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Adult Children Living at Home?
How to Manage without Going Crazy

by Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC
Adult Children Living at Home? How to Manage without Going Crazy

More and more adult kids are coming back home—or never leaving in the first place. In fact, if you are in this situation, you are not alone. A recent study says that nearly 53 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. reside with their parents. Whether your child is contributing his fair share or driving you up the wall with irresponsibility and attitude, you’re bound to lock horns from time to time. In this two-part series by Debbie Pincus, find out how you can manage your adult children at home effectively—and how you’ll know when it’s time for them to leave.

If your child is controlling your house, then you are allowing yourself to be controlled.

Older children end up at home with their parents for many different reasons. Sometimes they want to get their nest built financially, so they come home to save money and secure their future. Other kids are coming home—or have never left in the first place—because they really can’t make it out there on their own. For one reason or another, they haven’t developed the maturity to launch successfully.

If your adult child lives at home with you and has made no move to save up for a place of his own, you’ve probably asked yourself, “Is he planning to stay here forever?’ And the truth is, sometimes older kids do get comfortable back home. It takes a lot of pressure off their shoulders because Mom and Dad are there to cook and clean and pay the bills. So when is it appropriate to ask your child to leave? Should you wait until they get a job or get married? Is there a plan, or are you just moving forward blindly, hoping they’ll get up on their feet and find their way eventually?

Related: Fighting with your adult child?

Are You an “Over–Functioner’?

Some adult children are slower to mature than others. Developmentally, they’re just not “there’ yet—they’re not ready to take care of themselves, so they end up at home. When this happens, many times I find the parents have been over–functioning for their kids.

There’s an important difference between helping and over–functioning. Helping your older child means doing something for him he can’t do himself, such as driving him somewhere when he has a broken leg. Over–functioning means you’re taking responsibility for things he can do for himself, like doing his laundry and cleaning up his messes after he’s had friends over. Perhaps that pattern started years ago or maybe it began when he moved back home. The bad news is that when you over–function you’re allowing the negative behaviors to continue; the good news is that it’s in your control to change the situation.

What I recommend is to have a plan of action with your child. The message can be, “You’re not just here for good. We’re going to help you, but the goal is for you to get on your feet." (I’ll talk more about how to make a concrete plan in Part 2 of this article series.) Having a goal in mind is important because it will ensure that your child’s stay back home doesn’t drag on forever.

What happens when there isn’t a plan? Frustration and resentment build when you hear your child says things like, “I’m looking for a job, but I can’t find anything’—but you’ve seen him sleeping late every day and staying out partying at night. This resentment only adds to the stress of living together.

Related: Full nest stress? How to stay on track with your spouse.

Kids Who Fail to Launch

Ever hear yourself repeatedly make excuses like, “He’s really a good kid, he’s just a little lost right now;’ or “He’s going through a hard time—if I don’t help him who will?’ The truth is, when your kid can’t launch, you are enabling him.

I know that many parents out there have kids who never launch. Perhaps they’ve been living with their parents ever since high school and now as adults they are controlling the house. Let me be clear: if your child is controlling your house, then you are allowing yourself to be controlled. And if your kids have never left, it’s because you have allowed them to stay.

I’ve worked with many clients over the years with adult kids living at home. Typically, the more the parents feel controlled by their children, the more they will try to control them. But the more they do that, the more their child stays, digs in his heels and fights to get his own way. Now they have a huge power struggle on their hands, which is a dynamic you never want to get into if you can help it.

When you’re feeling controlled, you have a few choices. You can get “reactive to your child’s reactivity,’ and watch things escalate, or you can try to be objective and thoughtful about how you want to handle the situation. Saying things like, “You’ve been here for three years! When are you going to get a job?" is reactive and will result in a battle of will and control. Instead, speak in more direct terms: “What’s your plan for getting a job? Please think about it and let’s talk after dinner tomorrow night."

Kids with Disabilities

There are many, many kids out there with mental issues and disorders who have a very tough time out on their own. Launching can be a very difficult process for kids with ADD, ADHD or other issues. Some kids really need help cooking and taking care of an apartment and doing housework. No matter what, I believe the goal is for your child to be as autonomous as possible. I think the answer is to have a plan of action to help motivate your child toward independence.

Over–functioning gets played out even more when there’s a disability. Sometimes this is used as an excuse, where the disability gets more exaggerated. It’s also the reason why some kids can never leave their parents’ house or why they can’t make it on their own.

