It could be a result of the economy or it could be something much deeper, but more and more twenty-plus year olds seem to be living at home. Single, in or out of school or in or out of work, they are returning home to live and their parents are trying to figure out how to handle it.
The whole term “Adult-child” sounds like an oxymoron, but in this case it just might be the perfect label. The offspring is over the age of twenty, so he or she wants to be treated like an adult; they want all the privileges of coming and going with absolutely no restrictions. “Dad, I’m an adult. I shouldn’t have to tell you when I’m coming home tonight,” he or she might say. Yet, this individual really isn’t functioning as an adult. An adult grasps for and maintains their independence.
The first question that has to be answered is, “Why is this child living at home?” There are logical reasons for an adult child to return home for assistance. For example, financial difficulty or saving toward the purchase of a house is a good reason, as long as he or she really is saving. Health or educational needs also play a part in a child returning to live at home.
The parent in this situation must set the guidelines and point the child toward emancipation. Why does the child need to let the parent know when they are coming home? The reason is that the other adults in the home (mom and dad) let each other know when they are coming and going. I don’t leave the house without telling my wife where I’m going and when I will be back. Nor do I stay out so late that I disrupt the sleep of everyone else in the house; sorry, but that’s just common courtesy. Add that to one other very significant fact, this house does belong to the parents not the child. As parents, set the guidelines and maintain them!
The second important component is that the parent must make sure they are not enabling immaturity and irresponsibility. Is the child working? If not, why not? Someone is working to pay for the upkeep of the home. The adult child needs to be strongly encouraged to get a job even if it means flipping burgers.
What is the adult child doing with his or her money earned from that job? “You’re not going to make me pay rent, are you Dad?” you might hear. “Absolutely, son! You said it yourself; you’re an adult now. When you were a child we paid to take care of you. Now that you are an adult, you should want to help out.”
“Parents must set the guidelines and point the child toward emancipation.”
If we don’t give them their own bills to pay (their mobile phone bill, car payment, insurance payment, etc.) how will they ever be ready to move out on their own? On top of that, if we don’t charge them some kind of rent they will never be ready to move into an apartment and take care of themselves. For their own self-esteem they should not be allowed to freeload and spend their money on parties, clothes, etc. Decide on an amount, and then give your adult-child a warning period, “Son starting April 1st …”
My dad became very creative in challenging me to take responsibility. When I came home from college my freshman year, he watched me work seven days a week, twelve hours a day at a gas station and waste much of my money. The next summer, he announced ahead of time, that a new system was being put into place. Not only were the doors locked at midnight, but I was going to pay the electric and water bill each month. Instead of sharing in the cost of groceries, the utility bills were mine. It was a thirty-five hundred square foot house so these bills were huge to me. It was the first time I actually realized how much it cost to run a house. It was also the last time I lived at home!
From that point on I began renting small apartments each summer, paying all my own bills and finally budgeting my money. Did I have much left at the end of each pay check? No! But I did begin to grow up.
Don’t enable your adult-child to rely on childish irresponsibility. It’s easy to think you are helping when you’re really enabling. Whether the adult-child likes it at the time they will be grateful for the lessons learned when they look back. You helped them become an adult who is able to accept their responsibilities.
Dr. Bob Barnes is the president of Sheridan House Family Ministries. He and his wife, Rosemary, are authors and speakers on marriage and family issues.www.sheridanhouse.org