Parenting Your Adult Children, Part I: Questions

parents sitting on patio with their adult son“Jane” and “Daniel” are in their late fifties. Having raised three children, they are ready to focus on their own needs. The economy has put some checks on their retirement plans, but more importantly, two of their adult children are in distress. Their daughter “Jessica” can’t seem to hold a job and, at 28, is still living at home. Despite every attempt on their part to hold her accountable, she hasn’t been able to make it on her own or find her path. Their 33-year-old son, “Andrew,” has a little boy with a toxic ex-wife, so he is in a never-ending custody fight with her, depleting his earnings and emotional stores. It is likely he will have to move in with them to afford his alimony and lawyer bills. So Jane and Daniel are often babysitting a 2-year-old in their spare time, as well as providing room and board for three more people than they had planned at this stage of their lives.

They don’t share this with their friends because they are somewhat embarrassed and feel they are to blame. So they deal with their troubles on their own, often arguing about how much they should be involved with their kids’ problems.

More and more, I see people stuck in the active role of parenting long after their children should have been independent. Sometimes it is just a young adult who, like Jessica, can’t find her path and feels a bit too comfortable at home to bother working her way up to the kind of job she thinks she deserves now. Often it is an otherwise responsible young adult who runs into some messy life situations and, like Andrew, lacks the reserves needed to ride out the storm at this stage of his career. Where does that leave the parents? We are inundated with information and guidance about parenting when we are expecting and raising young children; but where—and how—do we learn about dealing with our grown children’s issues?

We consider it our job as parents to provide for and help our children. But sometimes being a good parent means setting tough boundaries and holding our kids accountable—especially when they are adults. This can be very difficult, and we may have to tolerate watching them struggle and feel that we are mean or selfish. A first step might be to ask ourselves some serious questions before we automatically jump in to help and/or fix. Here are just a few to consider in the above scenario:

  • Should Jane and Daniel delay their retirement so that they can provide and care for Jessica and their grandson? Should they give up their own activities and leisure time to babysit?
  • Should they help Jessica make connections for jobs and pay for her to get therapy?
  • Should Jessica and Andrew contribute to the household (financially and/or in service) to the best of their ability?
  • How much should they hold their children accountable to expected goals, and who should set those goals?
  • How do they teach their kids that they are loving and available but shouldn’t be taken for granted?

Next time, I will discuss some guidelines and suggestions for the above questions.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lillian Rozin, LCSW, MFA, RYT, Aging and Geriatric Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Vic

    November 13th, 2013 at 12:28 PM

    I know that most of us think that the parenting game as far as financial support is over once the kids are through with college but I have more friends “raising” their adult kids today than it felt like they were when we were all younger! What in the heck is going on here? Is life so much harder on then to get a job and such than it was for us when we were growing up or do too many of them just think that mom and dad will always be there to bail them out so why bother too much?

  • Jack B

    November 14th, 2013 at 4:38 AM

    It’s easy to stand back when this is happening in another family to say that you won’t do this, you want your own kids to be responsible and learn to do the right thing. Totally different beast when it ends up being your own kids though, I can tell you that.
    I would no more turn my own kids away if they needed me any more than the rest of you would, any more than I would turn my own parents away.
    Isn’t that what I signed on before when I brought them into the world? To take care of them until they could take care of themselves?

  • StePh

    November 15th, 2013 at 3:53 AM

    This is kind of a new phenomenon that many parents are facing with their older children. I know that when my brother and I moved out, it wasn’t with the expectation that we would be back home to mom and dad if we failed. It was with the expectation that we would come back once we had grandkids to share!

  • Marion

    November 18th, 2013 at 4:44 AM

    Who are these kids that we have made to be like this? When I was growing up there was the expectation that once I finished with school then I was out the door and would come home to visit but not to live again. Where has that expectation gone?

  • adam k

    November 19th, 2013 at 4:45 AM

    I am so thankful that after college my parents let me come back home and live with them until I could find a job and get a little more established. With that being said, there were stipulations. I had to buy my own groceries and pay rent and help with the utilities. So I thought that was fair, and it prepared me to actually move out on my own when I was ready. I know my parents love me but they wanted to see me succeed on my own too without always having to ask for help from them even though I knew that they would help if ever I needed it.

  • Bernadette Brown

    November 21st, 2013 at 9:50 AM

    If we let them move back in while they are in transition as Adam K spoke of and they are being responsible, it’s probably ok. But if they are not being responsible, not working habitually, using substances, neglecting their social responsibilities such as spouses or children, it’s just ENABLING them to continue to be failures. There are many grandparents caring for their grandchildren because the parents are in jail, are addicts or refuse to work orcontinue their education. What a SAD situation for our society. Grandparents can be old, weak, tired, sick, but still doing this beyond their abilities to the point of exhaustion because they love their grandchildren while the deadbeats are out getting drunk, drugging, committing crimes, neglecting their children, etc. Maybe the old way was better – at least try to be married first before having children.
    And the key work in adam’s commment was THANKFUL!

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