Family of Origin, Family Ties, Parenting, Relationships

Living Peacefully With Your Adult Children

These days, it is not unusual for parents to have kids living at home after they turn 18. 53% of families have kids between the ages of 18 and 24 still in the home. So while you are still the parent, your role may need to change somewhat, from manager to collaborator. Your adult child may not need you to make all decisions anymore, and they expect the freedom that comes with becoming an adult. At the same time, they are living under your roof. This can cause misunderstandings as your roles change, and even arguments and anger.

The best way to deal with this from the get-go is to have a conversation with your child, or a family meeting if that fits your circumstances better. But if you miss that initial window and things seem out of control, it’s never too late to have that conversation. The goal of the conversation is to allow each member of the family to talk about their needs and goals. This includes you, Mom or Dad. This gives you a chance to you define boundaries very clearly and let your child know of any consequences of not following through. But you’re also giving your child some degree of respect and autonomy as an adult.

Parents must be proactive in spelling out what the new life will be like. You’re ideally working towards collaboration. You want to be very respectful of your adult child as a participant in making decisions, but ultimately, you are the head of the house. In the book  The Total Transformation, James Lehman talks about the four questions you should ask your child when you are anticipating some kind of change. The questions to ask are:

  • How will we know this is working?
  • “We’ll know because everyone will be doing their fair share. We’ll be respectful of each other. There will be no shouting or door slamming.”
  • How will we know it isn’t working?
  • We’ll know if someone isn’t pulling their weight or starts overstepping boundaries.”
  • What will we do if it’s not working?
  • “You will make plans to leave within a month.”
  • What will we do if it is working?
  • “We’ll continue with our original plan of six months.”

You might also ask, “What’s the goal?” Is the goal to finish college, or to save up a certain amount of money before going out on their own?

  • Consider your own needs: Always come from a clear sense of yourself. How will you consider your needs as the adult parent who didn’t expect to have somebody back home?How can you make it work, and what are you willing to put up with? State your needs clearly and firmly to your child. As a parent, really think about what you can and can’t live with. What are your bottom lines? What are your values? What do you expect your child to adhere to if they’re living under your roof? Do you need them to pick up after themselves? Are you willing to let them have friends over and drink in your home, or not? Make sure your child knows those things and respects your rules. If he doesn’t, there’s too much room for resentments to build. You can say, “We’re going to keep open and honest communication where we both listen to each other and hear each other. There are certain responsibilities that come with the opportunity of getting to live here. I expect the house to be kept in a certain order and that if you’re coming home late you have the courtesy to call because otherwise I’ll stay up all night worrying.”
  • Don’t get pulled into guilt: If you’ve always done everything for your child and now you’re asking him to be responsible and contribute to the household, understand that you are changing a system. You will likely get resistance and what’s called “pushback.”Your child might get very angry and say things like, “I can’t believe my own parents are doing this to me!” Don’t get pulled back in and start to feel guilty. As long as you’ve thought it through and considered your own needs and principles, you’ll be able to hold onto yourself through that anger as you insist that your child gets on his own feet.

Anytime you start to feel resentment, you have a responsibility to ask yourself, “How am I not addressing this issue and how am I overstepping my own boundaries here?” You want to make sure that you take responsibility for what you need and what you are asking for. Otherwise you’re going to be saying “yes” to something you really want to be saying “no” to—and that’s not good for any relationship. It can obtain a temporary sense of peace, but in the long term, the problem is likely to arise again and again until it is addressed at a more fundamental level.

  • Try not to react to your child’s anger: Try to be kind but firm and work toward being thoughtful. So rather than responding when your child says something you disagree with or that pushes your buttons, say, “You know what, let me think about what you’re saying and let’s talk later.” Don’t get pulled into that struggle. You can also say something like, “I understand you’re not happy with this and you feel like you can’t find work. I hear you saying that you don’t want to leave. We’re going to discuss this and sit down and talk about this with you later.” This is one way of not getting into a battle with your child—because often times, that’s what it becomes. You have the choice to respond, or react. Responding allows you to put thought into what you want to say.

Speaking of anger, as parents we can sometimes feel reluctant to speak with our adult kids because we don’t want to upset them, or make them angry. We love our kids and taking care of their needs is what we know how to do. If you’re too careful because you don’t want anybody to be upset, then you may not find the strength to say what you need, set boundaries and consequences, and stick to them.

When you’re feeling controlled by your child: Again, if you’re letting somebody control you, take a moment to examine how you might be letting that happen. Ask yourself, “Am I not making my expectations known?” If the answer is “no,” you need to address those issues with your child right away.

  • If the relationship becomes disrespectful or even abusive.If your adult child speaks to you with disrespect, or even verbal abuse ask yourself, “What am I willing to live with?”There is no excuse for any type of abuse from an adult child living in your home Again, keep your own needs—including those for respect and safety—in mind. If disrespect is continuous, the discussion with your child might be, “You need to make other arrangements because it’s no longer working here. What I expect in my own home is a calm, pleasant environment where everyone does their share. If you can respect that, you’re welcome to stay. Otherwise, this is no longer going to work.” You are setting the boundaries, and it is your child’s choice whether or not to cooperate.

If your adult child lives at home with you and you’re feeling overwhelmed or like things are out of control,stop for a moment and ask yourself “What is it I need in this situation?”  Do you need your adult child to pitch in with chores, contribute monetarily to the household, or show more respect and cooperation? Get a sense of what your own limits are, and then be kind, firm, and direct with your child about what you would like to see happen.

It is possible to live peacefully and cooperatively with your adult child. As they have grown, each of your needs and expectations have changed. If things aren’t going the way you would like them to, sit down with your child and say, “Things haven’t been working out quite the way we planned. Let’s start over.”  Your adult child is going to have to learn to live with other adults at some point, whether roommates, a significant other, or a spouse. You can help prepare them now by modeling what peaceful, cooperative living looks like.


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