One of the most often overlooked parenting challenges is when your adult children are still living at home with you. It may be that they went out into the world and came back (yo-yo kids) – sometimes with kids or spouses along for the ride. Or maybe they are the “failure to launch” kids who are still moping around playing video games and messing up the house long after the point you would like them to cut the apron strings and move out!
It doesn’t matter much how they got there. The point is that your adult kids are THERE and they are likely driving you up the wall! Am I right?? I’ve heard some real horror stories of kids being angry and abusive, stealing from their parents, expecting to be waited on hand and foot, or at least refusing to contribute to the chores and the family finances.
I have to admit, I have one of these charming children living in my own basement, so I feel your pain! But, all is not lost. I do have some tips that are helping with my little darling, and hopefully they will help you too.
I do have one disclaimer though. My experience is with fairly “normal” adult children. Your basic immature, unmotivated, failure to launch type of kid. If your kid has an addiction problem, a mental illness issue, such as bi-polar or depression, or if they are violent or abusive, I’m just not qualified to advise you. Those issues need professional help. Also, if there is a grandchild or two in the picture, that’s a little out of my experience as well. I do have grandchildren, but they’ve never lived with me or anything.
Let’s Look at the Problem First
Before you can go onto the cure, you’ve first got to diagnose the problem. It’s very tempting to look at things from our point of view. Things were very different back in our day. You were expected to go to college for 6 years or fewer, get a job and/or get married, and exit the family homestead fairly quickly after High School. Society has changed a great deal, economics have changed a great deal, and parenting has changed nearly 100% from our post-war or baby boomer era parents.
One thing you have to admit – we RAISED these people from scratch and we may not have done a very good job of it. I was paying rent from the age of 16 because my single Mom needed the help, and it was the best thing she ever could have done for me. Did I pass this valuable lesson on to my kids? I did not and that one is on me. Did I make them do the amount of chores and homework that I had to do? Nope. Make them wear cheap, hand-me-down clothes and only a few toys? Again nope. Many of these kids have been spoiled rotten their whole lives. They’ve had a fun, comfortable life with all the material goods they could ever want and we gave it to them. No wonder they don’t want to leave that!
Part of the problem is that these so-called adult children are SCARED SPITLESS! Many of them haven’t ever done one hard thing in their entire lives, and they know that being on their own is going to be hard. So they are fighting tooth and claw to preserve their security, familiarity, and comfort.
And let’s face it, we do LOVE them. We might love them a bit more from a distance at this point, but this is still the same kid who used to throw their arms around your neck and declare you the best mommy in the world! So, while it is tempting to pack their bags and just set them out on the sidewalk, it would probably break your own heart in the process. So let’s see if we can find an easier way to solve the problem.
Start with Setting NEW Rules and Stick To Them Like Crazy!
You may or may not have set down some rules about the role of your adult children in your household. But are they working? Did you enforce them properly? Or did you let your kids ignore them or flat our REFUSE to go along with them? Hey, it happens, but there’s a new sheriff in town and he (or she) means business this time.
Sit down with your spouse and draw up some firm, but reasonable rules. Do NOT invite the adult children into this discussion. This is not a democracy and they do not get a vote. When you had your first apartment, did the manager give you a vote on the no pets, no parking, no walking on the grass rules they set down? I doubt it. Keep in mind that your adult child is now a guest living in your home. You do not have a legal obligation to provide them with food, shelter, and cable TV.
Make sure you cover all the basics – curfew times, noise restrictions, chore expectations, respect for the Mortgage payers (that’s you!), cleanliness standards, pets, friends, the use of vehicles and other amenities, drugs and/or alcohol use, and overnight guests. And video games – I hate those things. I believe they are genuinely addicting as are cell phones and they are scrambling these kids brains! Get a WiFi that you can turn on and off and use it to ensure compliance. These kids value nothing more than their WiFi!
You should also specify what you will or won’t do for them in terms of services. If you are still doing their laundry – stop. Definitely if you are cleaning their bathroom – stop. If you are cooking all their food – stop. They are adults now and they need to learn how to manage these things.
This is one area where I’m doing pretty well. My sons have been doing their own laundry since they were about ten and at this point, I’ve got him doing mine as well! Makes sense since the laundry area is downstairs by his room – I just have to fold it. We do cook for him if he happens to be around, but he makes his own food most of the time. And the answer to “Mom – we’re out of milk” is generally – oh good, get us some bread and toilet paper too. I am waaay too busy to be anybody’s maid.
