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Failure to Launch, Part 2: How Adult Children Work the "Parent System"

by Kimberly Abraham LMSW and Marney Studaker-Cordner LMSW
Failure to Launch,  Part 2: How Adult Children Work the Parent System

If you, like many parents, have an adult child living at home with you, you’re not alone. There’s an epidemic of young adults in our society who are struggling to find their way. In many families, this works out finethe adult child is responsible and contributes to the household while they take some time to find their way (whether it's for economic reasons or something else) before going out on their own. But if your adult child has moved homeor never left—and expects you to take care of their needs,  you've probably started to feel resentful and frustrated.

In part 2 of their series on adult children, Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner explain why some kids choose to stay home instead of launching into the world. Kim and Marney are experts in the areas of parenting, child behavior problems, O.D.D. and substance abuse, and have worked with families for decades to help them resolve difficult issues. They are also the co–creators of Life Over the Influence, a new program that helps families with loved ones who are struggling with substance abuse issues. According to Kim and Marney, “We didn't write this series on young adult kids in order to judge parents: just because your child may not have launched successfully yet, doesn’t mean you’re a 'bad parent'—and it doesn’t mean they’ll be at home forever. There’s hope.”

“An adult child can actually make a career out of earning income from his parents by working the emotional system.”

Adam and Eve Never Registered at Babies ‘R Us

In the part 1 of this series on adult children living at home, we looked at how society has changed in its views and approaches to parenting. Over the past few generations, society has moved from caring for our children to caretaking—and many parents, for different reasons, find themselves solving problems for their children long into adulthood.

Related: Does your adult child rely on you to solve his or her problems?

How, exactly, did that happen? In today’s world, children are usually born out of emotional need. Couples, in love, want to share the bond of having a child and the joy they picture of becoming a family. Married couples with strong spiritual or religious beliefs may see having a child as part of God’s plan or as a spiritual experience to be shared as man and wife. Sometimes, teens or young adults think that having children is a rite of passage into adulthood. There’s often the belief that a child will love us unconditionally—and for those who’ve never really had that, a child can represent a powerful desire to experience such love. Sure, there are still accidental pregnancies, but in today’s modern world, the choice to give birth and parent, or adopt a child, is based on emotion. Think about it: there’s nothing logical about having a child. Yes, they can bring great joy, but there can also be great pain and frustration. Children are messy, it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to raise them, and parents often make great sacrifices to meet their child’s needs. We have children out of emotion and, more often than not, we tend to parent out of emotion.

We want our children to be happy, confident and secure. We hate to see them suffer, and many times will do anything we can to take that pain away. We would rather go through something painful ourselves than watch our children experience it. And, in fact, many of us remember our own childhood pain as we watch our children navigate their way in this world. That world can be hard and cruel: when our child comes home crying because no one would play with him at recess; when our child is called names on the playground or someone makes fun of how she looks; when our child hates school and cries every morning because his teacher just doesn’t seem to like him; when our teenage daughter sobs for weeks because her boyfriend broke up with her; when our daughter is devastated when middle school “mean girls” spread rumors about her. Most of us remember living through those experiences ourselves, and it’s heartbreaking to watch our child in emotional or physical pain.

As our child grows, we, as parents, start to develop certain emotional buttons. These are the emotions that tend to move us into caretaking mode. These emotions aren’t right or wrong; it just means they’re emotions you tend to feel strongly regarding your child. If you find yourself worrying about your child quite a bit, it’s likely you have a strong fear button: fear of anything negative happening to (or because of) your child. Fear your child will be hurt emotionally or physically, or hurt others; fear he/she will fail at school; fear regarding substance use or other dangerous activities your child may engage in; fear of a child becoming aggressive toward us or others. Other emotional buttons kids tend to push are related to hope (that this time our child will choose to do things differently and that things really will get better); anger; sympathy (allowing our child to avoid consequences or taking responsibility because we feel sorry for them in some way); exhaustion (being worn down to the point of just giving up); guilt (over things we’ve said or done as parents, opportunities we may not have been able to provide for our child due to financial or emotional reasons). Children learn, over time, what our emotional buttons are and how to work those buttons in certain situations.

Related: Is your adult child an expert at pushing your buttons?

Some of us have more than one emotional button that our child learns to push over the years; if we don’t become aware of these buttons, they will continue to work for our child into their own adulthood. Many adult children who are having difficulty “launching” have learned to rely on one or both parents as their source of financial support. The adult child still needs haircuts, clothes, gas money, a vehicle to drive, car and health insurance, medical services, a roof over their head and food to eat. There’s also cigarettes, make-up, movies to rent, games to play, cell phone and internet service. For many, add in the desire for alcohol and drugs. Where does the money come from when there’s no employment? The First National Parent Bank & Trust. Getting the parent to provide the money for these things becomes that adult child’s full time job. An adult child can actually make a career out of earning income from his parents by working the emotional system. They will visit the Parent ATM (PATM) frequently, using whatever emotional PIN number they’ve learned works to spit that money out of the cash slot.

