As young people learn about adult roles and responsibilities, and prepare for independence, there is certainly a place for parental support and guidance. Sometimes the help takes the form of the young person living at home while preparing for independence. Yet all too often this becomes a burden on the parents and an experience of stagnation for the young person. In this article, I will share some of what I’ve learned working with families where capable young adults seem stuck at home. Hopefully this will provide both parents and young adults with ideas for getting along better at home while helping young adults towards independence.
When young adults living at home become a problem:
- Conflicts over responsibilities at home
- Parents feeling responsible for fixing or solving the young adult’s problems for them, cleaning up their messes
- Feeling frustrated, resentful
- Feeling between a rock and a hard place - tired of nagging, arguing, yet worried their kid will fail or suffer it they stop
- Making threats they can’t follow thru with
- Feeling their parents don’t listen or understand
- Tired of hearing parents lectures, threats
- Troubled by feelings of failure, of not living up to their potential
- Living with a sense of falling behind their peers
- Not feeling confident in his/her ability to succeed, be independent
- Feeling nagged, mistrusted, misunderstood by parents
Common obstacles to progress, getting along at home:
- Parental anxieties making it difficult to realistically see their adult kid’s capabilities and readiness. It is understandable that parents’ anxieties, worries will get triggered when adult kids have difficulty taking on responsibilities for themselves. Some parents may start to doubt their young adult’s capabilities and become protective, wanting to shelter them from failure. For other parents the opposite may occur; normal anxieties may cause them to push the young adult towards success, e.g. pushing for college before the young person is ready to push himself.
- Parents being fearful to allow their young adults to experience frustration, sacrifice. Parents doing for their kids what the kids can do for themselves.
- The difficulties parents face over how much to trust, help, guide, or set limits with adult kids. With more self-motivated young adults, the parents’ role can be that of a consultant or adviser, and they can trust their kids to make good decisions. However, with young adults who are struggling, lacking confidence, or having more serious problems (e.g. substance abuse, extreme social difficulties), parents will need to be more proactive in establishing guidelines, setting rules at home, or setting clear limits about what behaviors they are willing to tolerate at home. In these situations, parental trust is something the young adult needs to earn.
- Discomfort with conflict, disagreements - Parents viewing young adult’s push back, anger as a sign they’re bad parents.
- Parents unconscious needs to rectify their experiences of parental failure-disappointment with their kids. E.g. parents who don’t want to be restrictive or harsh in the way they experienced their parents to be, and are reluctant to set any limits on the help they give or to expect their kids to do more for themselves.
- Difficulty acknowledging their own weaknesses- academic, social - that need improvement; a tendency to view these as evidence of inferiority.
- Confusion about trust- it’s not parents job to trust their young adult’s decisions, it’s the young person’s job to gain parents trust.
- Intolerance of frustration- the young adult may view frustration-sacrifice as something to avoid, not work thru.
- Taking parental expectations for improvement too personally, as a bad thing- That’s what good parents do.
Positive steps towards growth, getting along better:
- Acknowledging resentments as warning signs that some changes are needed . Resentments generally are signs that parents are doing too much, being too helpful. That the young adult is not using the opportunity of residing at home to make progress, prepare to stand on his/her own feet, but is stagnating
- Parents focusing more on motivating the young person to do more for themselves, rather than trying to solve the young person‘s problems for him. e.g. parents restraining their urge to be so generous with financial help that the young person has no reason to seek work for himself; parent asking the young person about his/her interest in college, why he’d want to go to college, rather than pushing the young person to fill out college applications or doing it for him.
- Parents and young adults negotiating current, day-to-day issues first, e.g. chores, considerate behaviors, financial obligations, work or school obligations. This will help create a foundation of mutual trust and understanding. It will also prevent both from falling into the trap of making bargains with the young adult before the young adult has earned the parents trust that he’ll hold up his end of the bargain, e.g., lending money or buying an expensive item (like a car) before the young person has demonstrated a willingness to work consistently, save $ - things required to pay back a loan, keep a car.
- Viewing the young person’s frustrations - social, academic, work - as a necessary part of growth rather than a bad thing to be avoided. A young person’s experience of working thru frustrations, solving problems for themselves, making sacrifices to achieve a goal are a part of the growth experience; this is how self-confidence is built.
- Creating a family atmosphere that encourages openness about problems, difficulties, mistakes and encourages problem solving. It is more constructive to work towards a family environment where problems, mistakes can be tolerated, talked about as opportunities for learning, areas to be improved upon rather than sources of shame, something to hide.
- An openness to recognizing when, in spite of everyone’s genuine efforts to get along at home, antagonism within the family is building, family members don’t know what else to do, and outside help is needed.