Failure to Launch: Parenting Adult Children

Posted September 18, 2015 by

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Do you fear that down the road, your teenager won’t be motivated to take on adult responsibilities like moving out, finding a job or paying bills? Is your child over 18 and still disrespecting the rules of your home?

You’re not alone!

The topic of adult children is a popular one at Empowering Parents. As an Empowering Parents Coach, I help parents struggling with adult children all the time — in the comment section of our articles, on social media, over the phone — you name it!

I find it helpful to start these conversations with a little insight into “why” such conflicts occur. Many times I point parents to Rules, Boundaries and Older Children, which gives a great overview with tips on enforcing the rules of your home.

I also highly recommend creating a Mutual Living Agreement. This document outlines the rules and expectations in your home, which need to be agreed upon by your child. Treat this like a contract — if the agreement is broken, you enforce the consequences.

If your situation has become uncomfortable or intolerable, don’t worry — there is more you can do. Check out 6 Steps to Help Your Adult Child Move Out for ways to help your bird leave the nest. Specific phrases, tools and techniques for asserting your authority can also be found in James Lehman’s Total Transformation. This best-selling behavior program comes with mini flash cards that have important reminders.

Remember, your financial responsibility ends when your child turns 18. At that point, anything you choose to provide is a choice. That’s right — a choice. It’s a magical word, isn’t it?

“Your adult child is not entitled to live in your home past the age of eighteen. It’s a privilege and you have every right to set the parameters. That’s always been your right — and always will be.” — Kim Abraham, LMSW & Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW


Denise Rowden is a parent of two teens: an 18-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.

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  1. Tammy E Report

    My son is a freshman in college and he is dealing with sever depression and most likely a video game addiction. He has been failing most of his classes and is likely to be ineligible to attend next year. He is now not talking or even texting me so I really have no idea how he is doing. When home over Christmas and Spring breaks he insists he wants to be there and he wants do what it takes to be able to continue at college, which includes many additional steps that he seems to be not completing due to staying up too late playing video games. Summer is coming soon, and he does have a full-time job lined up, but because he is depressed, has very few friends and is emotionally immature. I do not know what to do I want to be supportive but also hold him to an agreement on only playing video games for a much smaller amount of time. His self-esteem is so low, he currently uses the video games as his only real interaction with others, but I he needs to develop more skills. He does not cause any other problems and I feel badly that it took me so long to realize that video games are causing him such issues. Any advice is welcome as this is turning me inside out.

    • Empowering Parents Coach Rebecca Wolfenden, 1-on-1 Coach Report

      I hear you. It can be so tough when your young adult child is struggling, yet you feel helpless to do anything about this situation. In the end, your son is an adult, and has the freedom to make his own choices, even those that you do not support or agree with. In addition, he is also responsible for dealing with the consequences of those choices, such as failing out of school due to playing video games rather than studying for his classes. At this point, it’s going to be more effective to focus on your own boundaries and responses to his choices, rather than trying to make him change. As outlined in the article above, it could be helpful to write up a living agreement with your son before the summer comes, which outlines your expectations for his behavior and how he will be held accountable if he is not following through.

      • katrina Report

        I am the mother of a 16 year old son with the same issues of video games and the internet. He can spend day and night on the x-box and never do a bit of school work. He is failing 3 subjects and may not be able to graduate high school if this continues. we have removed video games from our home so now he is playing in laptop or cell phone.

  2. Bess S Report

    So Ms. Wolfenden your opinion is to let her drown. You do not suggest making an attempt to get her out of the environment, try an intervention or attempt to stay in contact with her?

    • Empowering Parents Coach Rebecca Wolfenden, 1-on-1 Coach Report

      Thank you for following up. As I mentioned, you have the most control over your own responses, because in the end, you cannot “make” your daughter change until she is ready. You can keep the lines of communication open with her, and let her know how much you love and care about her. As for attempting to move her out against her will or staging an intervention, you could try those; however, keep in mind that these efforts could backfire, and create even more distance between you and your daughter. In the end, it’s going to be up to you and your best judgment about the next move you want to make. I hear how angry and hurt you are by your daughter’s choices, and I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you right now. I wish you all the best.