Show Me The Money.

Meet Slug. Slug is 32 years old. He’s never held a job for more than a few months. He’s broken multiple leases, which his parents had to pay for as co-signers. Slug has been living at home for the past few years because he can’t find a job. Part of the problem is he won’t leave the house to put in any job applications. He looks online sometimes, but never follows through by calling a potential employer. He sleeps until the early afternoon, lays on the couch, eats his parents’ food and smokes all day—sometimes cigarettes; sometimes marijuana. Slug gets his PATM to spit out money by using the “Hope” PIN. He says he needs gas money to get to a job interview that never materializes into employment. He always has something “just ready to break,” an opportunity that’s going to pan out. There’s always a carrot at the end of the stick if his parents will just keep helping him a little bit longer. Then he’ll be independent. When that PIN doesn’t work, Slug starts pushing all the buttons on the PATM, eventually coming up with the “Anger” and “Exhaustion” PINS. He simply refuses to do anything until his parents hit a point of anger and eventually, out of frustration, give Slug what he wants rather than argue anymore.

Related: Do you suspect that your adult child has a substance abuse problem?

Meet Clueless. Clueless is a 24-year-old adult child living with his parents, and he’s also a Connoisseur of Colleges: he has been to four different universities in the past six years but is still only a Sophomore because he never completes the courses. Clueless really doesn’t know what he wants to do in life except smoke marijuana, play video games and text his friends. His parents have shelled out thousands of dollars supporting him in the lifestyle he would like to become accustomed to. When they try to shut down the PATM, Clueless uses the “Fear” PIN. He states he’s just going to sell drugs for a living or go live off the land. Or maybe he’ll crash his car into a tree. When his parents offer to take him to a therapist, he declines because he really doesn’t have a problem—the world does. Why should he have to work at a job every day if he doesn’t love it? Sometimes while he’s standing at the PATM, he finds his Fear PIN isn’t working, so he uses the “Hero” PIN. He tells his parents how much he appreciates all the support he’s been given, how much he wants to be like them and how badly he feels that he’s let them down. You can almost hear Bette Midler in the background, singing “Wind Beneath My Wings.” The problem is, Clueless isn’t a bird who wants to fly. In fact, he has no intention of ever leaving the nest.

Meet Carefree. Carefree is a 20-year-old adult child who lives with her parent, along with her three-year-old baby. Carefree still acts like a teenager. She leaves her baby at home with her parent while she goes out with friends. Sometimes she parties and stays out all night. She has a part-time job but never seems to have enough money to pay for bills. She does, however, have money for clothes, cigarettes and alcohol. Her parent pays for all her haircuts, daycare, the car she drives and the insurance. When Carefree’s parent tries to set boundaries or get her to take responsibility for her own life, Carefree uses the “Guilt” PIN. She reminds her parent how hard and lonely she had it growing up in a single-parent home, and how she used to have to care for her younger siblings, so she never really got to be a teenager. When that doesn’t work, she goes to the “Fear” PIN: Maybe she should just give her baby up for adoption, since she can’t take care of her—or better yet, let her ex-boyfriend have custody. Carefree’s parent, who adores the baby, gives in for fear of what could happen to her grandchild.

Related: Has marijuana taken over your child’s life?

Meet Clinger. Clinger never did well in school, never had many friends and in general just doesn’t seem to know how to cope with and make it in life. He’s not particularly difficult to live with, although his parent still does his laundry and cooks for him. He’s just extremely dependent—at the age of 22. Clinger’s parent responds to the “Sympathy” PIN, simply out of the belief that Clinger doesn’t have the intellect or ability to live independently. His parent is also terrified of what would happen to Clinger in the real world, which engages the Fear PIN. Clinger doesn’t even really know how to work the PATM – his parent works it for him.

Meet TNT. TNT is in his twenties and has never moved out of his parents’ home. As an oppositional and defiant teenager, TNT intimidated his parents every day with the Fear PIN. He yelled, broke things, raised his fist and was verbally abusive. His parents had to call the police a few times, but because he never actually crossed the line into violence, no charges were ever filed. Now that TNT is an adult, he still uses his anger to get his parents to do what he wants, and they walk on eggshells around him in their own home. His parents aren’t sure if TNT will one day become violent with them and are afraid to stop supporting him financially, ask him to leave or turn him loose on society.

You Are Not Alone.
Almost all of us go into parenting with good intentions. We don’t mean to fall into caretaking for our children, and neither did the parents above. It may surprise some parents, but the adult children described above really do exist…and more and more join their ranks each day. What do they all have in common? It’s more comfortable for them to rely on their parents to meet their needs than to take responsibility for their own lives.

