Parent trap: how to let go of your adult child

Can’t live with them, can’t live without them: increasing numbers of adult children still live at home. But the author of a new parenting guide tells Lisa Salmon why it’s best to let them go.

Parent trap: how to let go of your adult child

A GROWING number of young adults still live at home with their parents, presenting a whole new raft of challenges for mums and dads who can no longer rely on sanctions like the naughty step to ensure family harmony.

No matter how bad life with grown-up kids gets, deep down though, many parents don’t want them to leave, says parenting consultant Gill Hines. That said, they often don’t want to live with them either...

In a bid to help parents tackle this thorny issue, Hines and Alison Baverstock, an associate professor of publishing and mother of four adult children, have written Later!: A Guide To Parenting A Young Adult.

“An awful lot of parents moan about their kids, but at the same time they don’t want the kids to leave and they create a co-dependency,” explains Hines.

“The parents think they have to treat them like children while they’re living there, and the kids think they can’t leave until they can afford a home as good as the one they’ve come from.”

She says parents perpetuate this co-dependency by giving their kids things like lifts and money, and warns: “It’s ridiculous, and it’s not good for either of them. They’re not allowing themselves to get on with their lives – the parent needs to move on as well as the child.”

A recent survey of young adults who still live at home, and their parents, found 84% of the parents still did their children’s laundry for them, and a doting quarter even tidied their bedrooms.

And contrary to popular belief, the expense of moving out wasn’t the only reason for young adults remaining in the family home.

In Britain researchers found that one-in-six young adults still live with their parents simply because it makes their life easier. Indeed, almost half admitted they did no food shopping, and the same proportion paid no rent.

“Young people say ’Why would I move?’ They’ve got everything on a plate, which is great for them, but it isn’t actually how life’s supposed to be,” says Hines.

She points out that too many young adults these days can’t perform basic household tasks like simple cooking, or doing the laundry.

“In your early 20s, it’s time to start living your life independently,” she says. “It really worries me how few young people know how to cope in the real world.

“Getting kids to think about what they want in life and how to get it is part of growing up, but we’re not doing that because we’re looking after everything for them.”

Parents might choose to make it a house rule that adult children do their own laundry or change their own bedlinen – but if they don’t do it, there’s no point nagging, warns Hines.

Instead, parents need to negotiate with young adults to get things done.

“If they don’t keep to their share of the bargain, then don’t keep to your share, which might be buying food, mending things or doing the laundry.”

Many adult children only pay a peppercorn rent (a nominal rental sum), or no rent at all, leaving their parents to meet the true cost of bills and food.

“It needs to be made absolutely clear to them how much it costs to run the house,” she says. “They’re not stupid – they know they’re getting a good deal by living there.”

Hines says parents should have a conversation with their children about renegotiated ‘adult’ house rules as soon as they leave school, and the conversation should be ongoing at regular family meetings, as well as eating together as a family at least once a week.

“By the time they’re 18, they should have an understanding that nothing comes for free. Tell them your responsibility for them ended the day they reached 18, and while you can’t tell them what to do, you can lay down rules in the house because you pay the rent or mortgage,” stresses Hines.

“Every parent’s aim should be to get their child out and on their own. You should treat them in some respects the same way you would treat a lodger, and say if they don’t meet the rules, they’ll have to find another place to live.”

While the book covers all aspects of a young adult’s life, from jobs to social life and sex, it’s not all about the kids.

Hines points out that the ‘non-parent you’ has been in the shade for however many years of age your child is, and now that older and less familiar you needs to be nurtured and encouraged in much the same way as your child.

“All the parents I’ve met embrace the notion of freedom from the kids, but felt an enormous loss,” she says.

“Being a parent is a hat we wear in life, and it’s a very big one, particularly for women. They hate losing the sense of themselves as a parent.

“Things can become very quiet and a little staid when children leave home, and parents sometimes feel truly middle-aged, and miss the energy. They have to realise that this major part of their life has come to an end.

“A lot of parents want to be needed, but they need to see it’s better for kids to move on with their lives.”

Later!: A Guide To Parenting A Young Adult by Gill Hines and Alison Baverstock is in paperback published by Piatkus, €23.35 book; €9.99 ebook. Available now.

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