How to get adult kids out of the house -

How to get adult kids out of the house

A psychologist advises parents on what to say and what not to say


Getty Images/ iStock/ Photo Illustration by Taylor Shute

If your adult child is still hanging around the house jobless after graduating, you’re not alone in feeling frustrated. But here’s a tale of hope from psychologist Brad Sachs, taken from his new book Emptying the Nest: Launching Your Young Adult Child Toward Success. Years ago, Sachs treated a young man he calls Richie, who performed abysmally at school. “How he ultimately graduated, I will never know.” Richie’s only interests were video games and electric guitar. After high school, he lived with his parents, unemployed. “He started a rock band but couldn’t get it off the ground, possibly because the band members were smoking too much pot,” writes Sachs.

Richie was 20 when his parents contacted Sachs, who “helped Richie understand how his behaviour was actually eliciting the parental nagging he so detested, and helped the parents to see that many of their efforts to motivate him, despite being well-intentioned, were backfiring.” A few years back, Sachs heard from Richie, who emailed: “I wanted to happily let you know I am now a millionaire.” Turns out Richie found a way to harness his passion for video games and guitar. He went on to be one of the designers of the video game Guitar Hero.

“The point of this story is not that the ultimate goal of human development is to strike it rich, nor that everyone is destined to be rewarded abundantly for following their passion,” writes Sachs. “My point is simply that it’s unwise to give up on young adults no matter how maddeningly uneven their development trajectory may be, and that the more empathy, patience and understanding we are able to summon on their behalf, the greater the likelihood they will eventually find ways to forge ahead with their life in positive ways.”

Parents often ask Sachs: how do I motivate my child? “But the reality is you can’t motivate anyone to do anything,” he writes. Parents who plead with children, “ ‘Just do it for me’ where the ‘it’ could be anything from getting sober to finding a mate,” almost guarantee that the goal is not going to be achieved, he writes. His advice is to encourage autonomy. “Parents must ‘contract’ themselves, condense their presence so that their child has space in which to grow and think more independently.” For example, “You may believe that your 20-year-old daughter’s pot-smoking is keeping her stuck, but until she is able to contemplate this possibility, not only will her self-destructive behaviour continue, but you will become increasingly estranged from each other.” Parents must “stand to the side,” he writes. “Your dialogue with her needs to be designed not as an evangelical sermon designed to convert her to your way of thinking, but as a series of conversations structured to attract her curiosity about why she does what she does, so that changes take root.”

You can avoid fights by bringing in an “authority figure,” he suggests. Say your son wants to buy a truck. Instead of saying, “How do you think you’re going to be able to afford a truck loan?” try, “I’m not sure how easy it is to get truck loans these days but why don’t you head over to our bank and talk to someone over there to get the latest information and rates? If you’d like, I’ll go with you.”

Sachs also warns that too much praise can be un-motivating. He gives the example of the daughter who finally completes her college application forms. “Once you confer your own celebratory assessment of an accomplishment, it might take away from her own celebration, making it feel more like a feather in your own cap than hers, prompting her to take fewer steps, and even some steps backwards.” When she completes a task, say, “I’ve seen you working hard to get these applications completed by deadline. How’s it feel now that you’ve taken care of them?”

Finally, if your adult-child appears unmotivated to move out, Sachs hypothesizes you could be broadcasting mixed messages. “Many parents expend great efforts trying to appear young, hip, and fashionable. Surely, adolescents must observe this and wonder what the appeal of adulthood could possibly be if adults themselves are backing away from maturity and trying to look, sound and behave like their own children.”


How to get adult kids out of the house

  1. My last year of high school I had a full time job, my dad said to me "I'm not rushing you but get the F out" A week later I had my own nest. Thanks Dad

  2. Wouldn't the easiest way be to simply avoid the problem and refuse to let them back in?

    Just saying….

  3. I got drafted. By the time I got back, the old place looked pretty small. And I had things I wanted to do.

  4. This is really good article and the advice seems sound to me.

    But I also know an awful lot of people with kids well into their twenties living at home, or moving in and out as funds allow.

    I think it has a lot to do with the parents actually wanting their kids to remain dependent and home. In a sick, subconscious way.

    They want them home so badly, they throw out the rules from when the kids were teens. When I was young, once there were things you wanted to do that your parents didn't want in their house — sex, drugs, rock and roll — you found your own place and independence.

    I have friends who have renovated their basements, installed hot tubs and pool tables, to keep the adult kids and friends around. How good is that for the poor young adults?

  5. Just remember You BOOMERS had record employment and income compared to us X'ers and Y's, so your experience is useless as a comparison. Also remember these so called slackers will be supporting YOU!!! soon enough so don't expect them to do so if you won't help them now.

    • GDP per capita was lower in the 70's than it is today, and the baby boomers had to contend with recessions as well. During the 1970's much of the western world was hit with runaway inflation and multiple recessions.

      Unemployment in Canada
      1974: 5.3%
      1975: 6.9%
      1976: 7.1%
      1977: 8%
      1978: 8.4%
      1979: 7.5%
      1980: 7.5%
      1981: 7.6%
      1982: 11%
      1983: 12%
      1984: 11.3%
      1985: 10.6%

  6. The adult children leaving home after high school or college is a North American value. Many Europeans and Asian families still have the extended family, and adult children leave when there is a reason to leave, i.e. marriage , or to be closer to their jobs. If the adult child is pulling their weight at home, contributing financially and generally helping out…. what's the problem?
    Eventually young people will want their own place. Hope they save their $$$$ while living at home so they can afford a hefty down payment on their own homes.