These parents aren't terrible, and they're not alone. They love their children. Caretaking behavior sneaks up on us over time. Emotional buttons can become so strong that some parents are held hostage by feelings of fear, exhaustion and guilt. Many parents feel conflicting emotions: anger and frustration at an adult child’s attitude of entitlement, but fear of what will happen if that child is “cut off” financially. It can leave anyone in this situation feeling paralyzed.

This article, and our series on adult kids in Empowering Parents, is intended to help parents of take a step back, recognize which emotional buttons are being pushed and begin a healthy separation from that adult child who remains dependent. It’s a process and it can take some time. It’s important to understand how we got here, and why we stay “stuck” with our children in order to have the strength to move forward. Our next article will help parents in this situation get past these emotions, set boundaries and take the steps that will make your adult child uncomfortable enough in your home to become more independent. Remember, they can still launch—they just haven’t launched yet.

In their next article on Adult Children Living at Home, Kim and Marney will give you practical, concrete tips on how to help your child launch.


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Kimberly Abraham, LMSW, has worked with children and families for more than 25 years. She specializes in working with teens with behavioral disorders, and has also raised a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW, is the mother of four and has been a therapist for 15 years. She works with children and families and has in-depth training in the area of substance abuse. Kim and Marney are the co-creators of The ODD Lifeline for parents of Oppositional, Defiant kids, and Life Over the Influence, a program that helps families struggling with substance abuse issues.

READER'S COMMENTS

I would love some help on older teens, my daughter is 16 and Im having issues with her following house rules and going to school, her friends, and smoking pot! She thinks shes 18 like her friends!! shes out of control and just doesnt care !

Comment By : julie

The best information that I have read so far. I cannot wait to read the next article to learn how to handle our issues with our adult child still being supported by us. This is so very helpful to us, thank you!

Comment By : Mayalove1

referring to Julie's comment: I'm in the same situation with my boyfriends 16 yr old son. He sees his girlfriend every night and has skimmed his home and some school responsibilities. He has a strong sense of entitlement. I think I have more of a problem accepting that his fathers way of disciple is not consistent and very elusive which leaves his son in constant confusion.

Comment By : mjmk55

This is A GREAT article. My own 17 year old son has pushed my buttons for the last two years! I am trying to task a step back but find myself reverting back to the giving in because of all the emotions involved. We all love our children and hurt along with them when they fail to make the right choices but i am learning SLOWLY that it is HIS problem mot really mine and they are HIS choices and it is time for him to live with the consequences that go with those choices.Stay strong!

Comment By : guest

This article is great. I've had to give my adult child a choice: follow my rules, or get out! She hasn't been a good example for my 2 younger sons. She knows that I'm not backing down. And on the day I gave her the ultimatium, I could see a difference in her. BE CONSISTANT!! When you tell a child, older or younger, that you're going to do something, DO IT (even if YOUR the one who feels miserable for the moment...it does get better)

Comment By : guest2

When I read this article I felt as though the authors knew my 19 year old daughter and me. I am at my wits end hearing her ranting and raving due to her feeling so entitled which of course is caused by her dad and I being divorced. Thank-you for this article which has enlightened me so very much.

Comment By : pah55

This term "adult children" bothers me. What are they? Adults or children? The more that term gets tossed around to describe these people who are nothing more than master manipulators, the more we justify the behavior. These "adults" know exactly what they are doing. At best it's manipulation, and in many cases abusive. I am in the middle of it now with a 17 year old "clueless". The only help they need is to face the consequences of their choices. Maybe it's us,(the parents) who will benefit most from the counseling.

Comment By : AJ

What about those adult kids who could be successful, but have a sense of entitlement? Our kids keep telling us that they need new cars, fancy clothes, gadgets and spending money because they deserve it because they make good grades, behave (otherwise) and don't do drugs (that we know of). However, our kids are all in their late 20s, early 30s, and just keep starting new (not very successful) businesses or going to school seeking more and more advanced degrees, which we also pay for. Just because they are "good kids", do they deserve to stay on the payroll indefinitely?

Comment By : PK

THANK YOU for finally talking about this subject. I am relieved to see that there are others who are dealing with these types of children. I have 2 of the above mentionned types and am at my whits end as to what to do.

Comment By : madmom

Thank you for reminding me that all of the things I do to try to "help" my 21-year old son (pay his rent, car insurance, etc.) really just get in the way of his independence and that pain isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, we've all been through painful experiences and come out stronger and wiser. Why on earth wouldn't we want our sons and daughters to gain these benefits as well? Again, many thanks for the uplifting article. There is great comfort in knowing I'm not alone in my parenting mistakes and that there is a way to truly help our kids toward independence. Can't wait for the next article!

Comment By : J.Elliott

I truly appreciate your candor and clear explanations and example. I am battling a similar circumstance with my 26 year old daughter who returned home 18 months ago-pregnant-but wanting to keep her baby. i have fallen madly in love with my beautiful granddaughter-but that adds a nother dimension to the whole "boundaries" that I am muddling through. She gets no help from the sperm donor and we often struggle to make our bills for helping her. She does work fulltime, but for nominal pay-the market stinks. She pays her car, gas, daycare and phone but we get little to no help with all the other ammenities such as food,mortgage,etc. I welcome any helpful advice on how to be assertive and tactful but not cause irerepairable harm to my granddaughter?

