn to master their own set of skills and behaviours to manage their own environment in a successful way.
Adult children don’t just develop independence and resiliency simply because they are of a certain age. Sometimes a parents toughest task may be actually cutting the apron strings — gently or even forcefully pushing our child from the nest, not because we’re mean-spirited, but because it may be the best thing for our child and ourselves in the long run! Some “stuck” adult children may need to be pushed out of the nest to encourage them to experience and learn the life skills they need!
Seeking out a therapist at this time may be very helpful in assisting parents who are trying to balance the best decision for themselves and for their child.
How To Support Their Independence
It’s helpful if you can step above the conflict and often adversarial nature of the parent and adult-child relationship and really try to take an encouraging and supportive role with your child. We want to really strive to help them to become confident, resilient and independent. It’s also helpful if you can remain positive and patient, making an effort to be non-adversarial when interacting with them. Like parenting children of any age, staying calm, being assertive and firm and setting healthy boundaries is what needs to happen to really support their growth to independence.
1. Have them contribute in some way
Having no financial responsibilities sounds great, doesn’t it? Take a deep breath, clear your head and really evaluate your current situation. Will totally or even partially supporting them help your adult child prepare for the sometimes harsh financial realities of the outside world?
A good place to start is to ask them to commit to contributing to the monthly household budget/expenses. If they are currently unemployed, along with making a concerted effort to find work, ask them to contribute through chores like housecleaning, grocery shopping or any other chores that will truly help you out. The goal here is to really help them see that when you’re an adult — there truly is no free lunch. We want to help them start developing new habits, attitudes and a sense of responsibility to themselves and others. This sense of responsibility will then be the cornerstone that will help them become independent and even thrive on their own.
2. Don’t give them money!
The reality is, very few of us can afford to support an adult child forever and we need to let them know this in an honest and clear communication. You cannot continue to endlessly give your adult child money without any expectations of payback. One of the first things to do is set a deadline and to stop any “allowance” or “loans” that they receive from you. If you’re already supporting them, and paying for their food and shelter? Maybe paying for these basic needs is meeting your parental obligations and they don’t need an allowance on top of that too? It’s not your role to pay for their expensive clothes, car payments, their outings with friends or entertainment, or even their vacations. Or, if they do have a job and spend all of their income on themselves without helping out with the household finances/budget, perhaps its more than past time to address that situation? A healthy young adult should be responsible for supporting themselves!
3. Responsibilities and expectations
Again we need to sit down with our adult child and discuss, without any fuzziness, a set of clear expectations and responsibilities that will help the child work towards their independence — natural consequences should be allowed to happen if they cannot make the effort to live up to these agreed upon expectations. Each situation will be different but the important part is that we need to be clear and concise with them — what are the clear expectations and their responsibilities needed for them to live with us? What does it look like, what do we expect from them? Under what conditions? What will we not put up with? What are their obligations and responsibilities financially? For how long can they stay?
4. Accessing therapy
Accessing individual therapy for the reluctant to launch adult child may be of great benefit in helping them explore and conquer their fears, doubts, and anxiety about beginning adulthood and becoming independent. Therapy will help them accept and effectively cope with the truths and challenges of being on their own for the first time. Therapy can also help them to develop a good plan of action and also build the strength and motivation needed to successfully reach for self-sufficiency.
I know in my private practice as a psychologist, I have helped a number of young people successfully cope with the fears, stresses and challenges of developing independence. The goal of therapy is to help them “individuate” from their family and become their own person. Therapy can help them with developing maturity, a sense of responsibility and self-confidence. It can also support their development of a strong individual “self” and create a healthy separation from their family of origin.
5. Set hard deadlines if you need to
Having a heartfelt talk with your son or daughter about these issues can be difficult. But maybe you need to bite the bullet and have that really hard discussion that you know you need to have — it may even be necessary to be a little tough and push them to find their independence. If they’ve been home for a while and there is a lot of pain and conflict? Pushing them towards independence might even salvage your relationship with them rather than allowing further harms to it.
Discuss a timeline and an “exit plan” with them. For instance, for now, they may stay and you’ll provide a roof and groceries but only for an agreed upon amount of time. Negotiate a date where the expectation is they have found a job or other way to support themselves, have saved for a damage deposit etc, and found their own place to live, whether an apartment, roommate situation or whatever suits them. But the point is you’ve set a firm limit and you’re willing to follow through for yours and their best interest. This not to say we shouldn’t have empathy for our child and since you’re the parent you’re certainly allowed to be as tough or as lenient as you see fit. But really try to look at the situation clearly and really ask yourself, what is truly the best thing for you and your adult child in the long term? Sometimes the best decisions can be the hardest ones.
If you’re dealing with this situation with your adult child, good luck in working through it and finding a positive resolution! No family is perfect. Keep in mind that this is really a common problem of life for many families and you’ll get through it as best you can!