Many of us manage our own anxiety with our kids by over–functioning for them. And when a child has a disability, whether it’s ADD or another type of learning disorder, it gives parents all the more reason to “overdo” for their kids. On the other hand, you often see young people with severe disabilities who are extremely functional and independent. I believe they were taught from a young age to be responsible and do things for themselves.

I understand how hard it is to know where to draw these lines as a parent. I think the key is to stop focusing on what’s wrong with your child. Stop asking, “How do I get my child to be a certain way?” and start thinking about what he can do on his own. I also think it’s important to think about what you need. Just turn it around.

When Your Anger and Frustration Start to Build

When your adult child is living in the house with you, you may feel infringed upon while he feels like he’s being treated like a kid. Everyone has different preferences, needs and values and there can be lots of annoyances when you are living together as adults. But don’t get caught up in who is right and who is wrong. Work to get along and don’t keep assigning blame. Instead, take responsibility for your behavior and how you manage your own anger and irritation.

It’s normal to lose it from time to time and have a fight. But your children, no matter how old, can be very sensitive to your anger. So don’t interact impulsively when you’re frustrated. Instead, be kind, firm and remember your own parenting principles. Here are some things you can do:

  1. Be direct: Insist on dealing directly and straightly. The way to deal with anger is to use clear “statements of self.” Make yourself clear and put it out there. You’re not blaming, but you’re telling your child where you’re coming from. Some examples of that are:
    • “When you use the car without asking, I really don’t like it.”
    • “When you make a mess and expect me to clean up after you, I feel like you don’t appreciate being here. That doesn’t work for me.”
  2. Apologize when you make a mistake: Be willing to take responsibility. You can say, “I lost it today and I really want to apologize for that.” Or “I’m just tense myself and I’m feeling frustrated. I’m really sorry.”
  3. Soothe yourself: Often times the battles you have with your kids are really about, “I need you to behave a certain way to help me get calm.” When you get into that, you are inherently trying to control someone else. This will naturally cause the other person to resist being controlled. Remember, you can’t control your adult child; you can only let him know where you stand and try to be an influence.
  4. Take care of yourself: I also think you need to take good care of yourself so that you have resilience. If your adult child moves into your house with a family and little kids, you’d better make sure that you’re not overly-stretched. You can’t afford to get worn down because you’re over-functioning for everybody. So take care of yourself always.

Related: “Full nest” stress? How to stay on track with your spouse.

Parental Roles: Manager vs. Consultant

When your child is young, you can think of yourself as a manager. You are involved in his day-to-day life in a very “hands–on” kind of way. But as your child grows and becomes an adult, you’re really more of a consultant. That means you talk to him about what’s going on like a consultant for a business might. You need to step back more and more as time goes by because now you’re talking about an adult. So you can be helpful and check in, but you’re not looking to give unsolicited advice.

I believe it’s a good idea to ask your adult kids if they would like your advice–otherwise you’ll end up in a situation where you’re too much in their “box” and not enough in your own. When you’re staying in your box, you’re saying, “This is what I expect of you living here. This is what belongs to me. Here are the things you are free to use.” You don’t need to get in your child’s box and tell him how to live his life. Instead, as your child gets older, you want to come across a bit more like an adult acquaintance. So you’re saying, “How are things going; what’s up? Can I be helpful to you?” This doesn’t mean that you don’t hold your child accountable; to the contrary, you define boundaries very clearly and let him know that you intend to stick to them. But you’re also giving him some degree of respect and autonomy.

What Are You Ultimately Responsible for?

If your adult child lives at home with you and you’re feeling overwhelmed or out of control, I think you have to ask yourself this question: “What am I ultimately responsible for?” Above all, you are not responsible for your child’s choices in life or his behavior. If you think you are responsible for those things, then you’re not going to be able to hold onto a clear sense of what your own limits are. Instead, you’re going to try to get your child to be how you want them to be. That’s going to create a dynamic where he’s not going to be motivated and or function for himself.

So always go back to the self. Stop trying to figure out how you can get your child to do “____” and just go back to “What can I do for myself?” When you try to control somebody else, no matter what their age, it is simply going to backfire and hurt your relationship.

The goal is to recognize that you don’t need your child to be different in order to have what you need. You can learn to establish your own bottom lines and make them clear; you can state what is important and the relationship will still work—in fact, it will be better. Remember, the only person you have to be in control of is yourself.

In Part 2 of “Adult Child Living at Home?" Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC will discuss concrete ways for you to talk with your child about responsibility and their future plans. She’ll also give you ideas on how to ease them out of your house and onto their own two feet.


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For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.

