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When Your Grown Child Won’t Move Out

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistJune 6, 2018

Your grown child is living at home with no concrete plans for their life – and your patience is wearing thin. You encourage, cajole, and even threaten in attempts to help them get their act together. But nothing works. So, now what can you do with your “failure to launch” child?

To begin with, you need to recognize that they are in control of their life, not you. as hard as it may be to accept, you can’t “make” your child take steps toward independence – they are in control of their actions. And becoming independent is – by its very nature – something they need to do for themselves. When parents are busily and anxiously trying to save their adult child from the consequences of their own behaviors, they are enabling that young adult to continue in the child role.

It’s one thing to “know” this, but quite another to actually let go of “protecting” your child. To decide for yourself how best to help your child, consider these questions:

Am I being clear about my expectations with myself and my child? Know within yourself – and express to your child – what your expectations are for them in your home, such as paying rent, making meals, or doing chores. Also, when your child has particular struggles, state your expectations for their behaviors, such as no drug use (if that’s an issue) or continuing with their therapy. Finally, be clear about your expectations for work, such as them maintaining a job or attending school.

Is my child respectful of me and the rules in my home? Given that your child is living in your home, you get to make the rules and have every right to expect to be treated with respect. While you may want to accommodate your child in some ways because you want to help them, it’s important that you do not allow yourself to be a doormat, punching bag, or feel taken for granted.

Am I maintaining my boundaries? Parents sometimes have trouble holding true to their expectations for their adult children because they feel guilty for not helping their child with current struggles. They may impose guilt directly on themselves, or their child might be manipulative to get their own way. Again, it’s important to remember that your job is to support your child in becoming independent. To help you stand strong, be clear on your values and expectations for your child. Then calmly, clearly, and respectfully express those values and expectations. Given that this is often difficult to do, you may find it helpful to get support from others.

As a loving parent, your role is partly to support your child in solving their own problems. So, listen closely to your child and validate their feelings. Do your best to be empathetic and compassionate. But quickly end conversations that are aimed at trying to manipulate you or get you to change your mind about rules or expectations.

Am I being clear with my child about the consequences of their actions? Whatever consequences you decide upon, make sure they are ones that you are willing to follow through with. To help with this, consider what is realistically possible for your child. If you are paying for their schooling, you might refuse to continue paying if they don’t maintain a reasonable grade point average. Or, if your child is basically doing well, but not moving out when you think it’s beyond time, you might tell them they need to move out by a particular date – allowing time for them to look for a place to live and maybe even helping them do this.

When you find the strength to lovingly expect more from your child, you and your child might be surprised to see how well they do after they launch.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a well-respected psychologist, who is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of the book Insecure in Love.

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