“How do I know I am making the right decision regarding my young adult,” a mother asked. She was about to give her son, a 26-year-old, an ultimatum. Specifically, she made the rules for his living at home very explicit. When a young adult lives with parents, we discuss and make as concrete as possible what the parents will do and not do to support the young adult’s progress toward responsible independence. In addition, parents define specific expectations are for them to remain at home (for more information on this, see our previous article). I remind the parents that all living arrangements have rules, including apartments. The young adult above lived outside the home but was evicted because of drug usage and dealing.
Defining Rules & Expectations
When defining the rules and expectations for living at home, I advise parents to delineate expectations that would be deal-breakers. Such rules typically include:
- No violence or threats of violence
- No possession or use of illegal drugs in the house
- No stealing
- No damage to property
- No smoking or vaping
As you can readily see, these are rules that society tends to hold. If the young person violated these, they would need to live elsewhere. “But what if they fail?” the parent asks. If they continue to live at home and disregard the rules, they are failing. You never know if they might fail on their own because it’s easy to do so at home. I advise the parents to communicate to the young adult that if they state that these rules are too harsh or demanding to follow or by their actions, they refuse to follow the rules, then the parent will help them move out. You can even reframe their decision to not abide by the rules as a sign they are ready to be on their own, and you will help them toward this end.
Establishing Rules of the House
There are several important messages in establishing rules of the house:
- We are trying to teach them that we all must live by standard rules in society. If they can’t learn that at home, society’s consequences will be more egregious.
- If the young adult can’t abide by the rules, it’s their choice. The parent isn’t “kicking them out.”
- There isn’t a reason to be overly harsh about the need for the young adult to leave. It’s a recognition that they want to live someplace where the rules might be different and maybe less restrictive.
- Once they leave, there is an increased likelihood that the relationship with you as a parent will become more adultlike and more amiable.
Once living outside the home, all the various large and small conflicts related to the home environment are gone. You can meet the young adult for lunch or invite them over for dinner and continue to encourage their efforts to assert their independence and drive to be successful living outside the home.
Showing Support & Backbone as a Parent
The decision to clarify rules for living at home is an opportunity to show love in two forms – support and backbone. Support says we love them and are willing and, in some cases, desirous of them living at home, particularly under the pandemic. We offer room and board and other amenities that show both our emotional support for them and our instrumental support. The other side of love is that of backbone. In this case, we describe the house rules or conditions for the remaining at home and stand our ground when they say they don’t want to abide by these or violate these rules. The support message says we love them and will always be there for them emotionally, and the backbone side says if they don’t want to abide by the house rules, they choose to live elsewhere. If we are unclear and inconsistent in our expectations or practices for living at home, we allow them to be irresponsible and don’t have to stand on their own. When we stand our ground, we force them to stand up and take responsibility for their lives. They continue to have a choice – stay and learn to live by specific rules and expectations or leave and pursue their independence. For some young adults, moving out of the house comes with risks, but they need the opportunity to step up and demonstrate that they can be responsibly independent. Let’s give them a chance.
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