Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part III: Is It Ever Too Late to Set up a Living Agreement?

by James Lehman, MSW
Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part III: Is It Ever Too Late to Set up a Living Agreement?

This is the third and final installment in a three part series of articles by James Lehman, MSW.

For those parents who haven’t set up a structured agreement when their child turns 18, it’s never too late to set one up. Even if your child is 23, living under your roof and staying out until the wee hours, it’s never too late to sit down with that kid and say, “We’re going to have to have a talk about our rules here and what parts fit you and what parts don’t fit you.” If a kid is 23 years old and he’s not working, he can’t be up until two o’clock in the morning with friends in the house, keeping other people awake. You may feel obligated to provide that child with a roof over his head. But you have the right to let him know that “This is not your home for that anymore. We’re going to bed, we’re tired, we worked all day. If you’re going to live here, you have to live within our rules.” If he tries to put you down for it, you need to put your foot down. If that means taking the car keys, then that’s what it means.

"Young adult children who don’t feel competent will resist taking responsibility for anything, and they’ll keep doing it as long as you let them."

When parents lay out these rules with kids after the age of 18, they should expect the kid to be resentful, resistant and to blame them. The older child will try to make them feel like the parents are jerks because he still has a lot of thinking errors, is hiding from responsibility and postponing the anxiety of accepting it. Parents should simply disregard the child’s thinking errors, and not give in and tell the child that everything is okay.

Likewise, parents shouldn’t get into making a lot of excuses for themselves. They should say, “This is our expectation. We’re sorry we didn’t do it before now, but we’re here today and this is what we’re going to have to do. And we can’t go any further until this agreement gets made.” The expectations should include what time the kid gets up in the morning if he’s not working. Older kids who are avoiding responsibility will stay up all night and sleep until noon. When you ask them why they sleep until noon, they’ll say, “Well, I’m not working.” As the parent, you have to make it clear: “That’s why you’re not working. Because you sleep until noon. Get up at seven o’clock like everybody else and find a job.” It’s never too late to be this direct with your child.

Related: Having trouble getting through to your child?

Remember: do not take the kid’s accusations and blaming as fact. Expect to hear plenty of accusations and excuses. You’re going to be compared to his friend’s parents. You’re going to be told you’re hateful and uncaring. But don’t forget, this kid is fighting taking responsibility, and he will fight it fiercely. Young adult children who don’t feel competent will resist taking responsibility for anything, and they’ll keep doing it as long as you let them. Parents should be prepared to deal with this, not through yelling and screaming. Not through making excuses for themselves. Just by calmly saying, “This is the time we’re meeting. We need to talk.” If you have to, take the kid’s car keys until he is ready to talk.   

The agreement you develop with the child should allow for adult privileges. Specifically, if the kid is working and being responsible, then your agreement with him should be very flexible. On his day off, he can sleep all day for all you care. But he can’t stay out all night without calling you because you’re going to worry, and it’s his responsibility to let you know he’s safe. If he doesn’t want to do that, then he should move into a more independent living situation. You don’t get complete freedom and the support of living at home at the same time.

How to Handle Rent, Household Chores and Rules about Alcohol

Paying rent is a very good habit for an older child to get into. I think there are two ways to look at the issue of when and if your child should pay rent in order to continue living at home. If the family needs the money and the kid is working, he needs to contribute. It’s just that simple.

If you don’t need the money, charge him room-and-board anyway, and then put the money aside and save it up until you’ve saved enough for a security deposit on an apartment and the first month’s rent. Then when he’s ready to move out, you’ve already got his money. Hold onto that money. That way, he pays for himself, and he gets into the habit of paying rent and being responsible while money is being accumulated, so that both he and the family are prepared for his next step.

When you come up with the agreement on living arrangements, I think it has to be really clear that the child is here to contribute, not just take. So, parents need to be clear about specific chores the older child will be responsible for. Parents can offer their ideas, and the young adult child can come up with his own ideas. Maybe he offers to take the younger kids to school in the morning, and you ask him to be responsible for bringing in wood and taking out the trash and recyclables each week. Write it down and be clear about consequences if he doesn’t follow through, because everyone who lives in the house has to help out.

Related: Learn how to restore peace in your home today.

The understanding should be very clear about alcohol and drugs, and it’s simple because the law makes it simple. In most states, it’s illegal to drink under the age of 21. You don’t have to say, “I know it’s illegal, but…” and wink your eye. The best thing that you can do for your young adult child is follow the letter of the law and say “No drinking under 21. If we catch you drinking and driving, we’re taking the car keys. If you fight us, we’re calling the cops.” He’s going to say you’re rigid and unreasonable. But it’s better that your kid lose his license for 90 days than die or kill somebody else.

When Is It Time to Ask Your Child to Leave Home?

The decision on when to ask an older child to leave the home has more to do with a family’s morals and values. First of all, if he violates a cardinal rule, he should leave. If he’s insulting you, abusive with a family member or breaking things, he should leave. He should go stay with a friend. The kids who are going to be most likely to be asked to leave are the kids who are going to tell you they have nowhere to go. Because the abusive behavior won’t be an unexpected anomaly in their life. It’s not like their whole life is great, but they hit their brother. The abusive older child will most likely show a pattern of this behavior and demonstrate a host of thinking errors. So when you ask him to leave, he won’t know where he can go, because he is unable to solve that problem.

