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How to “Parent” the Adult Child Under Your Roof

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Dr. Meg Meeker

There’s a lot of talk right now about kids going off to college and what parents should expect. But what if your kid isn’t going off to college? Or maybe he is, but he’s going somewhere nearby and will still live at home? How do you continue to parent your child when he is technically an adult?

This is a question many parents are asking. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 55% of young adults age 18-24 still live at home. This means the majority of parents in the U.S. don’t become empty nesters when their child turns 18. It could be another several year before your children are out from under your roof. For some of you, this sounds like a dream. For others a nightmare. 

Living with young adult children is complicated. You would think since they are adults, parenting would get easier. But this isn’t always the case. A couple in New York City recently took their adult child to court to get him evicted. Things can get complicated with your adult children, which is why it’s important to know what to expect and prepare for it before you find yourself in court one day. 

I recently interviewed marriage and family expert Jim Burns on my Parenting Great Kids podcast. Jim is the executive director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. His book Doing Life with Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out addresses how to “parent” your adult kids when they’re living at home, maintain a relationship with them and set healthy boundaries. 

One of Jim’s core messages in the book has to do with redefining your relationship with your adult child. When your child becomes an adult, you can no longer treat her like she’s 15. And she, in turn, will have to redefine her relationship with you, not depending on you the way she did when she was 15. Redefining your relationship is crucial for maintaining a healthy bond while your adult child is living with you, and after she moves out. 

How do you do this? A key component is a respect. Your child is going to change as he enters adulthood. Respect those changes. Don’t fear them. 

This is often tough for us. We want to continually tell our kids what to do and give them “advice,” whether they want it or not. What we fail to realize is that as adults they have beliefs, habits, and wishes of their own that are different from ours. We need to respect that. We may not like what they think, say or believe, but when we continue to pound our views into them, they pull away. 

Many parents fear that supporting their child communicates agreement on all of their child’s new or different beliefs, but this isn’t true. We can love, accept and support our kids without agreeing with them on their views. And even though they’re adults, they still need our love and support. 

Parenting, or not parenting, the adult child under your roof is difficult, but remember to respect him, love him and support him, and you will find a balance. It will look different than it did when he was a child, and that will be hard, but this is what great parents do—let their kids grow. In turn, your relationship with him will too.

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