The Money Situation for your Adult Children
I left money out of this list because that really needs to be a separate topic. And it’s a hot-button issue. Here’s my take on it. If you are putting up with the inconvenience of having Junior living in the basement and all that comes with it, it shouldn’t cost you a DIME. Regardless if said kid is going to school or not, has a job or not, or whatever. You shouldn’t be out-of-pocket in addition to the inconvenience of sharing your house with them!
Now, this may well be a process. You may have to tell them that next month, they will need to start paying their own cell bill, and two months after that, they need to start paying their car payment, or car insurance, and X number of months after that, they will need to start paying some rent. If they complain too much, point them to the want ads to see what an apartment will cost, even with a roommate!
Now at this point, be prepared for a full-blown tantrum. They will get angry, they may cry, make excuses, threats, and/or give you the silent treatment for a month. Just like the toddler tantrums, they will eventually get over it, but only if you stand your ground. Be aware that this is a manipulative type of anger. They aren’t really mad at you, they are just in panic mode. The way you can tell is that if you gave in and changed your mind, they would immediately be your best buddy. Someone who is genuinely angry won’t be so quick to get over it.
Here’s a tip about rent. Don’t charge them RENT. It’s too easy to wheedle Mom and Dad into cutting them a break. Instead, assign them one or more BILLS that are equivalent to the rent you’d like them to pay. Try to pick bills that will have an impact, but won’t mess up your credit. Think cell phone bills, cable bills, electric bills, etc. Tape it to their door and let them be responsible for it. If their cell phone or Internet gets shut off, you can bet they will react VERY swiftly and having to pay a reconnect fee will be a good lesson. It’s annoying if yours gets shut off too, but oh well. It’s a learning moment.
A Word About Student Loans and your Adult Children
One thing that can be a major factor in your kid’s financial picture is an enormous student loan balance. It’s unfortunate, but tuition and other schooling costs have gone off the charts in recent years and it is causing huge problems for these kids. Huge in a way it wasn’t in our day. But it’s like death and taxes – it isn’t going away and it’s possible that the education they counted on to pay these loans just didn’t work out for whatever reason.
Let me just say that even if these kids didn’t know better – YOU DID. This happened on your watch and likely happened with your full approval. Our generation viewed college as an absolute must and didn’t always count the cost and now these kids are genuinely struggling. One young family we know has $120,000 in student loans that they may never recover from. That’s almost equal to their house payment. And now they have two little kids. It’s kind of horrifying.
My son – my basement dweller. Has ZERO DOLLARS in student loans. Not one single dime. We had a very frank talk with him and we told him that there was no way we could afford a high-priced out-of-state college. Just wasn’t in the cards period, unless he got a huge scholarship (unlikely given his lackluster GPA). If he wanted to do his generals at community college and maybe transfer to our local state college, we’d do what we could to help him, but he would probably have to work his way through school and maybe take a small loan. He opted for just community college and we’ve paid it in cash a semester at a time. See my post on paying cash for college. It’s not fancy, but it’s still a diploma.
So, if you let your kid run up a huge bill for his or her college education, you might want to take it easy on them. Maybe help them dig out of the payments, if that’s possible for you. It’s not entirely their fault because at 19 or 20, they have no idea how much that debt is going to hurt them.
Even if you don’t manage to get your adult children to actually move out, hopefully you can ease the pain. Having some frank talks about the things that are bugging you is the first step. Stand up for yourself. You worked hard to get to this point, and it’s not right to let this snot-nosed kid push you around. Be kind, be loving, but stand your ground.
Another thing you might do is realize these changes are scary and overwhelming to them. If they’ll let you, show them how to do some things. Quiz them on some things – what’s the best way to save on groceries? Is this or this a better deal? See my post on how to teach your teen to shop. Here’s how you apply for a job, compare apartments, read a lease, fill out a car loan application, compare credit cards. This is HOW I pay bills every payday. Here’s WHY I pay them at the beginning of the pay period (before the money gets spent).
One of the best moments of my relationship with my adult stepson came when his car finally broke down. He’d never bought a car on his own before and he genuinely asked me for advice. Read the story here. I was SO happy to help him – and I am KILLER on getting a great car deal, so that was a smart move. But we had a very respectful round of conversations and together we found the perfect car for his family. And negotiated a great deal on it together – so he’ll know how to do it next time. It didn’t cost me a dime, but it was truly priceless.