READER'S COMMENTS

Great article! I didn't realize I was imediately rating when I clicked on the row of stars. It is a 5 star.

Comment By : momof3greatboys

I have been waiting for an article addressing older children and this was very helpful, especially the last two paragraphs in part 1.

Comment By : cthryn54

I'm grateful that the issue of adult children living at home has finally been addressed. Very helpful article.

Comment By : singlemom3athome

Thank you for this article , this will help me take control of myself and not my young adult daughter.

Comment By : emma

Definitely good stuff, very applicable to my up comming days, months, posibly years. I rated this article a five for the seriously hardy "food for love". my quote, i think. A five rating also in anticipation for the next article's meal. thanx, serious fan

Comment By : cayce

Can't wait for the next part ...my child turns 18 in 5 days & the discussion has centered on what he needs to do to remain in our home (due to his abuse of us & our rules) Had drafted his behavioral expectation letter for this Saturday - now I know to focus on what I want, not what he wishes for...

Comment By : Life without whine

Please discuss the added layer of an adult child with children living in your home.

Comment By : Bobbi Lynn Hall

Thank you for this article. TT has been a wonderful asset to me and I recommend it to anyone with kids. My son is currently a senior in high school and turned 18 this year, so it's been a bit of an adjustment figuring out my role as his parent at this stage, even though he is doing quite well these days (thanks to the LORD, TT, and my church).

Comment By : lisa single mom

About the time you have it all figured out with your adult child, a new issue arises. I look forward to all your very needed information for help. It works! Thanks and I'm looking forward to part 2.

Comment By : milty

Excellent!! Well timed for me and can't wait for part 2.

Comment By : Phoenix mom

Great advise. I have older children so I appreciate this time info

Comment By : Momalot

This is all true, and I have found that I do alot of this instinctively. However, it is not working; I do have an older child with disablities, neurological in nature. Because of these, this child has extreme difficulty in staying focused and forever is forgetting what he needs to be attending to and being encouraged into inappropriate behaviors by peers. It would be so helpful if specific strategies could be shared, maybe very routine in nature to help with keeping focused. Hopefully some of this made sense, just coming from extreme frustration on my part.

Comment By : shttrbugin

I had kicked out my 19 yr old son when I moved to a new home. He had literally destroyed the other rental, was and still is abusing alcohol and drugs, and is more than a little violent at times, and most always verbally abusive and threatening. I let him come to staty temporairly because he needed surgery. Rules were set, a curfew, no alcohol, no stealing, etc, and in the first two weeks all were broken and I once more have holes punched in walls and live in fear. He has no job, is still in court and facing felonies, and he of course blames me, The advice to call police reuslted in them feeling sorry for a mixed up kid and in 5 years of stealing, violence, drugs and alcohol, has had literally no consequences. He's not prepared to be on his own, hasn't got a clue, and now the surgery with a 6 week recouperation. I know it seems crazy that I haven't had his things put out and the sheriff here but he's threatened to kill me, himself or to do total destructiion to this rental property or to my car should I call police, when I tried last week two phones were smashed to bits. Please tell me what to do - he's got surgery on his spine for two dislocated disks - how does a mother put him on the steet now? But I can't be his victim any more. I love him, but I fear him and I dont' like him at all anymore, but as this article says, he's lost, he's like a 10 year old 6ft bully. Any advice would be great and thanks.

Comment By : kmcryan

Wow! Powerful! I have a 21 yr old daughter who may have mental issues but don't know how to get her into a Dr's appt. She use to be the Golden Child of the family BUT not anymore, not since 8th grade...all done hill from there. She lives at home & is barely hanging on. The deal was she can live her Free IF she attends jr. college & get's decent grades. Plus I drive her to school since she lost her license to a DUI & Drug possesion! Here it is summer & it's sleep all day & dropped off to friends to party or friends pick her up (scarey looking thugs). Grades were in her room & NOT a pretty site. 3 years at a Jr.College & only 17 credits! That's when I found this site. We're so tired of the wrecklessness. Can we ship her to you? haha. I'm going to keep ready your articles ALL DAY Long until I feel confident to make a new plan. Thanks so much :)

Comment By : SadMom

I have a 27 year old that moved back in last year....very helpful...thankyou!!

Comment By : grateful

we still have a 23 yo boy still livine at home,,with no job,,no looking for a job,,staying up all night playing pc games,,,and mom dont have a prob with this,,,,,im about to just leave and take my $ with me,,and theyll be on the street,,,but i love the mom,,but the mom lets this kidd do what ever,,and i cant hang,,,soo what do i do??

