How Long Should an Adult Child Continue to Live At His/Her Parent's Home?
Have you ever seen the Youtube video of the Barnacle gosling that dives 400 ft off its nest that rests on a cliff, in order to find safer ground with its mother? Its incredible. The mother goose knows the danger of staying and allows it to happen.nnNot all goslings make it, but the risk of staying on the cliff, with predators and weather hazards, far outweighs the risk of diving into their lives. This is not a rational thought; it is pre-programmed through thousands of years of evolution into their genes, which means it has shown to be the best choice for gosling survival. I ask myself "how did we as humans get to the point where we are afraid to jump?"
Granted, some cultures are highly collectivistic, emphasizing unity in family. However, there remains a strong socio-cultural expectation across all cultures to leave the home and procreate. The problem is not whether an adult child will stay in the home, but it's the long-term consequence when the adult child stays in the home. In more collectivistic societies, an adult child may return to the parents home after procreation in order to raise the child in a safe and supportive environment. However, north American culture tends toward a more individualistic expectation. The problem, then, is there is no established means for the transfer of learned behaviors from a condition of dependency to one of independence in our north American society.
The adult child may not be advancing in an area of life that will promote long-term growth, despite compensating for the economic condition the adult child needs to navigate today versus his parent's society at the same age. The adult child has failed to integrate a set of behaviors that resembles the general population or one's culture's expectations that will allow for the best chance at success. The consequence of remaining at home for an extended time in this culture will be a diffuse identity, leading to continued dependency.
The biggest challenge for overcoming the problem of navigating our culture is the invested time in remaining in a dependency state. As more time passes, the less likely the adult child will leave the home. You as a parent will also be challenged to convince your adult child to shift from a condition of comfort and limited adult responsibilities, to one of daily struggle, financial uncertainty, and greater self-regulation of impulses (i.e. buying an X-Box One when rent is due). Parents remember: the foundation for preparing a person to accept discomfort begins early in the child's life, and introducing the concept and expectation of "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" when the child is an adult will undoubtedly bring conflict at best, and litigation at worst.
Parents should not expect instant change, especially if the expectation for independence is introduced late in the adult child's life. The benefit is not immediate, and it is one that manifests and grows as the adult child ages relying on his/her own intelligence and creativity. The benefit will also include establishing a sense of purpose in the adult child's life that will . A sense of being able to act on life rather than life acting on him/her. Allowing the adult child to feel the joy in getting what he/she wants through their own efforts.
Parents, before your child gets too old, consider the cultural messages your child receives from friends and entertainment. What are the ideas being presented to your young child about doing things for themselves? Consider the situations when you protect your teenage child during specific consequences for untoward behavior.
There are a multitude of things you can do beforehand to establish expectations for your young child before she becomes an adult. First, state both directly and indirectly the expectations for your child when he/she reaches the age of eighteen. You might tell him that he can choose between (1) going to college, (2) start a business, (3) join the military, (4) or work full-time. Let him know that the option 2, and 4, which probably involve living at home, require monetary contributions, to be known as a "Mommy Tax." If the church receives a 10% tithing and the government receives their 33% tax for providing services, then an adult child should contribute at least 5% of their income, before taxes, to their parents.
Second, if you are a parent, check your own beliefs on the meaning of being a "good" parent as a reason for keeping your adult child in the home. For example, in my practice, medicare patients often cite an adult child living at home as a main stressor, since many contribute nothing to the household, take food and utilities, and disrupt the parent's daily living without providing needed medical support. The patient's own beliefs pose the greatest difficulty, thinking that the adult child is incapable of managing alone, for example.
Third, the parent needs to begin early by establishing home cultural expectations. Introduce messages that the child can do it themselves, and minimize their anxiety by emphasizing their efforts and approximations toward success. Let them know that failure is expected but the focus of the praise is that the child continues to try and grow.
Last, but not least, if there is a problem with an adult child still living in the home and not contributing, then do what the Rotondos did with their son. Establish written parameters and expectations. Review them with the adult child and have everyone sign. The written "contract" should have included the consequences for not meeting the expectations, and the need to leave, nevertheless, within a PRE-ESTABLISHED time frame. Remember parents: this is your home, and you brought the child into the world but there needs to be a time when the child develops a healthy identity and sense of self. You are no longer required to fully support him/her. Keep in mind that there can be a difference in expectation between a human parent and a Barnacle Goose when establishing independence in their offspring.