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Rules, Boundaries, & Young Adult Children
Is It Ever Too Late to Set up a Living Agreement?

by James Lehman

 

How To Handle Rent, Household Chores, and Rules About Alcohol

When is it Time to Ask Your Child to Leave Home?  -  Three Resolutions

 

 

For those parents who havenít set up a structured agreement when their child turns 18, itís never too late to set one up.  Even if your child is 23, living under your roof and staying out until the wee hours, itís never too late to sit down with that kid and say, "Weíre going to have to have a talk about our rules here and what parts fit you and what parts donít fit you."  If a kid is 23 years old and heís not working, he canít be up until two oíclock in the morning with friends in the house, keeping other people awake.  You may feel obligated to provide that child with a roof over his head.  But you have the right to let him know that "This is not your home for that anymore.  Weíre going to bed, weíre tired, we worked all day.  If youíre going to live here, you have to live within our rules."  If he tries to put you down for it, you need to put your foot down.  If that means taking the car keys, then thatís what it means.

 

 

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When parents lay out these rules with kids after the age of 18, they should expect the kid to be resentful, resistant and to blame them.  The older child will try to make them feel like the parents are jerks because he still has a lot of thinking errors, is hiding from responsibility and postponing the anxiety of accepting it.  Parents should simply disregard the childís thinking errors, and not give in and tell the child that everything is okay.

 

Likewise, parents shouldnít get into making a lot of excuses for themselves.  They should say, "This is our expectation.  Weíre sorry we didnít do it before now, but weíre here today and this is what weíre going to have to do.  And we canít go any further until this agreement gets made."  The expectations should include what time the kid gets up in the morning if heís not working.  Older kids who are avoiding responsibility will stay up all night and sleep until noon.  When you ask them why they sleep until noon, theyíll say, "Well, Iím not working."  As the parent, you have to make it clear: "Thatís why youíre not working.  Because you sleep until noon.  Get up at seven oíclock like everybody else and find a job." Itís never too late to be this direct with your child.

 

Remember: do not take the kidís accusations and blaming as fact.  Expect to hear plenty of accusations and excuses.  Youíre going to be compared to his friendís parents.  Youíre going to be told youíre hateful and uncaring.  But donít forget, this kid is fighting taking responsibility, and he will fight it fiercely.  Young adult children who donít feel competent will resist taking responsibility for anything, and theyíll keep doing it as long as you let them.  Parents should be prepared to deal with this, not through yelling and screaming.  Not through making excuses for themselves.  Just by calmly saying, "This is the time weíre meeting.  We need to talk."  If you have to, take the kidís car keys until he is ready to talk.

 

The agreement you develop with the child should allow for adult privileges.  Specifically, if the kid is working and being responsible, then your agreement with him should be very flexible.  On his day off, he can sleep all day for all you care.  But he canít stay out all night without calling you because youíre going to worry, and itís his responsibility to let you know heís safe.  If he doesnít want to do that, then he should move into a more independent living situation.  You donít get complete freedom and the support of living at home at the same time.

 

How to Handle Rent, Household Chores, and Rules about Alcohol

 

Paying rent is a very good habit for an older child to get into.  I think there are two ways to look at the issue of when and if your child should pay rent in order to continue living at home.  If the family needs the money and the kid is working, he needs to contribute.  Itís just that simple.

 

If you donít need the money, charge him room-and-board anyway, and then put the money aside and save it up until youíve saved enough for a security deposit on an apartment and the first monthís rent.  Then when heís ready to move out, youíve already got his money.  Hold onto that money.  That way, he pays for himself, and he gets into the habit of paying rent and being responsible while money is being accumulated, so that both he and the family are prepared for his next step.

 

When you come up with the agreement on living arrangements, I think it has to be really clear that the child is here to contribute, not just take.  So, parents need to be clear about specific chores the older child will be responsible for.  Parents can offer their ideas, and the young adult child can come up with his own ideas.  Maybe he offers to take the younger kids to school in the morning, and you ask him to be responsible for bringing in wood and taking out the trash and recyclables each week.  Write it down and be clear about consequences if he doesnít follow through, because everyone who lives in the house has to help out.

