What do we OWE our Adult Children? Interesting thought - are we giving them too much or too little?

What Do We OWE Our Adult Children?

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I witnessed an intriguing conversation that popped up in my Facebook feed on the topic of abusive adult children living at home.  Since I have a newly adult child (my youngest just turned 18), I thought it was time to talk about it.  

What are we Tolerating from These Adult Children?

This woman was complaining about her 19-year-old daughter.  It’s a fairly common story – not working, not going to school, not pulling her weight around the house, etc.  She was paying the daughter’s cell phone bill to the tune of several hundred dollars and letting her use the family car, even when she would leave it empty of gas and full of garbage.  She even said the daughter would call her ugly names and refuse to cooperate in any fashion.

Frankly, it sounded like a pretty awful way to live.  I don’t blame her for being upset, but this is going to be a tough problem to sort out.  I’m sure this child’s bad behavior has been tolerated by the mom for many years.  It will take a long time and considerable drama to sort it out.

Adult children are being jerks and acting entitled. How do we determine what we owe them and what they should do for themselves? #parentingtips #adultchildren #parentingadultkids #adultkids


On the other hand, my son has a friend who is just 17 years old who got kicked out of his house.  I don’t know all the details, but from what I understand, he “came out” to his family.  He was immediately evicted from his family home just because he was gay.  He is fortunately able to sleep on a friend’s couch – for a while….  But his future looks pretty bleak.  


I’m trying not to be judgmental about these parents, because I don’t know the whole story, but it seems to me that each of them is doing major harm to their child.  I can’t imagine that the girl is suddenly going to turn into a great roommate, wife, employee, or whatever.  Did these parents teach her the basics of showing consideration for others, carrying her own weight, and acting like a responsible adult?  Probably not and 19 is a bit late to begin teaching those lessons.

The boy, I can’t even imagine.  A 17-year-old has no real ability to support himself and now he has been suddenly deprived of the basics of food, his belongings, the support of his family relationships, or even a safe place to sleep at night.  That is probably the most severe punishment a family can hand out.  To my mind, this should be reserved for a kid who is absolutely out of control, and even then I think there should be a path to reconciliation with his family.  I just can’t imagine turning your back on your child like that for any reason.

So, what DO you owe your adult children?

Well, definitely basic food and shelter needs to be at the top of the list.  Even if they’re adults, you don’t want to let them go hungry.  However, you can certainly add in some requirements – such as stay in school, get a job, do a share of the chores, or maybe even pay rent.  I think those are all very good things that are preparing your kid for adult life.  Even if they are in a dorm room or living with a roommate, they will have to meet these basic requirements.  

I started paying rent at about 16.  Now I think it’s the biggest favor my parents every did for me because, it taught me responsibility.

Do you owe them transportation?  Maybe, but not necessarily.  When’s the last time someone just handed you a car?  It’s not very realistic in adult life.  We didn’t buy cars for any of our kids, though we did help them save for one.  Right now my youngest is flipping burgers to save for a car to get to school in the Fall.  We will pay the insurance to help him out, but gas, repairs, and registration are on his dime.

Same thing with cell phones and other expensive perks.  A cell phone bill is the one bill they WILL make sure gets paid.  And if it gets shut off a couple of times for non-payment, that’s a great lesson.  And if they want other perks, like designer clothes or other stuff, they should pay for them.

I think the strategy with adult kids is balance.  It isn’t always realistic to expect them to pay their own way, but its smart to gradually ease them into more and more adult responsibilities.  I frequently remind my son that at 18, he is a guest in our house now and if we wants to remain with us, he had better show the courtesy and responsibility I would expect from any houseguest.

“Borrowing” Money

What about adult kids who frequently ask to “borrow” money from you?  Usually it is to meet some kind of “emergency” need, such as their car insurance or repairs to their car.  Now, the term “borrow” indicates that they are going to pay it back.  But let’s be honest.  That rarely happens.  They may have good intentions, (or they may not), but the fact is, it’s a rare kid who ever pays that money back.  I was that rare kid – we borrowed money maybe three times from our parents, but I always paid them back even if I had to give them $25 a week.