Secondly, if things are going well with the living arrangement, the child should be told to think about leaving once he has the means. Once the first and last month’s rent and a deposit are set aside and he has a car and he’s driving, he should be told to start looking for a place with a roommate. I’ve worked with many college graduates at agencies who were not able to own a car or have their own apartment at the same time. They had to make a choice because they didn’t make that much money. They had to accept either having their own car and living with a roommate and learning how to live with other people, or not having a car and living close to their job and just having their own apartment. But they can’t have it both ways, and parents should not take responsibility for that.

Independence is a decision you can make as a family. If a young adult child is doing well, living at home and meeting the family’s expectations, then there’s no problem. But someday he will want to be independent. The way you get there is to sit down and have the child set some goals. Where do you plan to live? When do you plan to move out? How much does the child need to pay for rent or room and board while living at home? Measure progress toward the goal by the objectives. If the child has a goal to move out and he’s not meeting any of the objectives, it’s a joke.

The greatest gift you can give your child is knowing how to be independent and take responsibility. If a child fears independence and responsibility, you can solve that problem by having a written agreement that shows the child how to live by your rules, and have ongoing discussions about the goal of independence and how to meet it.

(Part 3 of a 3 part series. Please also see "Rules, Boundaries and Older Children" and "In Response to Parents of Older Children".

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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."


I have gained so much insight and knowledge from these series of articles. I can't thank you enough for all of the help that you have given. These are the issues that all families are going through and the help has been outstanding!

Comment By : JP

A mother of a very large family. I love your article times have changed from raising kids 15 years ago and now. I need to read them now as we live in a much more unstructured world

Comment By : Dee

I just had to tell my adult daughter to move out. It was one of the most hard things I have ever had to do, but I knew that I would be enabling her to be a social slug if I did not. She wanted to be independent, but sponge off of me. Life does not work that way, and the sooner our young adults learn this, the better off they will be. Great Tips, Jame. You are my hero.

Comment By : ociana

Hi James, as usual you are right on with advice. We really appreciate it. Do you have any info there on writing family values? Thanks

Comment By : Jan

A friend and his wife have a 43 year old son living at home. He has worked a total of six weeks since high school graduation. My friend just turned 65 and now lives on social security, almost half going to his son. They did not like your articles. What will this look like in 15 to 20 years?

Comment By : Mike

My son is 20 and this series has helped with my moral support immensely. He spends money like it's water and we can't afford to help anymore. I am worried he may do something drastic. Keeping a structured positive reinforcing attitude and temperment is extremly hard. More statements for us parents would be helpful too. This is the only place I can turn without counseling, which we cannot afford.

Comment By : Denise

Thanks for a great article. We just dealt with this with an adult daughter (24) living in our home. We sat down with her and told her our expectations (she does have a job); that she needed to pay rent, help with chores and take on some of her own responsibilities (cell phone, insurance). At first she was very angry and refused to talk to us for several days. But then we began to see her change. Now she is okay with it all and paying rent and taking charge of some other areas of responsibility. I'm only sorry we didn't do this when she was 20.

Comment By : LJJ

I'm late in reading your article and I did not read the other two and i am sorry for that but my personl situation was some what different but you gave me some basic guidelines that I know will work. This article is great and it makes me feel that you really care about others. I hope you write some more because as one of your commentars stated "how else can you get advice" because like her , many of us canot afford therary.

Comment By : Eileen Brown

Great Article.

Comment By : GHENGHI

this was most informative although my son is 13 i am doing all i can to encourage his independance my sister currently has a 33 yr old daughter living in her home and it is a disaster she takes too many rx drugs abuses her husband and son who also live there and generally creates a living hell for all those around her this is where one can end up if the child is allowed to be disfunctional with no intervention my sister has given her the ultimatum of straighten up or get out husband and child can stay even supposedly temporary living arrangements can get badly out of control maybe there is hope for them yet

Comment By : southernbelle

James, I agree with everything you have put forth in your articles about adult children. My dilemma with my 23 year old daughter is that she is bipolar and will not admit it, accept it, or do anything about it. It is like living on eggshells. My other son took on the responsibility and today is 25 living independently and contributing to society, but I have not been able to get my daughter to finish an associate degree. She has moved out twice and has returned for loss of job and apartment. I set the rules but her violent temper makes it difficult for me to enforce them. To make matters worse, I am a single parent so I have no support.

Comment By : melavand

I am also a single parent. The lies go on and on. I just can't instill the motivation in my 19 year old to get a job. He says he is looking. How am I to supervise his day when I have to work all day to keep a roof over our heads. He never graduated from high school and is supposed to be attending adult school for his high school dipoloma. I recently discovered that he hasn't been doing the time he needs. He doesn't ask for money. So what do I do to get him motivated to get a job and seek his own life?

