It is a growing trend today that more and more adult children live with their parents instead of leading independent lives. In 2020, a record number of adult children returned home to live with their parents. Of course, it was understandable, given the circumstances of the pandemic and the unprecedented job losses and business closures. However, jobs are plentiful now, and yet Pew Research Center reports that in July of 2022, half of adults ages 18-29 lived with one or both of their parents.
Given this trend, what parental support is helpful, and what stifles independence, resiliency, and self-reliance? And what does a healthy relationship look like once our children are adults—even when their behavior may lack maturity?
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Parental Responsibilities and Parenting Challenges: What is Helpful or Unhelpful When Parenting a Grown Child?
As parents, it can be difficult to watch your children grow up and make their own decisions and lifestyle choices, especially if they contradict your values. The challenge of parenting a grown child is compounded when that adult child lives at home and remains dependent on parents for financial support. This cohabitation can be taxing for both parent and grown child as they struggle to find a healthy balance.
My personal coaching experience mirrors the above statistics. I’ve received scores of parent coaching requests, phone calls, and emails from frustrated parents who feel their adult children are disrespectful, self-entitled, and emotionally immature. Parents are discouraged, and many parent-child relationships are strained and distant even while living in the same home!
One set of parents I’m aware of is supporting five adult children, all over the age of 20, without any compensation or contribution. Another parent told me that even though she’s a single mom working three jobs, her 22-year-old son plays video games all day and makes no effort to help or get a job. Yikes!
Parents do their best, and most parents relish the time with their grown children while living at home and enjoy helping them financially. However, as parents, it is our job to prepare our children to be self-reliant, responsible, and contributing members of society. And it’s also a parent’s job to provide clear expectations, follow through, and set healthy boundaries—for our well-being and theirs!
How to Support Young Adults to Be Self-Reliant While Cultivating a Healthy Relationship
As a parent, do you know the difference between being caring or caretaking your grown child? When we do for our children what they can do for themselves, we often disempower them, deny them skills, and create dependency. And it is a huge disservice to our children when we expect them to know how to navigate adulthood without preparing them.
You can be a bridge for this immense transition of their lives and a resource to help set them on a path toward emotional maturity and financial stability.
Here are five ways to encourage self-reliance and empower your adult children to live independently and make confident decisions.
5 Ways to Encourage Resiliency and Help Adult Children Achieve Financial Security
Honor Your Adult Child's Unique Perspective, Values, and Goals
Navigating parenthood with adult children can be tense, especially if they’re living at home. As parents, we are responsible for updating our expectations and allowing the relationship to evolve. It’s no longer about imparting our values as much as it is about getting to know our adult child and learning to connect in meaningful ways.
Be mindful that their adult needs are completely different from when they were dependent children. They are individuals with unique thoughts, emotions, perspectives, opinions, values, experiences, and goals. Therefore, the relationship must shift. Let go and let them be their own person!
Stop giving advice. Get curious and seek to understand rather than teach, lecture, or criticize. WAIT until your grown child asks for your advice. Or, if you’re really concerned and think your insight could help, ask permission to give them some feedback. Then do it in an encouraging and positive way. And if they say no, honor their decision. You’d be surprised how this respect helps create more openness.
Avoid trying to convince them that their life choices are “wrong.” Your adult child is not a child anymore, nor do they want to be treated like one. You had your chance to raise them; now allow them to learn from life and natural consequences.
Encourage dialogue and conversations. Ask open-ended questions that help you understand what they value and what motivates them. Then truly listen to them! Empathize and try to see things from their perspective.
Following some of the recommendations above may require you to change your way of interacting. These actions might feel contrived or even wrong if you've been offering a lot of advice or criticizing your child for their choices. However, I assure you, if you gently relinquish control and see your child as an adult, it will be worth the effort!
Recognize the Strong Cultural Influences on Your Adult Children
We often underestimate the strong impact our culture has on our young people. Most have been raised in an era of smartphones, the internet, convenient 24-7 online shopping, social media, and consumerism. Their entertainment, queries, and desires are fulfilled with a few keystrokes.
And to add to their challenge, when graduating from college, young adults often can’t live the lifestyle you provided for them growing up—it’s too expensive! Why should they have to exert more effort or deny themselves now?
Acceptance and productive action requires them to come to terms with their predicament and how much they will need to assert themselves to create the life they desire.
Encourage Self-Reliance Financially without Rescuing
It’s a rude awakening for many young people entering the workforce. If they lack life skills, the workplace can present lots of challenges. Aside from dealing with difficult co-workers, micromanaging bosses, and the constancy necessary to show up to work every day, they now have a paycheck and money to manage.
One of the most significant responsibilities of adulthood is learning how to manage money. However, people discover far too late that how we manage money is how we govern ourselves. In my young adulthood, as a chronic people-pleaser, this realization was a major revelation. Yet, knowing how to regulate emotions, exercise self-control, and save or budget are crucial.
