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Dealing With Adult Children Living At Home

You are only as happy as your saddest child

There is an expression, "You are only as happy as your saddest child." Oh how true that is. As parents, our lot in life is intrinsically tied to our children, even when they become adults. 

I sometimes work with parents who are trying their best to parent adult children. Increasingly those adult children are living in the home with them. In fact, living with parents is the most common living situation for adult children ages 18 to 34. Fifty three percent of 18 to 24-year-olds live with their parents. 

Most of these parents agree to allow their adult children to live with them without a plan or any discussion of expectations. As a parent, you help because you have always helped. You help because there is a need. Because that is what parents do.  But without a plan and good boundaries, the best intentions often lead to broken relationships.  

Stuck in a cycle of resentment and dread

I had clients, Daniel and Christy, who came in for couples counseling. Their marriage was pretty rocky for reasons I don't have time to go into in this post, but the relationship was further complicated by their two children who lived at home. 

One of these kids was a 21-year-old college student. He did not pay rent, contribute by doing chores or watching his younger sister, and what's worse, he was often up late drinking with friends and skipping classes. His parents were paying for virtually all of his expenses. When they confronted their son, he would push back, become angry, and curse at them. They dreaded these interactions so much that they started avoiding any confrontation. Not surprisingly, the parents grew increasingly resentful. They felt they were being taken advantage of,  which of course they were, but they did not know how to turn things around. 

I get a lot of questions about how to deal with adult children living at home. Fortunately, there are some simple things that you as a parent can do if you have an adult child living with you that will smooth the transition, enable instead of disable your child, and keep you from becoming resentful. 

Develop a living agreement

The website Empowering Parents has a series of articles on  about how to effectively deal with the adult children that live with you. I highly recommend you read the articles and then develop a plan and some ground rules for your adult child.

As the article points out, "What happens when there isn’t a plan? Frustration and resentment build when you hear your child says things like, 'I’m looking for a job, but I can’t find anything’—but you’ve seen him sleeping late every day and staying out partying at night. This resentment only adds to the stress of living together."

Empowering Parents has also created a free living agreement for that you can download and use with your adult children. Open communication will help you avoid unnecessary conflict. 

It will also be helpful to differentiate what you can do as a parent that is helpful and what is enabling or even disabling for your adult kids. In this Empowering Parents article they make an important distinction between helping and what they call over-functioning:
There’s an important difference between helping and over–functioning. Helping your older child means doing something for him he can’t do himself, such as driving him somewhere when he has a broken leg. Over–functioning means you’re taking responsibility for things he can do for himself, like doing his laundry and cleaning up his messes after he’s had friends over. Perhaps that pattern started years ago or maybe it began when he moved back home. The bad news is that when you over–function you’re allowing the negative behaviors to continue; the good news is that it’s in your control to change the situation.

You get to set the rules, but you also have to enforce them

Parenting is hard. Parenting adult children is especially confusing because the traditional roles of adult and child that made sense before no longer apply.  It is important to remember that in your house, you get to set the rules and expectations. You have that authority. But it also means you need to have the fortitude to enforce those rules and to hold your adult child accountable if they do not live up to their end of the bargain. It's not easy, but you are respecting yourself and your sanity in the process, and you are modeling that respect to your kids. 

You can do this!


If you are having trouble dealing with adult children, professional counseling can help. You can contact our Houston counselors at 713 - 591- 3612 or via email at www. wilsoncouseling. org to learn more about how to deal with your adult children. 


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