It is a false dichotomy to assume that you can’t usher your young adult out of the house but still love them. Love and letting go are not mutually exclusive. In fact, at the young adult stage, under certain circumstances, ushering them out of the house is the most loving thing a parent can do. Saying goodbye and wishing your son or daughter well on their journey toward independence isn’t an expression of rejection.
Determining When It’s Time to Leave Home
There came a time when it was clear that our daughter was ready to live somewhere else for both her sake and ours. We loved her dearly, but at 18, she needed to be gone. I often tell parents and young adults that their relationship will change for the better when they leave home. The case for rebellion and resistance becomes moot. Shortly after my daughter moved to a distant college campus, five miles from home, she called to announce that she and a girlfriend had been to a boy’s house off campus until three in the morning. When I didn’t react with concern or anger, I think she was somewhat disappointed. I remember smiling to myself and thinking I was sound asleep last night at three in the morning. I was reminded of the old sayings – “ignorance is bliss” and “out of sight, out of mind.” Unfortunately, if they return home, these sayings no longer apply. Both parents and young adults struggle during times when college students return home on vacation or for the summer.
Expectations vs. Reality
When young adults leave home, we hope for the Hallmark Card moment where we hug and kiss them and wave goodbye with tears in our eyes and sadness in our hearts even though we know it is for the best. Unfortunately, this is often not the case as young adults and parents collude to stretch out the adolescent experience. One young adult at twenty-seven, when asked by his father when he intended to move out of the basement, said, “I have a right to extend my adolescence as long as I want.” Young adults do have the right to resist maturation but not necessarily on their parent’s nickel. Michael Rotondo discovered this in 2018 when, after repeated attempts by his parents to coax their thirty-year-old son to move out, they obtained and served a legal eviction notice. It made national news. But to be clear, it’s often the parents who stretch out the maturation process by providing a safe house experience with all the comforts of home. Sixty percent of parents enjoy having their young adult living at home, according to one study.
Reasons for Eviction
This stage of the life cycle is often referred to as the second individuation event, and it doesn’t always go well. We commonly refer to the terrible twos when the toddler’s favorite word is “no.” This is often repeated in the teen years when resistance and rebellion against parental values can occur. Sometimes the older adolescent or young adult has to be told that their behavior is unacceptable, and they can no longer live at home. Reasons for the eviction, formal or otherwise, may include:
- Failure to obtain employment
- Unwillingness to pursue education or training for a job
- Failure to contribute to the household expenses and responsibilities
- Ongoing conflict with the parents
- Use of alcohol or using illicit drugs
Although these actions make it harder to say goodbye, it is a necessary act of love. Sometimes we resist this saying goodbye, hoping they will change and often excusing their behavior or, in other ways, enabling them to be irresponsible. If they are unwilling to change and comply with routine expectations for living at home, they – NOT YOU – are choosing to live elsewhere.
Doing What’s Best
You are not kicking them out of the home, their behavior is their way of saying they need to live elsewhere. This process doesn’t have to be contentious, replete with verbal attacks on their character or irresponsible behavior. In fact, this could undermine their confidence in moving out. The best approach, assuming no special needs of either the young adult or parent, is to communicate a belief that they are ready to be on their own and believe they will be successful. This may be hard to say, given their behavior at home, but understand they don’t need to change if we continue to meet their needs. Set a date for the transition, help them prepare for it, and offer to help them find another living situation. You may even give them some seed money to get started, furniture for their apartment, etc.
In other words, the ushering out doesn’t need to involve a lot of drama from your end. The young adult may argue and complain about the moving out or in the case referenced earlier when parents obtained an eviction notice, the young adult argued with the judge that he needed six months’ notice. The judge didn’t agree with Michael Rotondo’s request to stay the eviction for six months. We need to hold our ground and continue to envision a better future for your young adult and our relationship with them. In the end, we have to do what’s right out of love, but this in no way ensures that we won’t suffer in some way. I tell parents that being sad, anxious, worried, or fearful are normal reactions to many of these problematic letting go scenarios but in no way means that the action is wrong.
For more insights on letting go of your young adult, check out my book Love to Let Go.