Comment By : ray

* To Ray: It can be so difficult when you are in complete disagreement with your partner. When discussing parenting issues such as this it is helpful to focus on your common goals: what do you both want for this young man? Is the goal for him to move out? Is the goal for him to pay rent? Feel free to browse through the rest of our articles on adult children for more ideas about how to go about reaching these goals. The point here is for you and mom to come up with a plan together that will help this young man achieve the goals you have for him in terms of the living situation. Ultimately whether you stay in the relationship or not is your decision to make, albeit a very painful one. It might help to seek some support in your local area as you work through this—this could be from a counselor, social worker, or religious leader to name a few examples. This isn’t an easy situation. We wish you luck.

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

I'm 27 and have never left home. I have little job experience and cant find anything to pay more than 11 an hour. I tried school and couldent do it and now have student loans in 30 thousand range. Forget about having a girlfriend or buying a new car. If it wasent for my Dad I would probobly be in poverty or homeless when my car breaks down. All you parents at least you -Hopefully have someone to help you around the house, Its not easy on us either.

Comment By : TakewhatUget

I am in a horrible situation.My 25 year old daughter graduated from college and was not able to get a teaching job in arizona.S reivented herself a went to work for the crea, of jewlery stores only to be let go before the 90 days so no insurance or benefits. She was always top seller but low man on totem poll. She has filled out so many applications from maid at hotel to taco bell.She is very smart and she cant get them to get over the fact she made so much money at jobs in the past that because of the economy she needs to appliy for everything. No one hires her and she goes on every interview morping herself for the job she is seeking.Know she is broke and wants to move home. she has 2 dogs that are huge and very attive and have more hair then i could ever handle and she is not the person to clean or cook or do anything. i cant let her come home with the dogs she got them in college behind are backs a we even paid for them without knowing. i dont hate her dogs but i dont want them in my home. i gave her 20k last year to pay all her bills so she could remain in an aptment so i wouldnt have to lose her because of these dogs. she says they are all she hass.i sorry but i will take care of her but i will not let her 2 pit bulls rein my home. what can i do, the mom

Comment By : bacon806

* To ‘bacon806’: If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest checking out the second part of this article, Adult Children Living at Home? Part II: 9 Rules to Help You Maintain Sanity. In this follow-up article Debbie talks about asking yourself what you can live with. Can you live with two large, furry dogs in your home? Can you live with your daughter’s typical behavior around cleaning and cooking? If you can’t, that’s okay. You need to figure out where your boundaries lie and stick with them. I wonder if all the help that you are providing for your daughter is also somehow preventing her from standing on her own two feet. Remember that you are not responsible for her rent, her bills, or buying food for her. Again, figure out what you are and are not able and willing to do to help and stick with it. You can point your daughter toward local supports that might enable her to get by more on her own perhaps by providing assistance with food, bills, or her career search. A good resource to pass on to her is 211, a national information and referral service. You can reach them at 1-800-273-6222 or www.211.org. We know this is a tough decision and we wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.

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

it would be nice to see an article on what do when you have an adult child living at home who has children they don't take care of. its hard to kick them out when you are concerned for the well being of the children. before they lived here i went to social services and child welfare and their response was "we can suggest but we can't make her do anything" even when the house they lived in was 2 feet deep with garbage, dirty diapers and rotting food. now they live in my upstairs apartment and i make her keep it halfway clean, but she still isn't responsible enough to take care of the kids and make sure they are fed, bathed, have homework done etc. she works part time (and pays rent) but never comes home after work, spends all her time with her friends. oh and did i mention she's 29 years old and has 2 college degrees, so she isn't dumb, she just refuses to grow up. i think she may have some mental issues but not sure how to get her help.

Comment By : frustrated

* To ‘frustrated’: We do have some articles here that I think will be very helpful for you. I will link them at the end of this message. Keep in mind that you might also find some helpful information by reading the comments on these articles as the article authors, Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner, often write personal responses to reader comments. I’m almost certain you’ll find some helpful suggestions on these pages. We wish you and your family luck as you work through this. Take care.
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

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

I have a 21 year old living at home and have found it quite trying to say the least. Yes, this article is just what I've needed to think more clearly. I am going to read this article in depth and give more thoughts.s

Comment By : StressedMome

You make truly excellent points on this challenging topic, and your insight into the parents' potential role as an overfunctioner is essential--as it is essential that the parent not do so much that he keeps his child from properly developing into a full-fledged adult. The ideas here are helpful, too (I have some more nitty gritty suggestions at http://wp.me/p22afJ-Lx that your readers might find useful). I also appreciate your raising the topic of kids with disabilities, which is a more challenging one (additional ideas at http://wp.me/p22afJ-L6). I see from your comments that this is a topic that speaks to a great number of people in this country--thus your post is greatly appreciated.