Comment By : singlemom

* Dear singlemom: As James said in his article on Motivation, your son is motivated - he's just motivated to do what he wants, not what you want. If you think about it, why should your son follow through with work or school? It sounds like he has an ideal situation at home. Instead of trying to get him to care about work or school, you may have more success if you focus on the rules and expectations for him continuing to live in your home. be clear and direct with your expectations, such as: "you have two weeks to find work, if you do not find work within those two weeks, I will find you a volunteer job." Then, break it down with him: "Given that you have two weeks, we need to come up with a daily schedule - you will need to get up in the morning, get the paper (or look online), and put in three applications a day. When I see evidence of those three applications when I get home in the evening, you can have your computer. If you have no evidence, you don't get the computer, and you can try again the next day." breaking the larger task of finding a job into manageable, daily steps can help to keep both you and your son from coming up on the deadline with no effort made. Use daily consequences and privileges your son values. Remember, if there is no consequence for not following your expectations, your son is unlikely to change his behaviors. Holding him accountable lets him learn the skills he needs to become an independent adult.

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

Great advice... But I'm at the end of my rope! I have asked both of my adult children to move. But they do nothing to make other arrangements or even get a job. I'm single and tired of being in this abussive enviroment with drug addicted young adults... What now... they left my house and set up camp at my vacant rental property? Can I turn off the utilities? How do I evict with out a lease agreement?

Comment By : brightone

* Dear ‘brightone’: These are such heartbreaking situations when we witness our children making dangerous choices in their lives. Drug addiction affects the entire family. You must seek help for yourself. You will need the support of others as you work through your relationships with family members who are addicts. Al-Anon can be supportive with parents and relatives of drug users as well as alcohol. Contact a local Al-Anon chapter in your area.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

great article it was very helpful

Comment By : ashbuggie

What a wonderful article!

Comment By : LAM

Great article! It takes an emotional subject, makes us see the rational side to deal with it, and the ulterior motivations that drive the behaviors. It will definitely help as we launch our daughter into the real world after college graduation!

Comment By : me

My first two son's moved out at 17 because they did not want to live in a childlike environment haveing 4 younger siblings, they moved where they were allowed to drink and do adult things at 23 and 26 they are married with children one in the military and one at a minimum wage job... my next oldestis almost 20 is going to college, and works 13 hrs a week. She does not do any bad adult things, but it irritates me that she stays out all night, and her dad allows it... just because she is woking and "doing good" bad boys /leave good girl stays?, i think age 22 is the limit but her dad said he will not make her leave until she is ready she pays her cell phone, gasoline,phone bought her own car...with student grant... i think she should pay rent towards savings for first and last, i guess i have a grudge that she "Plays" with her time and money...and when she graduates college i wonder what her excuse will be...I think you shoud add "no dating" until you move out to your rules... my other children are not allowed to date... this college child is dating...hmm I hope he is marrige potential...My son was bipolar and he is doinging... don't let parents or kids give any excuse... and my 48 yr old brother lives at home... so sick to enable children... being indepentdent is sooo rewarding to them.

Comment By : 3 down 5 to go!

My 20 yr. old son is extremely abusive to me. He has a job and the means to move out but is unwilling to accept resposibility. The perfect situation for him would be to have us pay all the bills and for him to stay in his room with his girlfriend 24/7. We are going to ask him to set a date to move out. Wish me luck!

Comment By : Sick & tired of being sick & tired!

My son is 18 and still in high school. Is there some suggested boundaries for this situation?

Comment By : mom of four boys

* Dear ‘mom of four boys’: Many times when kids turn 18 they get the idea that you, the parent, can no longer tell them what to do because “they’re an ‘adult’ now.” But of course, being 18 does not mean, “No more rules.” Everyone experiences settings that have behavior rules. There are still plenty of rules your son must follow at school, for example. As long as your son lives in your home, you have the right to expect that he complies with your house rules. You may choose to have rules about visitors in your home, quiet time, keeping the kitchen clean, etc. Since your son is still in school, you may ask him to keep a reasonable curfew so that he stays rested. The specific house rules are up to you. Just know that simply because a child turns 18, this does not mean that you no longer have authority to set standards of behavior in your own home.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My daughter 19 is coming home from her first semester at college. She has gotten all F's and has not placed any effort into the studies. This was a very good school and I am out a huge sum of money for the 1st semester. The plan is to have her come home and follow the advice in these columns to a T and maybe even get stricter with her. Must have a job, must also attend community college, and must pay back the huge costs of the private school. Any good advice as we head into this?

