by Dr. Lorin Bradbury
Last week I responded to a question on enabling. In that response, I stated that I would follow with an article I had previously written on helping adult children become independent. To my dismay, I had just published it two months ago. However, I believe it will be helpful to parents who are enablers.
Below is the earlier question and my response to that question. Much of the adult dependency in our society is directly related to enabling on the part of parents. There’s a phrase that rings in my ears from a set of pre-marital training sessions directed to parents concerning adult children who are about to marry: “DON’T HELP SO MUCH!”
Question: I have several adult children living in my home, and I don’t know how to get them out of my house. I am cautiously asking, knowing that I may not like what you tell me. I suspect I am part of the problem, but I just don’t know how they would make it on their own.
Answer: There are several pieces of information that are missing, such as if any of them are married, or have girlfriends. Are any of them handicapped in any way? Do they use intoxicating substances that are preventing them from having the money necessary to get their own place? Have you become an enabler? What benefit are you deriving by them being in your home? Is it a matter of control, that as long as you have them in your home you have some control over them?
I will provide you with a response, but it may not directly cover your situation. I found a website that you may want to check out for more information. The website is: http://www.empoweringparents.com/Six-Steps-to-Help-Your-Adult-Child-Move-Out.php#, and the article is entitled Failure to Launch, Part 3: Six Steps to Help Your Adult Child Move Out by Kim Abraham, LMSW, and Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW.
Borrowing from the above article, I will provide you with their six suggested steps, and the comments will be mine.
Step One: Know Where You Are: The authors list four questions that you should ask yourself:
1. Are you in a place where your boundaries are being crossed and you need to establish some limits?
2. Are you willing to allow your adult child to live in your home, within those limits, as he or she moves toward being more independent?
3. Do you see your adult child as wanting to become independent, or as simply being more comfortable allowing you to take care of all her responsibilities?
4. Has the situation become so intolerable – perhaps even volatile – that your main concern is getting your adult child out of your house, as quickly and safely as possible?
The goal should almost certainly be moving your adult child toward independence. Are you a single parent, and if not, are both you and your spouse interested in your children becoming more independent? The situation becomes more complicated when parents disagree. And just like when they were children, there will be the tendency to divide and conquer.
Step Two: Change Your View
Change how you view those young adults. Treat them as adults and they will more likely become adults. What were you doing at that age? You might be saying, “Times have changed,” but they have not changed that much. It’s true apartments cost more today, but then salaries were much lower when you were their age. You are probably doing them a disservice by enabling them to be irresponsible, or by holding them back by encouraging them to remain in the home. It’s not uncommon for parents who have tried to keep their adult children under their thumbs to become upset with them and want them out. Today! Also, it’s not uncommon for those adult children to behave in very disrespectful ways in order to break the apron string.
Step Three: Identify and Strengthen Your Emotional Buttons
I have told people that one of my greatest frustrations with the transition of our five children into adulthood was that we taught them to think for themselves and they did. Meaning, they made choices with which I wasn’t always pleased, but they were their choices. Beginning at a young age, we helped them develop a paradigm that when they graduated from high school, they would be expected to get a job or further their education. There were clear expectations that they were to move out of the nest and make a life of their own.
You and many of the readers of this column may not agree with what I am about to say, but I did not fund my children’s education beyond high school. My reasoning for not paying their way through college was that I completed college while supporting five children, and then went through graduate school when four of five of our children were teenagers.
The logic seemed rational, if I could graduate from college and graduate school with seven mouths to feed, they should each be able to feed one. Maybe I was just lucky, but today two of those children have Master’s Degrees and two have Bachelor’s Degrees. Two own their own businesses, one is a CPA, one is a schoolteacher, and the other does construction. Also, all are married, and all own their own homes. As already mentioned, they paid for their own education, and I didn’t co-sign for loans for them. If this sounds like bragging, please forgive me. I am proud of them.
However, I experienced the feelings of wanting to rescue them at times, but refrained from doing it. There were nights I sat in bed agonizing over whether or not I was doing the right thing, but I am glad they struggled and made it on their own. They are glad too. One of my daughters told me, “Dad, I am glad you didn’t give us money while we were in college because we would have just spent it.”
Step Four: Make Your Boundaries Clear
If your adult child continues to live in your home, make the house rules clear. If he or she is going to help with chores and help pay the rent or utilities, put it in writing. Make it a contract with a clause for eviction.
If your child moves out, but you continue to buy the groceries, pay rent, or utilities, you are continuing to teach dependency. Remember the goal is independence. The relationship must change from Adult-Child to Adult-Adult. You will both be happier when this transition occurs, unless you are deriving a secondary gain from your adult child remaining under your partial control. Examine your own motives.
Step Five: Shut Down the Parent ATM (PATM)!
Some of this was covered in step 4. It is your job to make it more uncomfortable to remain than to launch. If a sudden launch is too abrupt, sit down with the young adult and develop a plan, such as “You will be out of the house and on your own in six months.” “I will assist you with rent for 3 months.” “I will cover the first month’s utilities.” Any, but not all of these may help soften the launch. At some point, you have to allow them to develop self-esteem by doing it themselves.
Step Six: Enough is Enough
If your adult children are abusing you, they need to go today. If any of those children are using your house as a launch pad for dealing drugs, using drugs, or repeatedly coming home intoxicated, he needs to go today.
“But what will they do?” You ask. That’s not your problem. It’s time they made it their problem.
None of the above will be easy, but it will probably be the best thing you can do for your children. It’s probably going to be you, and not them that needs counseling. And when the transition completed and your children are independent, you will be able to enjoy real Adult-Adult relationships with them.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]