Comment By : Concerned Mom

I have a 25 year old at home, and other than letting him move back home after kicking him out 4 months earlier, I am not giving anything to him, nor fixing his problems. He lives here against my wishes, and I resent it, and he knows it. But the legalities of getting him to go are complex. In the mean time, he works part time but will not save a penny. All of his "income" goes to beer and cigarettes. He doesn't even drive due to loss of license and dui. I haven't supported him in years (other than the place to live - which isn't even all that comfortable, a couch in the yucky basement - and the food he eats when he's too lazy to go get his own supply with foodstamps). None the less, he won't go, and he is disrespectful of me in front of his siblings, and a terrible example of being a man. He wont do anything helpful around the house unless I PAY HIM, and contributes in no way financially. I can't wait to figure out how to get him out; I look forward to your next installment and hope it has some concrete steps.

Comment By : julie d

The timing of this article could NOT have been better. Thank you! I strongly believe parents in these situations understand that they are NOT alone. And that it is not only their own child who is manipulative and deceitful. More importantly, that there are tools to deal with the situation/behaviour. Again... Thank you

Comment By : TMcShane

Thank you for this article - I relate. Is it possible to get more articles/info on adult children who have small children who move back with their parents. In our case my daughter has to live with us as a condition of her parental custody. We love our grandson dearly and couldn't imagine him being with his mother or his father. Any information is helpful on this subject.

Comment By : loving grandma

So how do I help my 18yo son who doesn't want to be helped? He took off to live with friends as soon as he turned 18, dropped out of school, and spends most of his time smoking marijuana with said friends. He has no insurance, no job, and no money. We tell him to come home so he can get on his feet properly, but he refuses. He's having fun doing things his way - for now, anyway. He's a catastrophe waiting to happen, and when it does, he's going to expect us to clean up the mess. I fear how big that mess will be. Any advice?

Comment By : Worried mom

I find these tutorials excellent for group work with parents of addict adult children.

Comment By : social worker

I have a TNT son. He wont get a job, is waiting to go to trial on an assault charge and thinks the world owes him. I can feel myself slowing becoming depressed. I want to throw him out but am so concerned of the consequences of doing so.

Comment By : Tasha9929

* Dear PK, When did the world change to “we get rewarded for behaving in the way we are expected to”? In real life, you get a bonus at work for going above and beyond. It’s a one-time gift of appreciation, usually because you helped the company you work for profit for the year. Are your children helping you profit? Are they going above and beyond? If not, then what’s the bonus for? The choice to “be good people” is their choice, it’s what we expect the people in this world to be. You’re not rewarded for that. However, you are disciplined by society if you exhibit negative behaviors. The gravy train needs to close down –- no, they do not need to stay on the payroll forever. Close the parent bank. Who’s paying you for being a good person? This is not real life.

Comment By : Marney Studaker–Cordner, LMSW and Kim Abraham, LMSW

* Dear Toughlove, Remember: you can only control your boundaries and your actions. Our adult sons and daughters can, and often will, seek out others to help and rescue them. This can be in the form of grandparents, the other parent, other family members and friends. If you get involved in these situations, you are now trying to control two people! It can lead to bitter feelings and often doesn’t accomplish what was originally hoped for. Focus on yourself and feel positive about the limits you have established.

Comment By : Marney Studaker–Cordner, LMSW and Kim Abraham, LMSW

* Dear Concerned Mom, When a grandchild is involved, it pulls at our heart strings and we react out of emotion, often doing things we later feel bitter or resentful about. The choice to have a child was your daughter’s choice and along with this decision comes responsibility and hardship in addition to the joys of a baby. As parents and grandparents, we need to remember that our responsibility remains on our well-being. That means taking care of our bills and planning for our retirement. Your daughter’s responsibility is to cope with the hardships and struggles she may endure in this chapter of her life. These struggles and hardships will eventually give her a feeling of pride and strength in her own ability to make it through tough times. Remember all the hardship stories our own parents and grandparents shared with us? They were stories of strength and shared for the purpose of letting us know that people can endure extremely difficult times and still pull through. Your daughter may have to give up some things such as cable, cell phone and other non-necessities. She may have to investigate programs available in her area that can help with food and shelter if the need arises. Many churches and social service agencies help those in need with food and bills as they struggle to get on their feet. Remember, hard times build character.