Comment By : Poorer Dad and Mom

* Dear ‘Poorer Dad and Mom’: Before setting up consequences, it’s always a good idea to have a problem solving discussion with your child. See what was behind her school failure so you can address the skills needed to be successful in community college. Some common reasons kids struggle academically during the first year are course load, socializing, ‘partying’, illness, sleep difficulties, and worries about family and friends. You’re not looking for an excuse by exploring the reason, but a way to address the problems so that she can be successful pursuing school in the future. For example, she may have sailed through high school but failed in college because she did not have good day to day study habits in place. College usually requires 2 hours of study time for each hour of class time. If poor study habits were the issue, you could set-up some structured study time each day before free time. Challenge her to work up to her capacities, but don’t ask her to achieve something that is out of reach. Your goal of having her work and go to school might need to be as a part-time student and worker in order for her to be successful and turn this around.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My 22yo daughter moved home when she lost her job and broke up with her live-in boyfriend. I had to tell her that during the work week, she needed to be home, applying, etc., but for a time, she ignored our rules. Since I was paying her bills, I told her I owned her car, and she had to get rides. She found a job pretty quick, and is now starting to work on her budget (she hasn't got a paycheck yet). She has to pay back what I've paid for her, repay her boyfriend for missed rent (they were both on lease), and get a grip on adult life. I told her that my rules is to help her grow up -- I obviously didn't do a very good job when she was a teenager of making her keep her room clean and clean up after herself. :-/ There was some resistance, but things are much smoother now. For those with teenagers and in a blended family, the rules of the house have to pertain to everyone in the house -- whether they are your child or your spouse's. If the two of you don't agree, get counseling. If you still don't agree, you may be better off alone, sadly. We are struggling right now with that (I'm going back to #1 in the series and click on the link for the couples article). His 17yo son agreed to go into a military program for difficult teens and is doing better, but when home on leave, he reverts to his abusive behavior. I no longer want him in our house, much to his father's dismay. We briefly separated over these problems. That my 22yo daughter moved back home during this time hasn't helped matters. But I'm sticking to the rules whether it is my kid or his. I deserve to live a peaceful life. I've worked hard my entire life, and as I tell my daughters, if you want to enjoy the fruits of my labors, you're going to have to wait for what's left as your inheritance! :-D

Comment By : Mrs R

I want to thank you for creating this site and for all your fine articles. Before I read the articles I felt really lost about what to do to help my daughter work toward independence, because of her mental illness. I see from the articles I am doing her the worst diservice of all in not requiring her to do want she can and to work toward doing more. Your articles give me some clear directions and support in standing up to her to tell her what behavior I will accept in my house.

Comment By : Prayers4peace

Finally I see on paper what I have been feeling. I will print this out and utilize it in my relationship with our youth.

Comment By : ms.regina

18 year son completed 9m residential rehab wonderfully. really learned about his thinking errors and appreciation of family, etc. now home and back to pot, cigs, maybe alcohol. we've been councelled to let it slide and focus on mending relationships waiting for him to hit bottom and choose to get help n his own. he's very good and helpfull at home. has pt job. pays us back $100/m for the $400 he owes us from before he got his job. starting local college in fall. we said no to living at school because to much freedom, keeps local job, totur he really likes, & keep eye on him. the only rules right now are no bad stuff in our house or car and car must be home by midnight to keep him from being the driver if something bad happens. we want him to not stay out all night but he goes to concerts and stuff with friends and doesn't have a way home til morning. what is reasonable for 18, knowing his usage. he wants to prove that he can use pot and be a better person (thinking error). husband has little relationship with him because he is sick over this. Being an adult child of alcoholic he thought he could break the chain by NEVER doing ANYTHING addictive. son hates feeling like another year of high school. I said it only feels like that because you're making the same choices as in high school. we have stopped testing him as a trial run. hoping he would hit bottom faster but he's not. time to test again? he won't pass and will end up living with friends. then what? any suggestions?

Comment By : mominthemiddle

* To ‘mominthemiddle’: Even though you have been told to let your son’s substance use “slide,” it sounds like you really aren’t comfortable with that, and that you would like to hold him accountable for following your house rules: no drugs, no alcohol. What you decide to do is absolutely up to you. Our perspective is that substance use issues should absolutely be addressed. This does not mean you have to kick your son out—it is not the only means by which you can hold him accountable for following your rules. Rather you can use his car privileges to hold him accountable. After all, it’s a possible safety risk for him to be using the car if he has been using drugs or alcohol. You could establish a system where you test him randomly and if he tests positive, he loses the car until he’s had a certain number of clean tests in a row, say 2 or 3. You might also require him to get some additional counseling for his substance abuse, as substance abuse can, at times, cause a kid’s problem solving skills to really break down and it can get in the way of other things you are trying to accomplish with him. The bottom line is that you have the right to establish the rules and limits of your home and you can certainly choose to hold him accountable for following them or not. You can also choose how you hold him accountable. If it’s unacceptable for him to live with you if he’s still using and he ends up living with a friend, then that’s what happens. Your son is responsible for his own choices in life. All you can do is guide him by setting limits, holding him accountable, and helping him learn how to make good choices. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

these are a great set of 17 just moved out to live with her boyfriend...she is out of school, has her ged, and has a job, and did not want to pay rent I told her she had to, and she moved. I am relieved. I told her any time she wants to move back she can, but now she has to pull most of her own weight financially. That's what adults do. I had a problem with her and my stepson with stealing from me. First time it happened with my stepson, he paid me back and got some counseling. 2nd time I called the police. I did not have him arrested but he had to move out and get further counseling before he could come back at al. He never came back and sadly, the whole situation ended my marriage. I did not back down on the boundaries, tho. My daughter recently stole and lied about it to me. She has yet to pay me back. I did not call the police this time, but let her know that she can't come around me until she pays it back. I also let her know that she will get arrested next time. Boundaries are a good thing.

