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Failure to Launch: When Adult Children Just Won’t Leave Home

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ID-100112495There’s no greater role you’ve played in your life than that of “Mom” or “Dad”. You love your children more than words could ever express. And you’d give anything to support them and be there for them with anything and everything they may need in this world.

But what you didn’t foresee when looking into the eyes of your newborn years ago is that giving them anything and everything would last for years. Many years. Through college. After college. You didn’t imagine a twenty or thirty-something still taking up a space on the couch, filling your basement with all their earthly possessions and eating you out of house and home. You find yourself feeling guilty, confused and questioning, “Just at what point will they (or should they) leave?”

We’ve written before about “Empty Nest Syndrome”, the feeling many parents experience when their child finally launches into the world. But many parents face a whole different kind of struggle: the struggle of their children never wanting to leave.

If you find yourself (or someone you know) in this situation, then we’d love for you to read on. We have a few tips for you and your children for making this transition actually happen, while also making it as smooth as possible.

Who Makes the Rules in Your House?
Now, we’re about to tell you something here that you may not like, but you just know deep down is true:

As the parent of an adult child who has failed to launch… you are (at least partially) to blame for this situation.

“What!? Why!? What could you possibly mean? You don’t know me!”

Read on.

As head of the household and as the parent of this child, you make the rules, and you decide what goes and what doesn’t go under your roof. At least you should be the one making these decisions. If you’re not, it’s time to take a step back and take a look at how you lost this power, then step back into that role.

There are many reasons children remain at home past college years. Perhaps they’ve experienced trauma, financial difficulties, the job market hasn’t been kind to them or a relationship fell through. Maybe your child did launch, but then some kind of bad luck befell them, and they had to come home. Or maybe they made some bad decisions.

The thing is, there are few reasons, no matter what your child went through, why they should remain at home for an extended period of time. We’ll talk about this further in the next section.

Taking the First Step
Grant Stenzel, cofounder of Stenzel Clinical Services, began taking this first step when his children were 7 years old. Periodically, Grant reminds his kids that they’re out on their own September 1st of the year they graduate college.

(And that this doesn’t mean they can subscribe to the seven year plan at the local community college to draw out their stay, either).

Sound insensitive? It’s really not. Not only are Grant’s children aware of his expectations, but they know that they have to prepare. The message is really, “Because I love you, you’re out. I want you to succeed. I trust you to have the strength and tenacity to give it a go in this world. And I want to prepare you.”

We recommend that parents begin preparing their children in this way as they reach adolescence. Talk with them about budgeting. Include them in household responsibilities. Decrease your responsibility for their laundry, cleaning up after them, etc. Have them prepare food from time to time. Take practical steps to prepare them for living on their own. This will allow for a much smoother flight when it is time to go.

The Return to the Nest
There are circumstances during which a child needs to return home after launching: illness, traumatic events or unforeseen financial difficulties. If these are to occur, set conditions for your child’s stay. Give them household responsibilities. Charge them rent. Insist that they demonstrate that they are looking for employment, looking for other living arrangements and behaving in a fiscally responsible way. And set a deadline for their departure.

All the while, remind your child (and yourself) that this is for their own good. You do not want to enable your child to fail or fall short of their potential, (even if it means that you get to have them around just a bit longer).

Setting healthy expectations for your child is one of the most powerful ways you can show your child how much you care. They may not appreciate it in the moment – In fact, they may really fight it. But they will thank you in the future.

What now?
If you are struggling with an adult child who lives at home, there is hope. Our suggestions above may seem difficult to implement, and change is difficult. We’re happy to support you during this time. Simply contact us with questions or for an appointment, and we’ll be here to help.