Comment By : Marney Studaker–Cordner, LMSW and Kim Abraham, LMSW

* Dear Worried Mom, First, as hard as this may be to accept, he doesn’t want your help. Remember the 1960’s? Many of those parents tried to keep their kids from leaving and leading the psychedelic life, without luck either. The best advice we can give you is don’t clean up any mess he creates. If you rescue him, he will never learn life skills. You will rob him from his own experiences and learning opportunities. Think of it this way: you stop cleaning up messes for your child when they’re 3-5 years old, teaching them how to pick up after themselves. The same holds true when your son makes messes as an adult. A mess made is a situation he must clean up on his own. The 3-5 year old learns, when they have to clean up their own mess, that they may not want to make such a big mess the next time. The same holds true for adults. Also, try not to predict the future. He may never create a huge catastrophe, and you will have spent years walking on eggshells, waiting for the shoe to drop, while he’s out enjoying his life.

Comment By : Marney Studaker–Cordner, LMSW and Kim Abraham, LMSW

* Dear Tasha9929, Raising a TNT is a difficult job. He is pushing your fear button in order to control you, and your feelings and responses are completely understandable. TNTs can be quite threatening. Begin working through your fear, so you can become strong enough to set the boundaries you need in order to feel you have control over your own life again. In the next article, we’ll talk about steps on how to handle potentially explosive behavior in the face of putting your adult child out. Hang in there. You’re not alone. We’ve worked with many families who are dealing with a TNT who’s trying to be Top Dog of the house.

Comment By : Marney Studaker–Cordner, LMSW and Kim Abraham, LMSW

* Dear Threatened: It sounds like you feel as if you’re between a rock and a hard place, trying to keep peace between two people you care about. Sounds like you’ve taken on the insurance as your problem, which leaves your son in the position of putting that concern aside, leaving you to figure it out. If it becomes his problem, remember: he can pick up a part-time job somewhere for that $100. It depends on how important it is to him. If he makes the insurance a priority, he’s bound to figure it out. If he doesn’t, he may have to experience consequences for driving without insurance. This will help him grow into an adult who is able to think problems through to potential outcomes and solutions. Many of us have made mistakes in life and suffered the outcomes, to come away with a “I’ll never do that again,” lesson. You are not responsible for anything regarding your adult children. If you take on that responsibility, it’s because you want to do so. Just make sure it’s not something you will resent later. Rule of thumb: never loan money you’re not prepared to give away.

Comment By : Marney Studaker–Cordner, LMSW and Kim Abraham, LMSW

I have a difficult situation. My husbands oldest son (24 yrs old)from his first marrage has moved in with us. I feel so frusterated and hopless when it comes to him.. He has his own job and helps out finacially. But when it comes to house work, cleaning up after himself he doesnt do a thing. He is told but never does it. Its to the point he expects me to do everything even his laundery. On top of that because he pays a small amount of rent he things he should have every right there is.. he wants to drink ( not aloud my husband is 2 years sober and cant be around any alcohol) smoke weed ( i have 3 childern rangeing from 11-11 months) have women over to spend nights ( again i have kids) now he wants a puppy! Everytime something new comes up its a huge argurment with my husband and i. He has lots of freedom. Doensnt have a curfew, uses MY car and tears it up, comes and goes as he wants. Oh ya he is very mean to my children his half siblings. He is really mean to my daughter who is 6 and very emotional. He has physically hurt her then laughed. he is mean to my animals and teaches my 11 year old to be disrespectful to myself and also my animals. I am to the point i want to get rid of them just to protect them. He also calles me names like Natzi and hiprocrit. i try and try but i all get is emotionally slapped in the face. My husband cant stand that we cant get along and we fight bad. I dont know what i can do. I feel like just calling it quits.. I fell like its him or me..

Comment By : powerless

Our 18yo son has traits of all five of the types you describe. He also has medical problems that he refuses to take care of, and with no job, he has no insurance to do so. My husband feels that the kid should do all that we ask, when we ask, and do it right; or else. My son, of course, finds this to be totally unfair, refuses to do pretty much anything we ask, and feels entitled to whatever he wants. I do fear, as he isn't able to support himself and he can only "couch surf" with his friends for so long, that he will end up living in what's left of the car we gave him (he has managed to almost destroy it in a matter of months). His medical problems just add to my fear for his well-being. In short, I can't kick him out, but he refuses to even try to respect us and be a contributing and resonsible member of the household. Any ideas? : /