Comment By : sarah

My daughter is 19 and is home from college for the summer. We made her move into her grandmother's home after only be home for a few weeks because she would not follow any of our home rules, curfew etc. She became very violent and verbally abusive towards us. She fights with her younger sister who is 16 and it becomes physical often. We also took away paying for college and all expenses associated with it. Our feeling is if she can't be respectful and follow some simple rules for living in peace then she can move out and make it on her own. Her grandmother (my mother) and other family members do not agree with us and are making things worse by taking sides with our daughter. Her grandmother co-signed her college loan and is willing to support her. To me this is totally wrong and is making her not accountable for her behavior. I told my daughter if she wants to come back home and have us help her with some of the expenses not all, she will have to help out with certain expenses as well. Then she can but she must agree to live by our home rules and our expectations. She is so angry and anytime I sit down to talk to her about it she tells me that I am going to lose her as my daughter. Do you think we have been overly strict with what we have done and our expectations?

Comment By : Zip

* Zip: It sounds like you are experiencing some doubts about your decision, as I think most parents in your situation would. We at Empowering Parents are not here to judge whether your decision was right or wrong—you know what is best for your family. It does sound like things were getting very tense at home and possibly unsafe. We hear from many parents both here on this website as well as on the Parental Support Line who have had to make very similar decisions. It is not at all unreasonable for you to expect your daughter to meet certain expectations in order to come back into your home at this point. While others close to you may not be holding her accountable, you are and that’s what really matters. I am including a link to one of our blogs about adult children. Many people have commented on this blog about their similar experiences. It might help to read them and see that you are not alone. Good luck as you continue to work through this and take care. Tough Love: Should You Hold the Line, No Matter What?

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I have three sons, ages 22,19 and 18.. all two work full time and attend college part-time and the other works part-time and attends college full time.. reading some of these stories I see my boys are doing well.. they all contribute to household bills but the house feels crowded, sometimes like it is their home instead of mine? they leave messes, take up the living room when home and when I ask them about moving they all say they are not ready.. they want to be more financially secure and have a career not just a job. I try and be patient but am I wrong for wanting them to move out? I know they struggle financially and are still young, but I feel like my life would be a lot less stressful if they weren't so mom dependent and it would allow me to focus more on my two younger daughters that are 11 and 14...

Comment By : smoral1

I sent my daughter to go live with my mother because of the fact that she was skipping school, doing bomb threats, stealing from us, lying, useing drugs, drinking, sneaking boys into our house, sneaking out, running away. We just finally let her move back in a couple of months ago. She is 17. Well, last weekend my husband and I went on vacation and my daughter stayed at a friends house. She said she needed clothes so I told her to grab them before my husband and I had left. She never came for her clothes before we left. We left my mother in law the key to walk our dog. Well, my mother in law came to walk our dog, and when she got here my daughter, her boyfriend and a couple of her friends were in my house. My daughter knew the rule of NO FRIENDS IN THE HOUSE WHEN WE ARE NOT HOME! And she has also been warned 3 previous times since moving back in to stop sneaking into the house when we werent home (she kept climbing thru the kitchen window.) I got very upset and told her that if she couldn't follow my rules, then she needed to move back out. I informed her that she could get her things when we got back the following night. She snuck back into my house AGAIN the next day to remove some of her belongings and even stole from me AGAIN. About a week before that he asked to go to dinner with a friend of hers. She ended up going to a party with him, drinking and coming home around 3 AM. Now she is sending me text messages calling me a [expletive] and saying how it's illegal for me to kick her out cuz she's only 17. And she says that she has every right sneaking into the house because she lived here and she didnt do anything wrong. And if I make her come back home then she's not going to follow my rules because I can't control her. She claims she's going to go to court and file to be released from our custody, but she doesn't have a job and is barely making it thru high school. She has always felt that nobody can tell her what to do and has always made that an issue. I really dont want her back in my house because she puts my family thru a lot of stress. I have my 9 yr old son in the house and he doesnt want to be around her because of her attitude. What would u suggest for my situation?

Comment By : SmileyGirl

* To ‘SmileyGirl’: It sounds like your daughter is engaging in some pretty risky behaviors and I imagine this has been very difficult for you to deal with. Whenever kids are using drugs and alcohol, we recommend that parents get support in their local area. The reason for this is that substance use of any kind can really get in the way of any work you try to do with our parenting tools, so those issues, as well as issues around safety, must be addressed first. We recommend contacting the Boystown National Hotline for some support and a referral to resources in your area. The Boystown National Hotline is for parents and youth (boys and girls) and is available 24/7 at 1-800-448-3000. It is staffed by trained counselors who are ready to get you and your family moving in the right direction. They deal with situations like yours on a daily basis and we are confident that they will be helpful to you. We wish you and your family luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I actually stumbled upon this site/article after googling "23 year old son ignores Mom". My son left my house abut 9 weeks ago due to a fall out- I told him no and he didn't like it, but it is my house and my rules. But he went to live with his paternal grandparents who are doing nothing different with him - they are enabling probably worse that I did. Now what? He will not speak to me.