    • Empowering Parents Coach Rebecca Wolfenden, 1-on-1 Coach Report

      Thank you for your question, and we appreciate your interest in Parent Coaching. For more information about this service, you can check out the information page HERE. For information about all of our products and services, you can go to our store page, located HERE. Please let us know if you have any additional questions. Take care.

  3. Anila Report

    I feel you need to understand your daughter if she is going through this difficult phase ,may beshe has some part of her personality where she needs help .she may be having some positive areas where you can support her to get on with life . Life has different shades and meanings so work on her it may help.

  4. Derrick L Report


    I have a 19 year old step-son that smokes the pot and thinks he is going to be a rapper. He is all of these situations except for the car insurance, condo, and apartment. He lives in my house and pays nothing and does nothing. I have encouraged him to join the Air Force and that it would be a Great fit for him. His attitude is so beyond the point of responsibility its ridiculous! Disrespect is another story all together and Rules/Boundaries he often seem to think they don’t exist! I am FED UP! I am about to KICK HIM OUT! Before he was 18 I spoke to a lawyer about what my rights were as a parent in the state of Maryland and being over 18 I have explained to him that we don’t have to let him live with us, according to the lawyer.

    Where my wife went wrong I feel is telling him he can always come back! I say NOOO! THATS NOT HELPING! He needs to stop playing video games and smoking pot and thinking that is a way of life because its not!

    This has gone too far!

  5. Bess S Report

    My 22 year old has left home several times and is now gone. She expects nothing, has nothing and lives in a run down small rat infested travel trailer with her boyfriend on his parents property. Since getting with this boy she has become an alcoholic and smokes pot heavily. She has bare minimum in clothes, telephone, no personal hygiene items, no car, no job, literally nothing and seems to be content living this way. Now her boy friend has convinced her not to have contact with me. What steps should or can a parent take to get a young person out of this situation before there is no turning back? Sitting and doing nothing is not an answer and will not help her. Please does anyone have suggestions of actual steps to take??

    • Empowering Parents Coach Rebecca Wolfenden, 1-on-1 Coach Report

      I’m sorry to hear about the choices that your daughter is making right now, and I understand your desire to see things change for her. Ultimately, your daughter is an adult, and has the right to make her own decisions, even those that you might not agree with or support. In addition, people do not tend to change if they are comfortable with the way things are going. If your daughter is content living this way, it’s not likely that she will change. At this point, it might be more effective to focus on yourself and how you can respond to your daughter’s choices in ways that reflect your own boundaries and values. I hope that you have some support for yourself right now as well, whether that is calling a supportive friend or family member when you’re feeling stressed, to using more structured supports, like a counselor or a support group. If you want more information about support available in your community, try contacting the 211 Helpline at 1-800-273-6222. 211 is a service which connects people with resources available locally. I recognize what a tough situation this must be for you right now, and I wish you all the best as you continue to move forward. Take care.

  6. Brokenspecials Report

    I have a 27 year old son who has always been stubborn. We ( My wife,18 year old son and 27 year old )have been thru the hardest part of our life with a 2 year battle of crones decease with him. Loosing his colon,parts of small intestine and bladder. We have been there 24/7 in 5 different hospitals missing much work to care for his needs after 2 years of mostly hospital living  praise God he is now stable. There is much to work on in his moving out as a disabled young man . However for him to grow he needs to be on his own as we all know even those who have suffered can use it as a cayalyst.He has a gift in photography but instead of finding ways to build a business or even get a job we have been caretakers for so long we can’t motivate him past the comfort zone. Things have gotten ugly as far as expectations on us. I don’t see the disability for limiting him at the house any longer and I encouraged him to move out several times saying he can do it. Of course he has fear .  Yet have come to arguments because he can’t look past his condition.  Now to make matters worse he has a girlfriend whom we are pleased with . She lifts his spirit up.Check this out. She lost her job and we offered to put her up at our house and bam she has been here 6 months and things are out of control now. We buy all the food and well you know the trouble. I finally had enough and told her a deadline. Now my son was trying to move out with her together but I don’t think that will happen. I guess I need to look at assisted living for him. My concern is this. I find it hard to know the line of support and encouragement  to knowing when to draw the line on the abuse or bitterness that is settling in his life bleeding which is bleeding out on us and influencing our youngest son to disrespect me. I am at the point of submitting to his anger and expectations and yelling MOVE OUT! Which I have done twice.
    Any direction is welcomed greatly.