Comment By : At My Wits End

* To "At My Wit's End": It is a difficult place to be when you are in the middle of two people you love and want them both to be happy. It's truly being "between a rock and a hard place." On one hand, you understand your son's difficulties, yet you see his stubbornness as well. On the other, you see your husband's point of view and accept it to be valid and reasonable, yet it sounds like you wish he would be a bit easier on your son -- and you also see your husband as having areas he could improve in as well. So here you are in the middle, trying to be the Peacemaker. You're probably feeling sick, exhausted, disheartened, resentful, hurt...and the feelings go on and on. All out of love and concern. That doesn't seem fair does it? And to top it all off, you don't have any control over any of the things your son or husband choose to do. This can leave you feeling scared and even terrified of what's to come next. Here a few ideas: You can seek an experienced family therapist to help you and your family sort out your feelings and look for solutions that you all can come to agree upon. You can focus on what you can control: your relationship with your son; your limits, your boundaries, your expectations and your consequences if these expectations are not met. You can focus on your relationship with your husband; keeping open communication and understanding that you both might feel differently about this situation with your son -- and that's normal. We can agree to disagree and we all have a perception and opinion, we often don't have the same perception and opinion as other family members and that is OK, too. Understanding this and validating each others feelings will help you and your husband keep your relationship stronger and more positive. Look at things you can do to have fun once in a while. We all need a break from work and family stress...nurture yourself and your marriage when you can. Your son is only 18. He is just at the very beginning of his adulthood, and really still considered a teenager until the age of 20, so remember that it takes awhile to get those wings working. Start with one thing at a time. Take one safety net away at a time and stay consistent with that one thing for a period of a few months before you remove another net. By using this system, you give him time to gain ways to replace what you've removed without pulling the whole rug out from underneath him. He is less likely to fall that way. If he doesn't take steps to prepare himself during each few months you give him in between removing your safety nets, that is his choice. You can feel good that you provided him with this opportunity -- whether our kids use our opportunities is not within our control. Nurturing your marriage will help you and your husband work together as a team while presenting a plan like this. Fighting against each other only leaves everyone in the family exhausted. Hopefully you and your spouse will remember that a strong marriage comes from getting through times like this: hard times working together as a team makes a marriage a strong unit and a secure loving relationship we can count on. We send you much hope and luck. This is a huge journey and a extremely difficult one. Getting through it will give you the courage and strength to know that you can get through anything that life throws your way.

Comment By : Marney Studaker–Cordner, LMSW and Kim Abraham, LMSW

* Dear "Powerless": You’re in a very difficult situation. You can’t control the choices others make (your husband, his adult son) but you do have every right to set boundaries regarding how you and your children will be treated. It sounds like you and your husband are on different pages about what you will and will not tolerate in your home. You might want to find a family therapist who could help you come to some common ground about boundaries and limits with your stepson. Regarding his treatment of your younger children, as a parent it is your responsibility to keep minor children safe in your home. If someone is living in that home who is harming them physically or emotionally, even if it’s an adult sibling, it falls upon you to resolve the situation. Ideally your husband would be part of that but it sounds like he’s having difficulty setting that boundary with his son. What you’ve described is not typical sibling rivalry – your stepson is an adult and it's domestic violence. You're right to take this seriously. Failing to protect a child from physical abuse is usually considered parental neglect. If your stepson harms your children, you run the risk Child Protective Services being called by an outsider (the school, neighbors or extended family members). It sounds like things have reached a very volatile place in your home. If your husband isn’t willing to see a counselor with you, we urge you to talk with a therapist individually or contact your local domestic violence shelter for support. This will give you an outside support system to help you in this situation. Take strength in knowing you are right in your perception that your stepson’s actions are unacceptable and very serious.

Comment By : Marney Studaker–Cordner, LMSW and Kim Abraham, LMSW

* Dear Pkirk, It can be extremely frustrating when a spouse just isn't ready to set the limits and boundaries that are needed with dependent adult kids and it's easy to take it personally. It sounds like your husband is just not in the same place you are and his Emotional Guilt Button is still being pushed. Unfortunately there's no way to make someone do something they aren't ready to do and it's ultimately up to your husband to strengthen his buttons. You can communicate your concerns to your husband and perhaps he would be willing to attend counseling with you to identify why he's feeling so guilty about his adult kids. But at the end of the day, he's the one who controls his own behavior. Many, many parents are held hostage by guilt and fear, which keeps them in rescue-mode. It sounds like it's not so much that he is choosing his sons over you, but rather his guilt and fear are so strong it's preventing him from taking steps he needs to in order for you to be able to stay in your home.

Comment By : Marney Studaker–Cordner, LMSW and Kim Abraham, LMSW

Well, it helps only minimally to hear that we suffer alone, but like so many others. Since age 16, my exceptionally-smart son began doubting-disputing even, my (mom's) advice to maintain high standards for himself, using words like character and values, success, etc. On the other hand, his dad's "ways" offered an easier alternative; de-valuing education, work ethic, responsibility (all that nonsense stuff Mom thinks!) offering instead the EASY LIFE: leisure, sports, social life -- and most importantly HATING ON MOM (and all her dang superior expectations!) 16 years of proudly parenting this brilliant young man, and it's all slipping away before my eyes. Forced to protect myself from his abusive conduct, I had to kick him out of my home recently - over to the devil (Dad's house). Hoping he would see for himself the losing, slovenly way that things turn out without accountability, and all those silly conservative values I taught. Unfortunately, so far (age 18 now) things have gotten considerably worse on all fronts. GPA 1.0 - this from a previous Honor student, skipping school, staying out all night, LYING,and who all knows what. He was accepted into college before the landslide, but hasn't lifted a finger towards seeking scholarships, so serious debt is in the future, or more likely huge disappointment that college isn't free and Dad's credit won't cut it for loans. Such a devastating waste of a brilliant potential. I can't express how desperate I feel, but I've decided that I did MY BEST, and now it's up to him. Maybe these young folks need a little suffering before they believe what we've taught them. Luckily! suffering is certainly in his future, but I can't help how long it lasts. I hope his smart sense kicks in and this is a bump in the road, rather than the END OF THE ROAD. Make no mistake, many kids out there, let their potential slip through their fingers. The next best career spike: counselling all these kids that didn't find true happiness sitting on the store shelf!

