Fast Forward: When Your Adult Child with ODD Moves Back Home

Posted July 6, 2012 by

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My son with ODD is back home from college. Having him home again is both wonderful and infuriating at the same time. There is the awareness of how much he’s grown, how proud I am of him and how wonderful his company is.  But he’s allergic to putting his plates in the dishwasher, I keep tripping over his shoes, and he said he was going to pitch in for the gas and he hasn’t.

At first, when I asked him to do the dishes,  his response was one of the following: “You were over there; why didn’t you do them?” “Those aren’t all my dishes!” “I did them yesterday!”  “You’re changing the rules again!”

“I just wanted him to put the few dishes that were there in the dishwasher,” I thought. “Here we go again.” (Sigh.) Then James Lehman whispered to me from The Total Transformation Program: “Be direct and clear. Just tell your child to do it and walk away. Don’t get sucked into a power struggle or a negotiation.” Although I couldn’t hide the disgust on my face, I firmly said, “Just do it!” And I walked away. And guess what?  My son did it.

At his age, I admit it’s hard to implement consequences. It feels as if I have no power at times. But when things get tense, I remind my son that it is my house and if he wants to be there, he has to help out. The key with him is repetition – repetition — repetition.

One thing I always tell parents who contact the 1-on-1 Coaching team (and that I remind myself frequently!) is that when your adult child moves home, this is a time for you to transition to more of a roommate arrangement, as long as boundaries and respect exist. If your adult child is contributing financially as well as with chores, it’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know him or her as an adult and develop that relationship.

However, if you have an adult child with a history of acting out, unmotivated behavior, and an oppositional, defiant personality, it’s important to re-evaluate your rules and boundaries and make sure they’re working for you. As a few parents whose kids have moved home have commented to me tongue-in-cheek on the 1-on-1 Coaching, “I’ll just start drinking!” All kidding aside, parenting an adult child is a whole new ball game. As with all children that move back home, there is a natural regression as everyone settles back into family roles or dynamics. Old habits and expectations reappear — and it’s even more difficult if you are dealing with an Oppositional Defiant adult who is used to being on his own. It’s important to be objective about the situation and not fall back into old patterns. As James Lehman states in his article Rules, Boundaries and Older Children, “I want you to think of your adult children as guests. Not as children. How would you let a guest act in your house? When would you draw the line with a guest?” When limits need to be set or contributions re-examined, this is a healthy way to move forward and distance yourself from the parenting role you had when your child was young.

These days, things are going more smoothly at our house. I have begun to leave a list of chores at home for whoever has the day off from work. Now when I call my son to see how he’s doing, he tells me that he’s done 2 of the chores I had written down. No reminder, no argument, no kidding. I had to stop and wonder what had changed. It was not only me, it was the way the request was presented — neutrally without nagging or presenting an absolute that could be fought against. I paused and recited: “Presentation and disconnect equals results.” I can see our relationship growing as my communication style with him changes.

I think I’ll keep him.


Holly Fields has worked with children with emotional and physical disabilities for more than 15 years in the home, at school, and in rehabilitation settings, as well as therapeutic riding programs. She was with Legacy Publishing Company as a 1-on-1 Coach for two years. Holly has a Masters Degree in Special Education. She has two adult children, two rescue dogs and one cat.

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