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      I understand where you’re coming from. It can be tough to
      know how to help a child with a disability launch successfully. The line
      between helping and enabling can be a blurry one in this situation. One thing
      that may be helpful is asking yourself what your son is capable of doing for
      himself, as Debbie Pincus suggests in the article  Another thing
      to keep in mind is there really isn’t any excuse for abuse – regardless of what
      disability or underlying issue your son may have. It’s OK to set limits around
      any behavior that is rude, disrespectful, or abusive. The same holds true for
      your younger son – even if he see his older brother role modeling this negative
      behavior. Ultimately, whatever support you chose to give your adult son is just
      that – a choice. You’re not required to continue providing for him because he
      is making the choice to not take responsibility for himself. I know this is a
      very difficult situation. Good luck to you and your family as you work through
      this tough transition. Take care.

  7. mommawolf43 Report

    I am a parent of a 20 year old son who has not been living at home since shortly after his 18th birthday.  He was one of those disrespectful, entitled, verbally and emotionally abusive teens who just could not follow rules.  Our decision was to buy a condo for him to move into so that he could “transition” into adulthood.  We paid for everything; car, insurance, internet, electric, water, cell phone, and $60 a week for food.  He was supposed to get a job and go to school.  He failed in both areas after only putting in a small amount of effort.  He has always used his depression issues as a tool to manipulate me…..yes, I am the weak link………but here we are two years later and in a horrible situation.  He was using money I gave him and money his grandparents paid him for “mowing” to buy pot.  After discovering this, he went to rehab and then to a program that was supposed to help with his “failure to launch” issues….something that would teach him how to do all the things he wouldn’t learn from us.  But in the mean time, we got rid of the car and cleaned out the condo.  So long story short, he skipped out of the facility (never using it for more than a hotel), he has been living with friends since he got back to town but will be homeless shortly because we won’t let him come home.  I feel like the worst mom…..I read the articles here on Failure to Launch and it helps a little to know that I am not the only person that has enabled their child to the point of crippling them.  But what can I do now……..he is still acting like he thinks I am going to rush in and “save” him…..give him a car and let him live here.  Does it ever get easier?  Will he really get past this?

  8. sandraerina Report

    I am the new partner, recently having moved into my “husbands” house. In the house lives his 26 year old daughter.

    He wants her to launch, but is afraid to give responsibility, or consequences.  He didn’t think there was a problem, before I came into the picture.  He now realizes if we want a life, change has to happen.  She needs to grow up and move out. 

    There is no adult living agreement, there is no paying of rent, no contribution towards internet, food, expenses.    She occupies the better part of the basement, she does her own laundy, she cleans her own space, she works part time for min wage and pays her own cell phone bill.  She plays endless hours of video games or chats on facebook, she rarely socializes with us.   

    my husband often asks me how he and I can motiviate her to do better?  My response is why is it up to us to motivate her and  why would she want to do better, she has everything she needs right here for nothing.  

    He now sees that things have gone astray and she needs to grow up and start acting like a 26 year old.   We don’t know what the first step should be.. how we do go about setting a plan in place that won’t cause resentment and hurt and even more tension. 

    Can someone please help – there is so much more to the story.

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      You ask a great question. Many parents in your situation
      face similar uncertainties when trying to decide what rules and expectations to
      put in place for an adult child. It may be beneficial to look at the Living
      Agreement template  that’s included in the article This may
      give you some ideas as to what your next steps should be. You’re not going to
      be able to control whether or not his daughter feels resentful about the
      changes. I would focus instead on developing a mutual living agreement with her
      and also coming up with a time frame for her moving out. I hope this is
      helpful. Be sure to check back if you have any further questions. Take care.

      • sandraerina Report

        DeniseR_ParentalSupport sandraerina

        is this the best place to discuss this, or should I be in another web page.  I see I am the only one commenting on this article.



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