This is the third and final installment in a three-part series of articles by James Lehman, MSW, on the difficult topic of adult children living at home. In this segment, James addresses the issue of setting up a living agreement with your child.
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 should not be up until two o’clock in the morning with friends in the house, keeping other people awake. Although you may feel obligated to provide that child with a roof over his head, you still have the right to say:
“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, taking the phone, then that’s what it means.
Related content: Ground Rules for Living with an Adult Child (plus Free Living Agreement)
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 adult child will try to make the parents feel guilty, like jerks.
He does this because he still has a lot of immaturity and thinking errors. In other words, he is hiding from responsibility and is postponing the anxiety of accepting the responsibilities of an adult. And he will push back when you, rightfully, begin to hold him accountable.
No matter how hurtful the child’s words may be, parents should not fall into the trap of feeling guilty for finally establishing the rules. Likewise, parents shouldn’t spend a lot of energy explaining themselves. Just explain yourself once and move on. You can 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 go find a job.”
It’s never too late to be this direct with your child.
Do not take your child’s accusations and blaming as fact. In fact, you should expect to hear plenty of accusations and excuses. You’re going to be compared to his friend’s parents and 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 furthermore, they’ll keep doing it as long as you let them. Parents should be prepared to deal with this, but not through yelling and screaming, and not through making excuses for themselves. Instead, deal with it by calmly saying:
“This is the time we’re meeting. We need to talk to go over the agreement.”
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.
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.
The living agreement 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 to 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 for your kid to lose his license for 90 days than die or kill somebody else.
As for illegal drugs, those should be prohibited from the house as well. Let me be clear: this is your house and you can make whatever rules you like around alcohol, smoking, and drugs.
If your adult child is insulting you, abusive with a family member, or breaking things, he should leave. He should go to stay with a friend. It doesn’t matter, he just can’t stay in your house if he is abusive.
Be aware that 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. This is because the abusive behavior probably permeates their lives. It’s not his whole life is great, but he just happens to be abusive towards you. The abusive 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. But, he will have to figure it out.
The decision on when to ask an older child to leave the home has more to do with a family’s morals and values. 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.
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, then he’s not being serious.
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.
Download: Free Mutual Living Agreement
This article is part 3 of a 3-part series. See below for the links to the other articles in this series.
Part I: How to Cope With an Adult Child Living at Home
James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation®, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.
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Thank you for reaching out. I can understand your frustration. It's shared by many parents of young adults who, for whatever reason, fail to launch and seem to be floundering between childhood and adulthood. James Lehman recommends developing a clear living agreement that outlines what the expectations are for your adult child while they are living at home. If they chose not to meet those expectations, then the next step would be making plans for them moving out. We have a great article that includes a living agreement template you may find helpful. You can find that here: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/ground-rules-for-living-with-an-adult-child-plus-free-living-agreement/
We appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents community and hope you will check back and let us know how things are going. Take care.
I'm so glad I found the article, it is such a relief to know I am not the only one going through this!
My son is about to turn 21. He has been staying out well past midnight for a couple years now. He is always with his girlfriend at her parents house. They have been dating for 4 years. When I confront him with his disregard for cis curfew he says he's sorry and complies for a few days. Or the girlfriend comes over after I'm asleep.
I should explain that the girlfriend and her family have very different values and expectations than I.
He has recently started staying out all night. I have spoken calmly with him about it, I have lost my temper with him. I have tried to ground him and take away privileges. He has ignored it all. His girlfriend undermines me by saying she doesn't have rules. She doesn't have a curfew. Her parents love her and I don't
Perhaps I should have started by stating that I am a widow. My husband,his father , died when he was 13.
My son portrayed himself as a victim although other than having a father he has every advantage. His girlfriend calls him a spoled rich kid. And manipulates him in many other ways.
He went to county college and is about to transfer to get his bachelor degree bad will be living on campus a little more than an hour away.
I am torn on putting him out as I know it will only reinforce what he is being told. That I am uncaring and don't really live him.
The other wrinkle is that her family knows that he will receive a substantial amount of money at 25. I believe they are counting on his money. That have made comments as such.
With all that being said. I don't know if it is best to give him the freedom to make is own mistakes or dole out strong consequences at this point.
I feel it's a lose lose situation
My son just graduated from high school. He worked 2 weekends as a bus boy then quit. Keeps saying he will get a new job but has not. It seems like he will start working next week. We'll see.
Today, I am announcing a new list of weekly chores for him. I hung up the list of the side of the refrigerator in the kitchen. I know that he will either ignore the list -- or he will pretend to do a few things, but really his pretending will be a 99.9% lie. He will pick up a bag of chips and say that he spent SO MUCH time cleaning his room when really he threw away 1 item of garbage.
So anyway -- I have posted the list of chores that will be ignored. Here's my plan. If he ignores the weekly chores, I will not cook any food for him during the week. I will not buy him any of his favorite food. This is mainly snack items. Then, one month from now, he will move out of my house. Period.
Please wish me luck on enforcing my plan. I hope to remain calm and pleasant. I think that when an 18-year-old is living on his own, he learns valuable life skills. He can come to dinner on Sunday nights. Peace all!
“That’s why you’re not working. Because you sleep until noon. Get up at seven o’clock like everybody else and go find a job.”
This quote struck me because of how absolutely true this is. Not only does letting your child sleep in late make him comfortable so he won't take steps to be independent but it also kills his job search.
Obviously, most companies do their communication and recruitment during normal business hours. If a company can't reach your child because he's sleeping, it may just move on to the next candidate, no voicemail or anything. Additionally, when it's noon or 1 PM, a lot of the business day is already gone making it difficult to talk to anyone in your child's dream company (such as trying to schedule informational interviews).
My20 year old son is a quiet and gentle soul.
He keeps pretty much to himself.As
astudent, he always did things last
minute and has always done the "bare minimum" to get by. His
preference is playing online video games rather than work. He managed to get himself a
Commissionaires job which is a Canadian Government building security guard position which much to my dismay allows him to chose his hours of work which are very few.
We are in the "beginning" phase of changing his environment as we plan to move to the country next spring to prepare for our upcoming retirement.He gets this and says he will move out with his buddies.My concern is that I think he lives in a "virtual world" and that he'll never make the rent and pay his bills. His buddies won't be impressed for too long and he may end up in the street.My husband believes changing his environment will jolt him into reality however I believe he is not equipped to handle the reality of paying bills let alone rent as his internet payment recently bounced and is now disconnected. His cell phone maybe next due to his lack of hours.All this to say he is welcome to join us in the country but he will be isolated. I don't want to pre-empt the inevitable but I lay awake thinking about this and not getting much sleep.
I’m so sorry to hear about everything that you are going
through with your daughter, and your mother.I can understand your concern not only for your mother’s house, but also
the well-being and safety of your mother and your grandchildren.If you are considering writing up a rental
agreement with your daughter, or if you want to evict her from your mother’s
house, you might want to consult with a lawyer to talk over your legal options
in your situation.If you are not
currently working with anyone, try contacting the http://www.211.org/ at 1-800-273-6222.211 is a
service which connects people with resources and services in their community,
such as legal assistance, services for the elderly, and housing
assistance.I recognize how difficult
this must be for you, and I wish you and your family all the best moving