Comment By : Frustrated Mom

* To ‘Frustrated Mom’: It sounds like you are pretty hurt that your son is ignoring you. The hardest part about it is accepting that you can’t control him. He is a young adult who can make his own choices, even though his choices might not make you feel very good. James Lehman felt that kids act out because they don’t know how to solve a problem. In other words, your son had a problem and this is how he is trying to solve it. Most likely he is not trying to hurt you; rather he’s probably just trying to help himself. The best thing you can do in this situation is to take care of yourself. Your son may need some time and space and if you allow him that, he will be more likely to resume communication with you sooner rather than later. We know this is very hurtful and very difficult. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Thank you Ms Bean. I do appreciate your comments. I am terribly hurt as I gave birth to him "alone" (bio-Dad abadoned me and I allowed (my now ex) husband to adopt when son was arund 5). I am still his biggest fan and advocate and I just wish he knew how much work I did and do for him behind the scenes. Everyone keeps telling me he will "come around" later - 24 -25 (?). I am not relishing the thought of spending the holidays without him in my life. It is very painful He has kept my home address and when I send him his mail, I always include a positive stickie note to him. But I am not getting any response.

Comment By : Frustrated Mom

I have made a commitment to myself to buy my son a way bus ticket back to his home town. He is 23 dois not work sleeps all day and smokes pot. It is seriously affecting my mental health. I have been drug free for 4 yrs now and he plays on the fact of my guilt. He watches me work 5 days I dont phone in sick or quit like he does. He belives I owe him for the years that I did not function. I allowed him to live with me hoping to show him that anyone can find a new way of life, and he is manulating me the same as when i was using. I used to give him a lot of money and buy him things back then. Today is the day! Thank you to all writers.

Comment By : 4 years drug free and now an enabler

My daughter is 19 and she lives at home I have toldd her over and over be in at 1:00 am no later...but she comes in or she doesnt come home at all. She hangs out with her boyfriend who does nothing. My daughter has gone to collage..didnt finish she does not have a high school diploma ..she went to school for her GED keeps missing it by one and two points has taken it 4 times. My other issue is laying up with her boyfriend on my couch. I am always telling her this is not appropriate and to stop we argue as to why? This is all the time it is hard getting her to follow rules is not is why this? and mom you dont make since..she thinks I dont trust her she feels if she is laying on the couch with her boyfriend its ok because were not doing anything wrong. I have asked her to leave before if she could not follow my rules and respect me as her mother. Her boyfriend now lives with us because he was put double the trouble. She does look for work and has had two jobs and she starts her career in what she wants to do soon...she is excited. she wants to move out but in the mean time what and how do I get her to follow my rules. she always asks was it the way I was raised or because the way you were raise doesnt make since ...she sleeps late never does anything unless i ask her I am tired of repeating myself...she doesnt want to be treated like a child and says she is not a child ..true a yound adult whatever that is...PLEASE HELP TIRED OF ARGUING AND GETTING NOWHERE.

Comment By : Renee

* Hi Renee. It sounds like you are getting very frustrated with your daughter and that there are several issues you want to change here. It’s going to be most effective for you to pick your battles and focus on the single, most important issue. This might mean that you have to let go of the idea of consequencing her for many things in order to focus on your biggest goal. For example, perhaps your goal is for her to move out in a certain time frame. That might mean you simply set verbal limits with her on other behaviors such as the curfew and lying down with her boyfriend. One of the most important pieces of advice I have for you is to make the choice not to argue with your daughter. Walk away or even leave the house altogether when she is challenging you and talking back, and focus on taking care of yourself emotionally then. I am including a couple more articles about adult children that will be helpful to you. We wish you luck as you work through this.
Adult Children Living at Home? How to Manage without Going Crazy
Adult Children Living at Home? Part II: 9 Rules to Help You Maintain Sanity

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I have an 18 year old son as soon as he turned 18 he started sleeping out fridays and saturdays.He does call me and tell me.He is still in high school because I left him back when he was infirst grade. He has a job and I take 40 dollars a week from him to pay for his insurance.(I'm putting that money aside for him if he stays out of trouble.)I don't tell him that.He does go to school everyday and he goes to the gym 4 to 5 days a week. He okay in school Bs ad Cs. He s upset because his friends parents pay for gas and they dont make them pay for insurence. I dont give him any money at all. I am not happy about him sleeping out on the weekends because I know he smokes pot and drinks. Thats why he stays out because he doesnt want to drink and drive.I know he smokes pot and drives around. He is pretty responsible but I feel like he not looking at his future. It seems to me like all he cares about is his friends. During the week he come home at 9 or 930 but he never eats dinner with the family. It seems like he wants no part of us. He only comes homebecause he has too.

Comment By : Sophie K

My 17 yr old son just doesn't listen, he won't follow rules, he is constantly skipping school, failing most if not all of his classes every semester, he lies constantly, won't keep his room clean or clean up after himself and won't do his chores without repeatedly being told (chores have been the same for 5 years), and when I get on him about skipping school he gets mad at me, leaves the house and won't come home to talk to me about it,. He says I don't care about him or his feelings. I suffer from depression, social anxiety, as well as other mental health disabilities, I am on disability, and am finding it harder and harder to deal with him. If I kick him out, I will lose over $700 per month and will not be able to survive. I don't know what to do, I don't know how to make him understand that I do love him, and worry about his future. We power struggle all the time, most times I give in or give up, because I am so mentally exhausted from fighting with him. He throws my disability in my face constantly, is very verbally abusive. Please help.

