HealthStyle: Failure to launch – adult children at home
Are your 20-something children still living at home? Do they have a job or are they going to school? Maybe your 30-something children have moved back into your home with their spouses and children in tow.
Increasing numbers of adult children are not leaving the comfort of their parent’s home or they are returning after a brief stint in society. Since 2007 there has been an approximately 10 percent increase in the number of young adults living at home. In some cases it is simply a matter of economics. They may not be able to find gainful employment in a sagging economy. However, in other cases, they seem to lack an exit strategy needed to begin their own lives and assume greater responsibility in the world or do not have the skills to maintain themselves in the marketplace. In order to become independent young adults need the strength, skills and confidence to slip the bonds of home and launch into homes and careers of their own. Now many of these adult children are in the home of their parents. Many parents are unsure about whether they should welcome this trend or resist it.
Consider the mother eagle. She seems to know what to do. Perhaps human families can take a lesson from her. At some point in the young eaglet’s life, the mother eagle knows that it is time to encourage her offspring to fly. She sends the message by stirring up the straw in the nest. The little prickly pieces of straw make it uncomfortable to stay in the nest. The mother eagle gives no talk about getting out on their own or buying them a starter nest. She believes that she has done her job, and the eaglets know what to do to fend for themselves. The young eaglets learn the lesson quickly. This is the universal process for growth and development of all living organisms.
Although it may take a little longer for human children to come of age, they are also generally expected to leave the home of their parents in their 20s and learn to rely on their own resources. However, a number of young adults today have changed the rules of departure. Some do not leave their home after completion of high school or college. Others are called the “boomerang generation.” They left home, got jobs and started families and then moved back at the age of 30-something.
Occasionally they may need a little help and this is a part of the process. A problem arises when these young adults habitually become dependent on their parents or other adults in their lives. Some do not initially launch themselves into adult life but also do not seek employment or assume any responsibilities in the family. In other cases they return home bringing spouses, babies and children with them.
Parents can unintentionally become a part of this problem for a variety of reasons. Some fear the “empty-nest syndrome.” They are used to the idea of having the children around for companionship and don’t want them to leave. They are now able to carry on adult conversations with them. Other parents keep adult children dependent on them so they can continue to feel useful and needed. They fondly reflect back on the times when their children really needed them to soothe their hurt feelings and scraped knees. Parents may also feel guilty if they set limits and rules for their own children at home or, even worse, they want just want to avoid making them angry.
When young adults stay at home or return parents may be forced to sacrifice their dreams of downsizing to a smaller home, traveling, buying a new car or just having fewer financial burdens. Even if parents can afford to comfortably keep their adult children at home the concern still remains whether it is best for the children. We should ask ourselves if we are doing a disservice to these children by doing what they can and should be doing for themselves.
If it is necessary for adult children live at home it is important for parents to establish some guidelines. Here are some that will also serve as a valuable lesson in setting personal boundaries:
- Expect them to make contributions to the family either in set payment agreed to by all parties or they should contribute through their labor around the home. Make sure both parents are in agreement on the terms.
- Give them some family assignments, such as cooking the family dinners or cleaning.
- Expect them to eliminate some of the expensive perks they have become accustomed to if they cannot afford the monthly fees, such as smartphones, iPads and other electronics.
- Provide monetary support when it leads to a goal of helping them to become independent. Paying car insurance would be appropriate if the car is used to look for employment, but not for cruising, visiting friends or taking a vacation.
- Expect them to follow the rules of the home and take care of property.
Ultimately, parents can best support their adult children by teaching them how to balance a checkbook, create a realistic budget, manage bills and search for jobs. It is important to remember that young adults need the opportunity to try things, make mistakes, and learn from their mistakes. Parents really never stop being parents and should provide their children with support, guidance, coaching and advice when they need it. And when children grow up to become strong and independent young men and women with jobs, homes and families, parents can pat themselves on the back for a job well done.
David Gannon, Ph.D., Psychological and Family Consultants, Canton, Ohio.