Self-management is a prerequisite to responsible money management.
When young adults face just how fast that paycheck goes, they may feel overwhelmed or even helpless. Perhaps, they learn the hard way how essential it is to prioritize expenses. For instance, when they eat out frequently at restaurants instead of cooking at home, they'll discover how quickly their paycheck is devoured right alongside those meals.
Yet, it doesn't equate to deprivation either. My dad always taught us that no matter how tight our budget was to keep a small fund for fun money. This strategy helps remove the sting from the many demands on a limited income.
As your child learns about the tangibility of making their own money, teach them about the accountability that comes along with it. Overspending on unnecessary items leaves little money to spend on things you truly need and value. (I resisted this life lesson for many years. Finally, I realized that budgeting compels us to determine what is most valuable to us.)
Yet, a budget can feel unnatural and confining if they’ve never had to budget previously. When they hit this wall, they can ask to borrow money or move back home, or you can support and encourage them in other ways as they navigate this new aspect of their lives. Be clear on what is right for you as their parent.
If they don’t know the basics of money management, suggest and encourage them to take a course or consult a friend who is savvy with money management. Also, invite them to share what they learn. Who knows, you may even learn something from your kids! All in all, inspire your kids to educate themselves about money, and their confidence is sure to grow. If they ask for your help and knowledge, it’s a great time to assist them.
When it comes to feeling confident about personal finances, education is key. The more your children learn about the intricacies of managing their money and planning for financial goals, the better off they will be.
Related reading: “Are You Teaching and Modeling a Healthy Relationship With Money to Your Kids?”
Set Healthy Boundaries to Promote Responsible Behavior
One of the hardest boundaries for parents to set is limits around their lending or gifting money, especially when their child’s need is great and their own financial situation is secure. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should help them, especially if they have a pattern of making poor and costly decisions, not keeping their word, or repaying loans. The lessons they’ll learn from your restraint will pay dividends.
Parents of grown children may cling to a need to be needed and bail their adult children out repeatedly—don’t! Rescuing your adult children will only perpetuate the same behavior and reinforce irresponsibility. Of course, there are times when our financial help is needed and appropriate. If so, be clear about your limits and what you expect. Work out a plan with a timeline for repayment prior to making a loan.
And if your adult child lives at home (with or without a job), make sure they contribute. Of course, it’s natural for parents to desire to help their children and make it easier for them to save. However, it’s also fertile ground for resentment if grown children are not contributing financially and/or helping around the house and preparing meals. Create equity and fairness, so everyone wins.
Be a Practical and Reliable Source of Support and Information
Act as a lifeline and a reliable source of support and information your kids can count on. As questions arise and they include you in their struggles, help them better understand the bigger picture of their financial future and set them on a path to success.
For instance, you might show how financial stability goes beyond the simplicities of budgeting and saving money. There are a variety of other components that impact one’s financial standing. Adult children will need to understand every aspect of finance.
Spending money without thinking about their financial goals will make it much more difficult for your child to get to where they want to be. Point out the impact that habitual frivolous spending (i.e., a daily latte) can have on their financial health. Use your past economic conundrums to help your children understand that financial management has a learning curve and that postponing the habit of saving money can create poor money habits down the road.
Speak about your journey to financial stability and the steps you took to get there. Admit it’s a lot different now and they have unique challenges, but learning self-control is vital as well as avoiding enticing purchases that can deplete money for long-term goals. Giving your children perspective on life and major purchases will help them better understand finances.
Next, discuss with them about setting financial goals for their future. Eventually, your child may want to buy a home, condo, or apartment of their own. Ensure them that this goal is reachable, even in this market, if they take care of their finances. When they are ready, it’s crucial to know how much down payment is needed and the price range their income will allow (without immense financial stress) coupled with how to get prequalified for a mortgage and save for the additional costs associated with buying a home. Understanding these steps can make the financial steps of the home-buying process more approachable, faster, and easier.
And lastly, retirement can feel way too far off when you’re young, so many don’t take saving for it seriously. Show your young adult the numbers and how money grows when saved and invested—even a small amount put aside can make all the difference! The sooner they start saving, the sooner they will have greater financial freedom.
Reset Your Perspective to See Your Grown Child as a Capable Adult
Today’s young adults are smart and want to learn and grow. They may have gotten complacent living in the comfort of your home, but don’t underestimate what they’re capable of. Treat them like adults while providing support in areas new to them. Encourage them to use their unique personalities, strengths, and gifts to succeed in life!
By using some of the suggestions above and changing how you interact with your adult child will decrease the strain and conflict in the parent-child relationship (now an adult-adult relationship!), enriching it and laying the foundation for increased love and connection.
Most of all, put your relationship with them first. Love requires us to stretch to understand, connect, and grow together. Finding a new rhythm together may take patience and understanding so be gentle with yourself!
For customized parenting support or to increase your emotional intelligence skills like setting healthy boundaries, check out our online course.