Comment By : bitter pill

Wise advice.

Comment By : Nahni

Sounds like too many people treating adults like babies. Maybe you like abusive situations or need the drama to have something to do/focus on. These adults need a dose of reality, just as you did at their age. Stop the nonesense and take back control of your life.

Comment By : Really?

Thanks for sharing your ideas. I am very interested in following or using any suggestions that anyone would have. My son is 20 and very bright but he has been diabetic since he was 4 years old and I am having a problem getting him to be responsible for himself. I have met a man and would like to have a life with him so I would like to see my son be responsible and prosperous for himself.

Comment By : Mo

My 19 year old son lives in my house he's been in juvenile detention for the last 4 years he works part time he said that he goes to school I don't believe it he goes out every day with friends drink smoke and other stuff I help him to get a car for work and school but he take off and doesn't come to sleep I take the car key away from him but I feel bad he makes me feel bad he alway reproach me that I didn't take him care when he was young I need advice thanks.

Comment By : Lety77

My 19 year old son lives in my house he's been in juvenile detention for the last 4 years he works part time he said that he goes to school I don't believe it he goes out every day with friends drink smoke and other stuff I help him to get a car for work and school but he take off and doesn't come to sleep I take the car key away from him but I feel bad he makes me feel bad he alway reproach me that I didn't take him care when he was young I need advice thanks.

Comment By : Lety77

* To " Lety77": Thank you for writing in. It sounds like you are dealing with some challenging behaviors from your adult son. I am sorry you are going through this. Parenting adult children can offer some unique challenges, such as what, if any, limits and boundaries should be in place. Sometimes, that can be difficult to determine. One of the suggestions Debbie Pincus makes in her article Adult Children Living at Home? How to Manage without Going Crazy is to ask yourself the question “What am I ultimately responsible for?” You're not responsible for your son's choices or his behavior, regardless of how you may have parented him when he was younger. We all make mistakes as parents and don't always parent as effectively as we would like to. You did the best you could with the tools you had. It's not going to be beneficial for either of you to continue feeling guilty for choices you made years ago. At this point, your son is an adult and what he decides to do with his life is ultimately up to him. Because he is an adult, any support you give him, financial or otherwise, is your choice. We would suggest deciding what your expectations are for him to continue to live in your home. You can then develop a Living Agreement with your son, as outlined in James Lehman's article Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part III: Is It Ever Too Late to Set up a Living Agreement? Something to keep in mind is you don't have to continue to provide for him if he is not meeting the rules and expectations of your house. A couple other articles you may find helpful are Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part II: In Response to Questions about Older Children Living at Home and Adult Children Living at Home? Part II: 9 Rules to Help You Maintain Sanity. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to address these challenging behaviors. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

Help! After 6 years, my boyfriends 3 adult children have decided they don't like me or trust me (no reason except "it's just a feeling they have"!) I have a 3-yr old granddaughter that he has become very close to, so I believe they are all jealous! He will not lay down any behavior guidelines, and they are so rude to me that I am beginning to stay away during family get-togethers (which is just what they want)! He doesn't want to burn any bridges with his children - so what can he do and what can I do??

Comment By : dizebie

* To dizebie: It can be very frustrating when a partner’s children decide to turn against you for no apparent reason. Rather than try to figure out why they are reacting to you in this way, it might be more effective for you to determine how you are going to respond to this. We recommend talking with your boyfriend to reach some agreement on what is acceptable behavior, and how you are going to respond to unacceptable behavior. We do recommend that your boyfriend be the one to address this with his children. Ultimately, you can’t make them like you, or trust you; you can set some boundaries for yourself about how you will be treated. I am including links to some articles you might find helpful as you continue to address this; take care.
“My Blended Family Won’t Blend—Help!” Part I: How You and Your Spouse Can Get on the Same Page
“My Blended Family Won’t Blend!” Part II: What to Do When Your Stepkids Disrespect You

