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Parenting a Twenty-Something? Read On

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

Your twenty-three-year-old just graduated from college and is home living with you for “just a few months.” Perhaps he is twenty-five, quit his job with his engineering firm, wants to go back to school to study philosophy, and he just needs “a place to crash for a little while.” Maybe you’re a mother of a twenty-one-year-old who never liked school, can’t seem to find a job he really likes, and now he’s back to share an apartment with you until he can “find a job where his boss respects him.”

More parents face issues of “parenting” twenty-somethings than ever before. The economy is tough, fewer jobs are available, and many of us find ourselves trying to navigate territory where we have no clue what to do. We ask ourselves tough questions like, “Should we help them financially?” “Should we make them pay rent and clean the house?” “What if they get nasty? Are we to be patient or tough?”

I have witnessed increased angst in the hearts of parents of adult kids recently. Perhaps it’s because my own kids are in their twenties, or maybe it’s because I’m just more tuned in. After numerous conversations with parents who have tread this path, I have learned a few things that I thought would be worthwhile sharing. Here’s what I think helps us.

  • Understand that young men in general take longer to figure out what they want from life than young women do. Most boys who get their first job out of college don’t stay with that job for many years. They change jobs to find out what they’re good at and what they like. Often these men land on their parents’ doorsteps between jobs.

Also, young men can have issues with anxiety, depression, and adjustment difficulties during their twenties, and I am definitely seeing more of this in my practice. The causes of these troubles are varied and need serious attention.

  • Young men are no longer willing to settle for just any job. Many want the perfect job and sometimes their expectations are simply too high. They need goals and dreams, but often they expect to meet those goals far too early in life. We need to encourage them to be patient and willing to pay their “career dues.”
  • Don’t lower your expectations for him. If your son struggles with low self esteem, anxiety, or depression, he needs you to be diligent about giving him hope for his future. The fastest way we kill that hope is to become frightened, feel sorry for them or coddle them. We must be compassionate, loving, and patient, but firm, in our insistence that life can and will get better.
  • Make him pay you. When we allow sons to live at home without any sense of responsibility, we teach them that they really can’t be responsible. This makes any young man feel like a loser, so make your son pay you rent, even if it’s a small sum. If you don’t need the money you can always put it in the bank and return it to him later in life.
  • Remember the magic of three. Make three rules that are very important to you and make him follow them. He lives in your house and therefore must abide by your (at least) three rules. If he doesn’t stick to them, out he goes. If he doesn’t want to abide by them, you can make him sign a contract. Again, these rules are all about teaching him to live in the real world. Some that you might consider: he must cook, clean, or buy groceries. Behavioral rules (which are important to me personally) are: speaking respectfully, no roaming the streets with friends until 2 am and being courteous. You will find your own, but I’d start with the three which are most important to you. If you choose too many, you might just fight all the time.
  • Set deadlines. You have every right to give him a time frame for his stay. Tell him right up front that he is welcome for three, six, or however many months you want him to stay. When his time is coming to an end, give him a month or two reminder.

Remember that our job is to raise men, not boys who can’t take responsibility. Many of us (myself included) are far too generous with our kids and communicate through our “kindness” that they need us much more than they really do. As comfortable for us as this may be, it cripples young men because it takes away their sense of capability and power. So enjoy those years, but be very careful in the process.

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