Comment By : Candida Abrahamson

Great reading to this point

Comment By : Rick

That's Awesome! I really enjoyed a lot during reading and is very Helpful.:d

Comment By : Arlinda

Nice to see I'm not alone. I have two Adult children living in a very small apartment. Son is 22 and does have a job and is here to get out of financial debt he created over breaking a lease. He sleeps on my sofa. My daughter is 20 and still doesn't have a drivers license and only has a job because I got her in at the company I work at. She shows up when she wants - and they tolerate it. I wish they would reprimand her. It only reinforces her getting her own way and not having any consequences. She has a temper, has thrown out my belongings, taken items without asking, breaking them and/or losing them. Has no remorse or accountability for her actions. When I try to talk to her she just starts yelling at me and gets verbally abusive. She won't help pay for any bills and complains because I won't pay for her food. She thinks I should pay for her college. I can't. I went back to College at 38 years of age and I'm still paying my student loans off at age 51. I try and help her by living close to work so she can walk there and have offered to go to the Community College with her to help her through the financial aid process but she will not make the appointment to see a College Counselor to find out where to begin. I Love my kids and I don't mind helping people if they help themselves, but I don't see her leaving anytime soon. I keep hoping her boyfriend will marry her someday after he finishes college. I've tried to tell her to get a college education and not rely on another person to take care of you but I think that is exactly what she wants because she is insecure and scared to do it on her own. Ironically, if you just take "action" and gather information about something you want to do you WILL be more secure in the decision you make. It's really very simple. Knowledge is a feeling of security. The more you know, the more you grow. Can't tell her that. I feel stuck, as I've allowed her situation to put my life on hold. I would have moved and cut down on my expenses if I didn't chose to stay here for her. Yet, I don't want to kick her out because I'm her Mother.

Comment By : mindy

Thanks you for this article. My youngest son (I have 3 sons; 35, 33 and 24) was diagnosed with ADD and he moved out 2 years ago and had a full time job and was doing well, or so it seemed but this last Aug. he got laid off and then everything started falling apart for him. Money flow issues and irresponsibility and not understanding how to read between the lines on government forms, made things worse. When he moved out, I moved to a 1 bedroom apartment and now, since Oct. 1st, I allowed him to move back in with me but he's in MY bedroom and all he's been doing is sleeping 12 - 18 hours a day when he isn't playing video games or watching movies. Come to find out, the DET (employment office) told him ALL people are 'cut off from checks on Dec. 29th) so he thought that meant he was screwed anyway, didn't tell me about it and curled up in my bed. It took me 4 days to get him moving and it wasn't pretty. Tears from both of us but he finally DID go take care of his unemployment obligation (a seminar that term scared him!) and he also found a job and did 7 hours training last week and wasn't scheduled again until Thursday but they called him tonight to come in to work tomorrow. He was down.... I got him up but almost lost my mind and peace that I've been learning, how to live by myself again. I'm a new Empty Nester single parent, so this is a huge re-adjustment for me too! I did lose my temper and we had words and he's being super stubborn and sometimes being nice but he still hasn't done any chores (as I told him i required as part of his moving back in with me). He's essentially refusing to cooperate with me or hold up his end of the bargain. I'm getting to old for this BS! Help! He is in denial that he's ADD and refuses to take Meds anymore... but they DO help him! I'm less frustrated then i was a week ago but I see a long road ahead for him and consequently, me. PS. He has a friend whom is also living back home and they are planning on getting an Apartment together but they want the most expensive with the best location to the city instead of getting what is reasonable and affordable, for a year or so. ARGH!

Comment By : Seans Mom

* To “Seans Mom”: Thank you for writing in and sharing your story with us. It sounds like you have been struggling with some issues since your son moved back home. From what you have written it seems like you had set expectations when your son moved in but he hasn’t been meeting those expectations. That must be very frustrating, especially since you have done what you can to support him during this challenging time. At this point, you might consider setting a time limit on his stay by giving him a move out date. For example, maybe you let him know he has until February 11th to find a place and move out. You decide what the date is and work with him to come up with a plan for how he’s going to meet that deadline. Here are a couple of other articles about older children you may 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. We wish you and your family the best as you work through this situation. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

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