Comment By : Penny

* Hi Penny: It sounds like you have a lot of really stressful things going on right now. When you’re feeling so overwhelmed it can be helpful to give yourself permission not to fix or deal with every behavior issue at once. It might be helpful for you to focus on the single biggest issue, make your rules and expectations clear to your son, talk about what he can do differently, and then decide how you will hold him accountable (in other words, what consequence you will use if he chooses not to follow that particular rule). This means you will pick your battles and try not to enter all of the power struggles your son will invite you to. It’s important to make sure that you are taking care of yourself in times of stress. Do you have any support in your area? We often encourage parents to reach out for local support when things get so tough that you are feeling worn out. If you don’t have any local support, you can call the 211 National Helpline (an information and referral service) at 1-800-273-6222 or visit their website We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

This was a great article and it did give me some insight on the stresses I am having at home. However, my situation is just a bit different and I am at a loss as to what to do. My 21 year old daughter moved back in with us under the agreement that she will attend school and get an education, and that she will help out around the house. The only 'help' I ask of her is to keep her room and bathroom clean, and help with dishes occasionally. I am on the verge of tossing her butt out because she cannot seem to abide by those rules. I am tired of living like a pig in my own home! The kicker is this...I recently helped her get custody of her two children ages 1 and 3 and cannot bear to toss them out of the house. She does take total care of them, takes them to preschool/daycare, etc. so that is not a problem. We allow her to live here rent free, she does help out with food when she can, but she is a lazy slob. Her room is such a mess that I can barely open the door and it smells up the whole house. Plus, the children are not potty trained, so there is a constant urine smell because she won't do the laundry or clean on a regular basis.

Comment By : At my wits end

We have a brilliant 25 year old son who does not have a job, is experiencing depression and is living at home. People are always telling us that we have to "throw him out of the house" because he is not working. How do we respond. What do we do to get him back to reality? What is a reasonable amount of job applications we should expect a day?

Comment By : Paretns At wits end

* To 'Paretns At wits end' and 'At my wits end': It is very frustrating to have an adult child move back in with you, who is not working or contributing to the household. It can be even more exasperating when that child is experiencing additional difficulties, such as having young children or experiencing depression, that make it hard for parents to consider asking them to move out. What we recommend doing first is considering what the goal is for your child while living with you: is it to learn more independent living skills? Is it saving money to get their own place? Is it getting treatment for their larger issues, such as mental illness? Think of your adult child as more of a “guest” in your home, rather than your child. What behavior would you find acceptable from a guest, and what would you not tolerate? Once you have determined what the goal is, ask yourself how you intend to hold him/her accountable to taking steps to reach that goal. If you cannot throw them out, perhaps you would consider not paying for extras, such as cell phone, internet or insurance. We recommend having this conversation in a calm, business-like fashion with your child, and being very clear about your limits. There is another article series which recently appeared on EP which you might find helpful:
Failure to Launch, Part 1: Why So Many Adult Kids Still Live with Their Parents
Failure to Launch, Part 2: How Adult Children Work the "Parent System"
Failure to Launch, Part 3: Six Steps to Help Your Adult Child Move Out
Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

Just visited your website for the first time. Really nice to know that we aren't alone. Basically, son is 3rd yr college, 21, living at home and daughter is 1st year college, 19, living at home and both do pretty well with school. Biggest problem is my wife and I both work 12 hours a day Mon - Fri and we are having trouble co existing with them due to their sleep habits and lack of fulfilling their household responsibilties. We cannot get enough sleep as we are disturbed by their staying up to 2am and we come home to dirty house that was left clean, We have had many talks and they always agree to do their part and that works for maybe a day and then goes right back to the same problem. It causes us great stress because this seems such as easy fix. They could easily achieve what we are asking with just a few minutes a day but it just is not happening. At 19 and 21, we don't know how to impose consequences as my son works part time and my daughter is in a work study program. They have a full day of classes 3 days a week and part day classes one day a week. We truly don't know what to do. We just want to sleep and not have to come home and clean house for an hour or two each night. Any thoughts?

Comment By : odon

* To odon: It’s great that you and your wife have taken the step of talking with your children about fulfilling their responsibilities around the house. It is easy for kids to have “magical thinking” where things will change just because they want them to. We find it is helpful to come up with specific strategies that they can try to make sure they are doing their household tasks. For example, rather than leaving it at “OK, I’ll do better,” try for something along the lines of “I will pick up my dirty dishes and put them in the sink every day before I go to class or work.” We also advise developing a plan for how you plan to hold your children accountable for following through on these strategies. For example, you could let them know that they will not be allowed to have a privilege you provide, such as a cell phone or use of the car, until their tasks are complete. I am including a link to an article I think you might find helpful: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems." Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

Im a single mother with three kids(son-20yr and 11yr old)daughter-19yrs old.My daughter,my 11yr old son and my 2month old grandbaby stay with me.Im 35yrs old and cant work.My doctor had me file for disability.Im still waiting on it.I homeschool my 11yr old son who has epilepsy.I also babysit my 2month old grandbaby from 6am till about 3pm 4 to 5 days out the week while my daughter works.My income is 877.00 a month.My daughter recieved her last ssi check(father died in 2004) this month which was 499.00.She was giving me 225.00 a month.But now she has a job and should bring in about 850.00 month after taxes.Our bills include rent,cable(phone,internet and cable bundle),and our cell phones.And iam about to get car in a couple weeks in which gas for car and insurance will be added to the bills.How much should I charge my daughter a month for her and my grandbaby to live here? PLEASE HELP!!!!