So, let’s call it what it is – your kids are TAKING money from you rather than BORROWING it from you.  The question is, what do they learn from that?  Other than learning that Mom and Dad are running a free ATM?  The next time Junior comes with his hand out for money, realize that you have some options.

  • You can refuse to give him (or her) the money.  Sometimes the consequence of having to take a bus or ask friends for a ride to work for several weeks is very effective.  They’ll be mad, I guarantee it, but it’s a great lesson that “adulting” is sometimes hard.  We’ve learned that lesson ourselves, but many times we have prevented our children from learning it.
  • You can give them the money with strings attached.  Mainly, the string should be that they set up an automatic savings plan until they have that $1,000 emergency savings account that Suze Orman is always talking about.
  • You can lend them the money with the understanding that it is a true loan with a reasonable payback schedule.  Then comes the tricky part, you have to ENFORCE it. Your best bet is to teach them about the magic of direct deposit and automatic transfers.  Expecting them to show up on your doorstep with a check in hand every week – probably not going to happen.  They’ll just stop showing up.  You can even ask them for security on the loan in the form of a guitar, their video game system, or the note on their car.
  • Or, why not take them to the bank and help them arrange for a genuine loan?  Even if you have to co-sign for it, you’d be better off than giving them a large sum of money that you maybe can’t afford.  There are no retirement loans, you know.

Adult children should have some freedom as adults, but it’s your house and you are still the parent.  It’s fine to set high expectations and enforce them.  Personally, I think it’s an excellent idea.  And in our case, it is working out quite well.   Two weeks after graduation, he has a full-time job, is saving for his car, and does daily chores (grudgingly, but he does them!).


Here is a few great books from Amazon to help you to cope with managing your adult children.

Affiliate disclosure – As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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Here are some other posts on parenting teen and adult children I think you’ll find helpful

Dealing with Adult Children Living at Home

The Best Way to Help Adult Kids Manage Their Money

How to Get Your Teen to Do Their Chores

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  1. Wow! I loved reading through your article. Your advice is really helpful and appreciated as I’m also having an adult child staying at home. Thanks

  2. The road works both ways. Your parents don’t owe you a thing and you don’t owe your parents a thing either. You go out of the way for family because they are your family. My mother doesn’t get that. Any little thing she has done is shoved back in our face.. She says see I have done x and x for you. You are demanding lazy and entitled. We both full-time and pay our own bills. It’s to the point what little help she has done. You would rather not have her help period. It’s less drama not having her around. Helping your kids gives you the opportunity to be involved with their lives. Usually when help others out, then they will help you out later on. She will end up alone shoved in some nursing home someday. Nobody really giving a rip if she is being taken care of.

    1. Yep, parenting adult kids is hard for both the parent and the kids. I’ve been having some good talks with my adult son about some of these issues and we’ve come to some reasonable agreements on him stepping up on some things and me backing down on some things. Sometimes you can strike a good balance, but sometimes not.

  3. You could have been describing my life, when talking about the woman with a 19yr old daughter. Mine is older. But the similarities are uncanny. I’ve struggled for years with her. Thank you for a well written article.

    1. Yes, it’s crazy that we thought the toddler years were HARD. Older kids are so much more challenging!

  4. We dont owe our adult children anything! I’ve been working since i was 10 and moved out of my house at 20 and never looked back! By the time they are adults they owe us!

    1. I know that and you know that. Now, we just have to convince THEM of it. My basement-dweller is turning 21 this month, but at least he’s still in school.

  5. I borrowed money from my parents when I first got out of college. I used it pay the first and last month’s rent and security deposit, and then they supplemented me about $100 a month because the rent was expensive (NYC metro area….) I appreciated and needed their help, but I did pay back every penny because it was important to me. As a parent, I can see that they preferred to help me out rather than have me live in a location they felt was unsafe for a young, single female. They never asked me to pay it back. To this day, I’m so glad I did!

    1. That’s exactly how I felt and I’m always surprised when others don’t feel that way. I agree with your folks about wanting you in a safe place. I lived in some very seedy areas growing up and even all these years later, I still feel very uncomfortable going into bad parts of town. I would rather have a tiny home in a safe neighborhood than a much larger house in a rough neighborhood.

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