    • Completely agree. It's a really WASP thing. So this is a WASP problem. My Italian/Croatian friends in Toronto still live at home in their early 30s! But they have jobs and the family is more of a business unit. Problem is more if the kid is smoking tons of weed and not actually getting up to do anything.
      I'm 35 living in the UK on my own but sometimes fantasize that I would happily move back in with my folks in Calgary to save some dough.

      • Yah – here is the thing. In Europe, housing is so expensive that they have something called "multi-generational mortgages" where everyone lives together and the mortgage gets passsed on from generation to generation. Housing in North America has not reached those prices so that is not really the issue here. Yes, it is true that in some cultures the mother-in-law lives with the family, etc. but we are in Canada so let's stick to what has been the acceptable practice here. Moving back home at the age of 35 when most men have a family (ie: children of their own) and living off your parents who are 55 years old or older is just wrong.

    • Yes I agree with you there are many healthy family models.

    • That's exactly what I did : I stayed with my parents for a little more than a year after I got my undergraduate diploma. In that time, I had put aside enough money for a 2-months backpacking trip to France and Spain and as a cashdown on my own duplex. I admit the prices were a little lower back then and I had some help from those same parents, even though they could barely afford to help me. I guess they saw that as an investment on their own future, when the roles will be reversed (e.g. when I will be taking care of them). I was 22 when I moved out. But I have to admit there's a society problem when young adults stay at home, not working and abusing their parents' good will and hard earned money.

  7. As long as the 'grown up' kids are contributing to the family budget, I don't see anything wrong with a multi-genrational familyu model. If the parents and "kids" get along well– it saves a ton of money and will help the "kids" get their own (not rental) place sooner.
    Societies change and evolve constantly- what was the norm in the 70's may not be the best option today.
    Folks in my generation (mid 30s) would have 1-2 kids at most, so, they might want them around longer, too.

  8. do you hear a giant sucking sound? It's the money going from your wallet to this guy's bank account. Don't buy the silly book. Instead of talking to or parenting your kids you'll be reading this book and avoiding them. Parents, stop being pop psychology suckers and have the guts and time to actually parent your kids and quit looking for some stranger to make decisions for you. I've never seen so many weak-kneed folks who lack the confidence to do what comes naturally, raise your children yourselves. Kids, your parents are lame. Boomers are lazy and cannot make their own decisions and least of all they hate taking responsibility so they want someone else to tell them what to do. Yet you will catch it if you lean on them after age 18. These are the same hippies, of the 70's but they are just wearing suits now. They are often self-centered throughout parenthood. Your presence is probably "stunting" their fun. They want you out of the house so they can do whatever they were doing before you arrived on the scene. Sorry! Parenting is a 24/7 job and does not end when your kids turn 18. This is a North American notion and not endorsed by many other cultures in this world.

  9. There are no jobs, where are they going to work? Most of us have more than $30,000 b/c our parents didn't make enough to gets us through university, so tell me where that moving money is going to come from?

    • How will you pay for your own kids' student loans and expenses ? Do you put aside half of what you earn for that purpose ?

  10. I don't see many parents who want there kids to stay home.that is a 20 something who stated that post above…adult children don't think they have to contribute in any respect….it is a me me me world and these adults want everything given to them…
    Some of them are rude ignorant brats just go out it is easy to see on a daily basis. They abuse there parents well some of them do and I don't see why a 20 something need praise because they finally got motivated to grow up…

    Financially they are also pathetic they want money all the time don't want to pay bills or there own debts so this article I found to be one from a person who feels these adults need pampering still….if an adult wants to buy a truck with Jo job go for it he will learn soon enough when his credit rating is bad because oops did the loan really need to be paid…it is time somemtough love was given and these adults shown the boot and to heck with the praise….they need to grow up get jobs and get out into the real world…

  11. The moving money can be made by working at mcdonalds since when is a parent responsible for your debts….it is called work where ever you need to…when do you propose to pay your student loan you thought your parent should of saved for and by the way it is not a parents responsibility to save for that….and there is always jobs….I am so sick of how people look at what they think parents should do…did it ever occur to these immature adults that the parent can't afford them

  12. And I mean can't afford them as adults…I like how some hers refer to them as children they are adults some even in there 30,s living off mommy and daddy….are job is to raise them till there adult age and be there for them in life from then on not to help them buy a house or pay there bills while they choose to sleep all day or what ever….my parents didn't have to help me I did it for myself and I am proud of it….and most parents don't want a multi living arrangement we do want our own life as well and are entitled to it…them look after us right…no thanks

  13. If they contribute to the home in labour and finances ,actually work somewhere ..even MacDonald's or Timmy's whatever (swallow some pride)while actually looking or training for something better…..they can stay..TEMPORARILY..there Must be progress in their endeavours..if they can afford to suck dope and drink…..take that money and go find a place…Love my kids .. and we will always be there..but mom and dad have worked long and hard and deserve some joys in life like travelling , and other pursuits not available when they raised the family………train your kids to be outgoing ,honest and straight forward….let them experience some hardwork and what it is like to go without…it soon teaches a lesson in life that everyone must learn…..get out here and sell yourself………late 30's living at home…it may be cultural ..but protecting kids froma little hardship does not help the situation………..

  14. Not at all … kids should not move away … parents should pay for their mistakes and greed … remember that thanks to boomers and their entitlements the younger generations are doomed into poverty …

  15. Not at all … kids should not move away … parents should pay for their mistakes and greed … remember that thanks to boomers and their entitlements the younger generations are doomed into poverty …