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

Lord help me- my adult children are all so disrespectful and constantly berating me for choices I make continually bring up parenting mistakes I have made when they were younger as an exampe of why they are critical insulting and dwon right disrespectful now These turn into full blown arguments as I try ans insist that they show respect to me in my own home- there is no respect at all for the parental relationship and 2 have out right told me that they have no respect for me- most of this apparently is rooted in my inability to have a lasting relationship, except for with a great husband, who passed away after 4 years and raising them mostly as a single parent- We were never on welfare, I received no child support, did everything and anything necessary to raise them in a middle class neighborhood lifestyle and they never wanted anything they did not eventually get, they were not physically abused, by myself or any one i was in a relationship with, nor was anyone evn a step dad allowed to come into the home and change the rules or discipline them (which probably did not help those relationships) We did move as I saved money and bought bigger and better homes in nicer neighborhoods- but always within a 1 or 2 mile radius so they never had to change schools or play mates- I frequently worked 14 hour days but they always had in- home babysitters- until the oldest was able to help watch the other two which she resents to this day- they participated in sports,cheer, got spending money and rewarded for good grades and behavior- I had 3 before 26 and was single @ 27- I did also have a life of my own w cook out parties w other friends and their kids on the weekends, went to dinner or out once a week when they got older and dated I feel very guilty for all of this and my kids throw it up at me repeatedly- let me add we also had trips to the beach, fair, playground, chuk e cheese, i went to award ceremonies, open house, not all games and practices but at least a few, drove them everywhere I could and frequently had their friends over- they all received a car registration, insurance paid and cell phone which for the 2 that went-continued through college years plus help w books, first apartment and emergencies- y 19 yr old son is still at home and is beyond nasty and disrespectful helps out not at all his gf sleeps here in his bed 4 nights a week friends over partying at first i allowed it cuz i was afraid he would leave and i had caught him selling drugs-that was 2 yrs ago- he does have a job and have recently had to force him to pay me 100 a month- his disrespect has gotten to the point that he tells me i am a pos so now i charge him 80 a week in an effort to get him out since in my state you cannot just kick them out and the process is expensive and lengthy to "eject" / my dilemma is that i have a sweet and sensitive 6 yr old at home who sees and hears all this stress and strife not just w the son but with the other 2 when they come to visit- i have pleaded argued(bad i know) and set ultimatums which are ignored and every visit or holiday is a nightmare- I have finally decided that they are not welcome in my home if they are going to be disrespectful rude or attack my character choices or parenting of the youngest sibling- i will hang up the phone as well when this starts and am starting the eviction process w the son- How am I supposed to or should I allow these adult children to have a relationship with the younger child when they persist in this constantly- i truly believe that when the eldest of the other three started this it affected the respect and view and relationship i had with the two younger- I do not want this to happen again with the littlest and although i want her to have her older siblings in her life and feel a relationship w the m is important - i feel what is going on now and the negative opinion attitude and behavior and its influence that must translate fr m these older ones that she loves and looks up to could be worse I feel cut to shreds and on the verge of a breakdown some days- Any advice would be helpful Is anyone else dealing with this I am aware I may not be able to see this objectively so please help/ also before any one ask no i do not and have never had a substance abuse problem of any kind

Comment By : heartbroken

* To “heartbroken”: Thank you for sharing your story. It certainly sounds like you have done a great deal for your children. It also sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now. I am sorry to hear your adult children are behaving so disrespectfully towards you. From what you have written, it appears you have started to set clear limits and firm boundaries around what behavior you are willing to tolerate. As Debbie Pincus discusses in her article Adult Children Living at Home? How to Manage without Going Crazy, it is also important to think about what you are ultimately responsible for, namely the how you respond to the choices your children make and the choices you make. Being clear on what you are and aren’t responsible for can help you to maintain the limits you set. If your adult children are choosing not to meet the limits/boundaries you have established around appropriate behavior within your house, you might consider whether or not they can continue to spend time at your house as you are doing. If you are concerned about the influence they may be having on your daughter, it’s OK to limit the amount of time they spend together. You might also consider having them spend time together outside of the house, such as at school events or the playground. This way, your daughter can still interact with her siblings but in a more public forum. Ultimately, as the parent, you decide when and how much time is OK for her to be around her older siblings. Here a couple other articles you may find helpful: Adult Children Living at Home? Part II: 9 Rules to Help You Maintain Sanity & Calm Parenting: Stop Letting Your Child's Behavior Make You Crazy. We wish you and your family luck as you work through this challenging situation. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

I often come her after a frustrating argument with my 19 yo son. I try not to have a convo when I am angry, but sometimes it does happen. I love the resources, and the articles and comments actually help to calm me down, and step back. I was bringing my son to pick up his car at the shop, which I was paying for, and he gave me attitude for being in a bad mood. He has also been using my car for the past three days. I offered him a chance to change his attitude, and he didn't so I turned around , went home, and he can figure it out himself. I also told him to leave after he starting acting like TNT. Locked the door behind him, and I feel like he is lucky his cell phone is still on. Well it is dark after all - PATM fear button :) Tomorrow the phone is going off ! I'm sort of thinking what a great place his room would be for yoga.

Comment By : feduptohere

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