February 16, 2017

Before allowing adult children to live at home, set expectations.


So, your adult child wants to come home for “a while.”

The joy of having him around again might soon wear off if there are no expectations, no time limits set before you throw open the door.

“There are real legitimate reasons to come home,” said Ellen Clark, a licensed clinical social worker at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The Pew Research Center found 32 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds lived at their parents’ homes in 2014, the highest percentage since 1940.

It could be a lag time between college and grad school, or maybe he’s working and paying down debt. Even then, there should be time-limited, mission-focused reasons for why he or she is living with you again.

So, as adults, discuss the goal of moving home and everyone’s expectations to the point of writing it down. Is the goal to find a job, or to earn a set amount of money in six months? House rules for adults might seem strange, but they are crucial to the health of your relationship.

If there are no goals for eventually leaving, what’s the motivation? “If kids are coming back, it’s important that the nest not be well-feathered,” said Clark. “There needs to be some level of discomfort.”

As licensed mental health counselor Debbie Pincus explains in her blog, parents aren’t telling their adult child what to do, but what they are willing to live with. And just as importantly, parents should listen to the child’s expectations. 

“It’s your house and they are not a child,” Clark said. Talking through responsibilities such as washing dishes, doing laundry and  helping with some bills empower both you and your adult child.

A great sign of maturity is a response like, “That seems fair.” Or, the adult child might even be the one to bring it up and offer to help.

The red flag, of course, is if he or she refuses. “That’s when parents should say, ‘Well, do you have any friends with a couch?’” Clark said. Always easier said than done, but allowing the child to control the situation is not the answer.

Then, after a month or so, revisit and talk about how you all think it’s going, Pincus suggests.

Recognize too, that this can be a time of real growth for your relationship, as you have conversations and learn more about each other as adults. So, while there can be problems with adults living in their parents’ homes, it’s quite possible that it can improve your relationship, too.

Setting goals at the beginning is a whole lot easier than backtracking, which can mean conflict. Still, if that is where you are, there’s hope.

Clark helps parents she sees in her practice refocus on themselves, recognize their own needs.

“I encourage them to have hope and faith. The children will get bumps,” she said. “That’s part of learning.

“We have to face life on life’s terms,” she adds. So do the kids. “If something is a barrier to that, like parents, they’re colluding with keeping kids from becoming independent.”

For more on this subject, Clark recommends the book, “Parenting Your Emerging Adult: Launching Kids from 18 to 29” by Varda Konstam, Ph.D.