When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up?

[amazon asin=0761162410&template=thumbleft&chan=default]Elizabeth Fishel, coauthor of When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up?
Topic:
Loving and understanding your emerging adult.
Issues: The zigzagging road to adulthood; the college years; the boomerang kid; the bank of mom and dad; when things go wrong; having–and enforcing–expectations; emerging at last.


How Your Relationships with Your Children Change When They Leave Home

Our daughter is going away to college. On one hand, I’m thrilled that she’s becoming so independent. But we’ve always been very close and I’m worried that our relationship will suffer. Will it?

Well, the day you’ve hoped for and dreaded is finally here. Your child is going to move out. Some researchers have called this the beginning of the "post parental stage," but I think that’s a mistake. Yes, your child is leaving, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to stop being a parent. In fact, you’re just getting started on the longest phase of your fathering experience.
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Houston, We Have a Problem…

Dear Mr. Dad: How do you handle a 21-year-old male who’ dropped out of college, has no job, and has been living in our house for the past six months? My husband and I provide our son with a car, insurance, gas, clothes, and cover all his healthcare. But whenever we ask him to do anything around the house, he flat out refuses or does it poorly. And whenever we bring up the issue of his finding work and moving out, he gets angry and accuses us of not supporting him. What can we do?

A: My first reaction is to suggest that the next time your son leaves the house you call a locksmith and have all your locks changed. However, that would only work (to the extent that it would at all) if your son was responsible for the entire problem. He’s not. In fact, I’d say that you and your husband are making an already difficult situation even worse.

But let’s take a step back for a moment. If it makes you feel any better, you’re not alone in having an adult child move back in with you. Some studies have found that as many as a third of all young adults under 35 are living with ma and pa. The situation is so common that there’s actually a term for these adult children: “boomerang kids.” The bad news is that these arrangements are often extremely stressful on everyone involved, but especially on parents who had planned to downsize during their retirement years.

Okay, back to you. By providing your son with free room and board, transportation, and insurance, you’re undercutting any incentive he might have had to learn how to grow up and survive on his own. I’d actually go a step further and say that you’re encouraging your son to be a slacker—and the only way the situation is going to improve is if you change your behavior. Here’s what you’ll have to do:

  1. You and your husband need to get on the same page. Having one of you push for independence while the other slips your son wads of cash under the table will guarantee the status quo. What do you want to have happen, and over what period of time?
  2. Once you’ve come up with a plan, call a family meeting. Ask your son how he sees the current situation. Does he plan to finish college? Look for work? How long does he expect to be living with you? It’s possible that he’s feeling guilty and maybe even ashamed.
  3. Start charging. The value he places on his living arrangements is directly proportional to how much he has to pay. In other words, the less he pays—for rent, car, insurance, food, clothes—the more he’ll take them for granted. If he has income, put a dollar value on household chores and have him work off his debts.
  4. Get out your calendar. Your goal is to get your son ready to live in the real world. But it’s not going to happen overnight. So come up with a timetable that includes reasonable targets (enroll in college for the next semester, find a job within 12 weeks, move to your own place within six months, etc).
  5. Create rules and enforce them. Can he bring dates home to spend the night? Do you expect him to call if he’ll be spending the night elsewhere?

As the economy continues to stagnate, this is a bigger and bigger issue. We’ll go into more details in future columns.

Failure to Launch

Dear Mr. Dad: Our 27-year-old son lost his job and moved back in with my wife and me. While it’s nice to have him around, it’s been six months now and he shows no sign of moving out. Part of the problem is that my wife and I have very different approaches. I want our son to get his life back on track. But the other day I discovered that my wife has been giving him money every month. She’s even been paying some of his credit card bills for him. This has led to a lot of tension around the house—between me and my wife, and between me and my son. What can we do?

A: Boy are you in a tough spot. Actually, you’re in two tough spots at the same time. On one hand, you’ve got an adult child who is waaaaay too old to be living someplace where he isn’t making a rent or mortgage payment every month. On the other hand, you’ve got a wife who’s actually encouraging your son to keep doing exactly what he’s been doing: freeload. Fortunately, there is a solution. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be easy.
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Inconsiderate adult child moves home

Dear Mr. Dad: My 24-year-old daughter just moved back into my home, which I also share with my 80-year-old mother. She recently quit her job as a nurse and is working as a bartender instead. Many nights she doesn’t come home at all, and rolls in at 6-7 a.m. the next morning. I don’t ask questions—she’s an adult. But I have asked her repeatedly, just out of common courtesy, to let me know if she’s going to be out all night. First, this is so I can go to sleep and not worry every time I hear a noise. Second, her dog keeps me up half the night with his pacing and whining and won’t stop until my daughter gets home. Still, she refuses to let me know. How can I convince her to check in—for everyone’s peace of mind?

A: You said it perfectly: she’s an adult. And at 24, she should start acting like one—treating people with the same level of respect she’d like from any guest in her home. It’s perfectly reasonable to tell your daughter exactly what you wrote: that she’s causing you and your mother to worry and that her dog is keeping you up at night. If she’s going to stay out all night, she needs to a) let you know well in advance, and b) make arrangements for someone else to take care of the dog. It’s your house and you’re entitled to set the rules (and those are pretty easy rules to live by). You’re happy to host her for as long as she needs, but only if she’ll stop acting like an irresponsible—and inconsiderate—teenager. If she refuses to go along with the program, tell her she’ll have to find another place to stay.