 

The understanding should be very clear about alcohol and drugs, and itís simple because the law makes it simple.  In most states, itís illegal to drink under the age of 21.  You donít have to say, "I know itís illegal, butÖ" and wink your eye.  The best thing that you can do for your young adult child is follow the letter of the law and say "No drinking under 21.  If we catch you drinking and driving, weíre taking the car keys.  If you fight us, weíre calling the cops."  Heís going to say youíre rigid and unreasonable.  But itís better that your kid lose his license for 90 days than die or kill somebody else.

 

When Is It Time to Ask Your Child to Leave Home?

 

The decision on when to ask an older child to leave the home has more to do with a familyís morals and values.  First of all, if he violates a cardinal rule, he should leave.  If heís insulting you, abusive with a family member or breaking things, he should leave.  He should go stay with a friend.  The kids who are going to be most likely to be asked to leave are the kids who are going to tell you they have nowhere to go.  Because the abusive behavior wonít be an unexpected anomaly in their life.  Itís not like their whole life is great, but they hit their brother.  The abusive older child will most likely show a pattern of this behavior and demonstrate a host of thinking errors.  So when you ask him to leave, he wonít know where he can go, because he is unable to solve that problem.

 

Secondly, if things are going well with the living arrangement, the child should be told to think about leaving once he has the means.  Once the first and last monthís rent and a deposit are set aside and he has a car and heís driving, he should be told to start looking for a place with a roommate.  Iíve worked with many college graduates at agencies who were not able to own a car or have their own apartment at the same time.  They had to make a choice because they didnít make that much money.  They had to accept either having their own car and living with a roommate and learning how to live with other people, or not having a car and living close to their job and just having their own apartment.  But they canít have it both ways, and parents should not take responsibility for that.

 

Independence is a decision you can make as a family.  If a young adult child is doing well, living at home and meeting the familyís expectations, then thereís no problem.  But someday he will want to be independent.  The way you get there is to sit down and have the child set some goals.  Where do you plan to live? When do you plan to move out?  How much does the child need to pay for rent or room and board while living at home?  Measure progress toward the goal by the objectives.  If the child has a goal to move out and heís not meeting any of the objectives, itís a joke.

 

The greatest gift you can give your child is knowing how to be independent and take responsibility.  If a child fears independence and responsibility, you can solve that problem by having a written agreement that shows the child how to live by your rules, and have ongoing discussions about the goal of independence and how to meet it.

 

Reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents.

 

NEXT: Enjoying the Teen Years

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Lehman was a behavioral therapist and the creator of The Total Transformation Program for parents. He worked with troubled children and teens for three decades. Learn more about the Total Transformation Program.

 

 

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The number of roofs sheltering more than one generation has increased since the recession began, according to April 2011 statistics from AARP.  In 2008, 6.2 million households (5.5 percent of all households in the U.S.) contained more than one generation.  That number rose to 7.1 million, or 6.1 percent of all households, by 2010.  The increase in two years represents a faster rate of growth than over the previous eight years.

 

 

Read All The Books

 

When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us:  Letting Go of Their Problems, Loving Them Anyway, and Getting on with Our Lives

by Jane Adams

So your adored son is nearing 30--or past it already--and still living at home, unable to hold onto a McJob for longer than six months running, relying on you to feed him and make his car payments. Your beautiful, brainy daughter is anorexic, or addicted to drugs, or unwilling to leave the man who hits her. Increasing numbers of baby boomers are finding that their grown children have fallen far short of their expectations. These parents are confused, angry, guilt-ridden, and ashamed. Jane Adamsís When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us is for them. She reveals the kinds of disappointments that other parents are facing: kids who are unable or unwilling to support themselves, kids who are addicts or convicts, kids whoíve joined cults or seemingly dropped off the face of the earth. She stresses that these are real problems--but that they arenít the parentsí problems. Adams reassures parents that theyíve done their jobs and that they donít have to spend the rest of their lives picking up the pieces for their grown children, emotionally, financially, or otherwise. Continuing to prop up kids whoíve repeatedly fallen on their own teaches them nothing; itís just a temporary fix. Beyond offering sympathy, reassurance, and wisdom, the book doesnít lay out a plan for solving anyoneís problems, but reading it may help disappointed parents shuck some of their guilt and shame, gather the courage to take back their own lives, and let their grown children fend for themselves.

 

 

 

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