Comment By : stressedmom35

* To ‘stressedmom35’: Thank you for your question. The amount of rent you ask your daughter to pay is ultimately up to you. The two of you might sit down and do a budget for her together before deciding to see what she can afford. This gives you the added bonus of being able to teach her a life skill that she can use in the future. Good luck as you work through this decision. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

How much rent should I charge my 23 yr old daughter who still lives at home. She has 2 part-time jobs and is very responsible.

Comment By : mommabear

* To ‘mommabear’: Thank you for your question. The amount of rent you ask your daughter to pay is ultimately up to you. The two of you might sit down and do a budget for her together before deciding, to see what she can afford. This gives you the added bonus of being able to teach her a life skill that she can use in the future. Keep the goal in mind here— is her goal to move out? Or is her goal to stay in your home for now? If her goal is to move out, you might decide to adjust the amount you ask for from her so that she will be able to save some money for moving expenses. Or, if you don’t need the rent money from her, you could still charge her rent but put the money away in a savings account for her. Good luck as you work through this decision. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

My 20 yr old daughter is pregnant and her boyfriend is now living at my house. She works and is going to school but he isn't doing anything. I know he's been to a few interviews and is applying online, I see him in the bedroom all day while my daughter is at school. Today he slept until noon. I spoke to my daughter and gets very disrespectful. They don't want to contribute with the light bill and say they will move into his parents house because no body charges them anything there. Her dad and I are divorced but he is paying for the doctor bills which isn't less than 300 an hour. Im going to have a meeting with them to apply my rules today , if they want to leave I will let them ( even if it breaks my heart to see my daughter leave in such a difficult situation).

Comment By : heart broken

Our 18 year old daughter is 8 days away from graduation. the last year (since she turned 18 specifically) has been difficult. She is defiant, secretive, she lies, she doesn't follow through on commitments and responsibilities and when we confront her about the issues she leaves home and stays with friends and tells people we kicked her out. She refuses to accept any responsibility for her own life- she doesn't even have a license yet! She still expects other people to drive her around. She gets angry when I tell her no- I tell her that the simple solution to being at the mercy of my schedule is to get a license- we've offered incentives, encouragement but she just won't do it. She has a job and has saved some money, but I fear her attitude is going to get her fired, she's already been on a weeks unpaid leave for being late and talking poorly to her supervisor. I feel like she's spiraling but I don't know how to get through to her or talk to her- she won't look us in the eyes, she lies about anything we ask her. She's out of the home for now and I actually fear her returning a bit- I'm tired of this tug of war between us, this dance around the rules, this defiance and willfill disregard and disrespect. But though she's out of the house she calls me almost daily to 'fix" something for her- bring me this, or call and find this out for me or can you drive me- I say no, I'm sorry I can't do that, but she just keeps trying to make demands. What's left for me to do? She's 18, she's out of the house, but now she's couch surfing and I fear the foolish choices she'll make, I don't mind her having consequences but I'm concerned for her safety, though she seems blithely unaware of any possible dangers in the world. Help!

Comment By : frustratedinfl

* To “frustratedinfl”: Thank you for taking the time and sharing your story with us. The transition from childhood to adulthood can be challenging for children and parents alike. It sounds like you know what your boundaries are and are setting very clear limits with your daughter. That is probably the most effective response to her behavior at this point. It can be difficult to watch our children struggle with the choices they have made. Ultimately, the person who is most responsible for those choices is your daughter. As hard as it is to watch her suffer the consequences of those choices, you are doing the right thing not rescuing her from those consequences. An excellent article that discusses the importance of being mindful of what you and what your daughter are ultimately responsible for is Adult Children Living at Home? How to Manage without Going Crazy One suggestion we would make is to have a clear idea of how things will be if she should move back. As James suggests in the article, having a living agreement that determines what your expectations are before your daughter moves back in is a great first step. I hope this has been helpful. Good luck to you and your family as you work through this challenging situation. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

This some of the most excellent advise i have ever heard or read Thank-you much!

Comment By : 5339coit

Thanks for your marvelous posting! I really enjoy reading it.

Comment By : Fabian

I am 37 now, but let me tell you how my mother handled me as a 20 year old. When I was 20 I was lucky to land a temporary Federal job. When the position ended I drove home to my Mother`s on my last seven dollars. Her rules were 1. My entire EI payment went to her, and she could cash all my bonds from family 2. I had 3 months to figure out a plan to move out 3. I had to be involved in structured upgrading and college classes 4. She would provide me with gas, smokes and social money as long as she knew where I was who I was with and when I would be home! I hated her for it, but 14 years later looking back she set me up for success. I am a professional, strong Woman, and the relationship with my Mother is the most greatest gift because she taught me respect, honesty and trust. She gave me the greatest gift, that hurt her more then me, My Mom made me stand tall, be totally aware of my actions, keep my brain moving, have responsibilities with waking up in the morning and a reason to go to bed at night. Now we get to be friends, confidants and trusted giggle girls! Structure, comes easy to some but not all, boundaries allow failure and failure is always a learning experience! Set hard boundaries Mom`s, we all love the Woman tough enough to watch us fall, and praise us when we get back up!

Comment By : Thanks Mom

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