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Adult Kids Who Stay At Home

... sap you and zap your personal power

An interesting and disturbing trend seems to be on the rise in America, and that is fully grown adult children living at home with their parents, often well into their 20’s and even 30’s.  One has to wonder what the reasons are for this, though there seems to be little doubt as to the consequences.  The net result is a loss of personal power for both the adult child and the parents who support him.

There has been a remarkable shift in the living arrangements for kids who are not actively pursuing college education.  Whereas the tendency for kids has always been to want to get away from home, spread their wings, and learn self-sufficiency, many are now choosing to abandon these goals and reside with their parents as independent adults.  Or are they?

The situation

Mike graduated from high school about six years ago and is now 25 years old.  Though he continues to talk about college, mostly what he does is talk about it.  Mike has about 60 credits at the local university, but his primary objectives seem to be working part time as a waiter and hanging out with his friends.  At this rate, he should graduate some time about age 32. 

Mike won’t get a full-time job because, “what happens when I go back to school?”  When he does take some classes, the net result is a grade point average that is barely enough to prevent him from being kicked out.  

Mike, has moved out to share an apartment several times, but something always seems to go wrong for poor ol’ Mike.  Even when he is in an apartment, Mike comes over to the folks' house regularly and always manages to find leftovers in Mom’s fridge, eats a large meal, and Mike often carries home an extra meal or two for later.  In the meantime, he subsists on pizza, the occasional half price meal from work, and Raman noodle surprise.  

Mom is always concerned about Mike’s nutrition, and actually takes a bit of pleasure in knowing that he seems to love her home cooking.

Living on his own rarely lasts long.  Mike spent the first year out of high school sharing an apartment with a friend, but since then, the longest stint has been about 9 months.  Like his friends, Mike always seems to find his way back home to live with his folks, each time with a bit more independence and fewer household responsibilities. 

Since Mike is “an adult” according to him, curfews haven’t been in effect for years and much of Mike’s “apartment lifestyle” follows him home.  Friends stop by at all hours or he is out till the wee hours of the morning, and Mike manages to sleep until about two in the afternoon when he has to get up and go to work.  About the only time Mike’s dad sees him is on the weekends in the afternoon when Mike is eating breakfast late in the afternoon.

Mike’s mom often spends part of her morning cleaning up Mike’s mess from the night before and tries to be quiet as she sneaks into his room to pick his clothes off the floor so that she can do his laundry.  Otherwise his room stinks.   Meanwhile, she just shakes her head, knowing that “Mike will certainly grow out of it some day”. 

Mike rarely gives his mom the respect she deserves and rarely sees his dad enough to have it go either way.  Mike is quick to tell his Mom off, ignores her requests to keep up his end, and he has little time for her unless it is to smooth the waters after his latest screw-up or get her to do something for him.  He can be as sweet as possible when he wants her to run errands for him.  

Most of Mike’s free time is spent “hanging with friends”, and family is always the last priority.  Church is definitely out of the question for Mike.  Primarily, it just starts way too early and it comes smack in the middle of the weekend that he needs to catch up from his “tough week”.

Mike has little time for his siblings other than to glorify himself and his exploits to them.  This has been changing some lately though as they are now coming into their late teen years, and this is the age of most of Mike's friends, now that most of the others his age have gone on to careers and families.   

Mom has a problem with this as Mike’s sisters are getting quite sassy and repeating some of Mike’s words, but she is sure that Mike has their best interests at heart, wouldn’t hurt them.  She also thinks that any contact with family members must be good in the long run. 

Lately however, Mom seems to be taking extra steps to make sure that the girls aren’t available when Mike is, and she nearly panics when she finds them at home alone together.  This after learning that Mike had plans to take the older one out drinking.  She’s not sure what he is filling their minds with.  Mike finds this quite disturbing, and pulls the “you don’t trust me”, out of his bag of manipulations.  

He’s right, she doesn’t. 

If confronted with his attitude towards Mom, Mike blows it off and blames it on her for not treating him like the adult that he is.  Of course, Mike never really takes responsibility for anything and regularly blames others for anything that happens to him or anything he might say. 

Bosses who fire him are jerks, teachers who fail him did so because they don’t like him, police who arrest him are picking on him, and the judges that fine him just won’t listen to his reasonable side of the story.  Mom gets the brunt of it though, because he belittles her and argues all the time, but she won't tell him what a jerk he really is.  

Despite Mike’s lack of any real schedule, he is never on time for anything, and it has reached the point where it’s a family joke.  It is also probably part of the reason that he has been fired from so many jobs.  This however, seems to be the way that Mike leads his life, always behind, never on time, and always ready with a handy excuse. 

The self-perceptions

Mike’s perception changes daily according to his circumstances.  He sure is that he is a responsible adult, living in the real world because he has a job and makes his car payment.  When he was in an apartment, that was proof of being an adult too, but that’s not a criterion for him when he’s living at home.

He’s also refers to himself as "just a kid" (when it’s handy for him), trying to figure out what he wants in life and going through school, albeit at a slow pace.  Being "a kid" gives him the excuse to mess up and never really accomplish anything.

He knows that other people his age are living life as adults, but Mike views himself as a free spirit, “an anarchist” as he calls it, refusing to adapt to the status quo because that is what is expected of him.  He believes the world wants to stifle him, and authorities and life seem to treat him unfairly, not giving him credit for being the adult that he really is.  Respect seems to elude Mike, and he resents that and wonders why.

Mike’s mom justifies her actions as, “refusing to let her kid sleep on the street”, that she will always be a mother, and that Mike is just a kid trying to figure out what he wants in life.  She is sure that Mike will grow out of it sooner or later, he will become a fully responsible adult some day, and then appreciate her for the patience and care that she showed.

The reality

At age 25, Mike is an adult, but only chronologically.  Emotionally, Mike has never managed to cross that emotional line from being a teen into adulthood, and in fact has managed to go backwards to a degree.  Instead of living in the real world, Mike's pants hang half off his butt, and he is generally still trying to look like a high school senior.  

Mike is also lazy, a procrastinator, has little self-respect (though he would say otherwise), and loves to embellish the truth if not make it up altogether.  Mike has learned the lines that his mother wants to hear and gives them to her often.  

Forget about aspiring to excellence or even giving it a good shot.  Aspiring to mediocrity would be a huge leap for Mike.  He has no clear goals for tomorrow let alone next year or 10 years down the road.

Mike likes to think that employers/managers are threatened by how good he is and therefore won't give him opportunities.  In fact, the are more annoyed by him than anything else and they won't give him opportunities because he never takes responsibility.  

In fact, Mike tends to be a bit of a joke.  Nobody buys his excuses anymore, but nobody fights against them anymore either which makes Mike think he has pulled a fast one. 

Neither is Mike an anarchist.  Mike couldn’t live as an anarchist because he expects others to perform and Mike depends on the rule of law to protect him and his property.  It’s just an excuse for not doing what he’s supposed to do, blowing off everyone else, and generally not performing.  It’s an excuse for laziness and a way to self-perpetuate what he sees as his bad-boy image.  

Mike is correct in that nobody trusts him or respects him.  He gives them no reason to do so.  Mike assumes that he should be handed respect, simply because he exists, not because he has actually accomplished something or shows quality of character. 

Mike has seen most of his high school peers get a college degree, get a real job, get married, and maybe even have a kid or two by now.  Mike’s close friends have become fewer, and all seem to fall into the same category, living life at the expense of their parents and never taking responsibility for their own action, let alone their future. 

Mike’s few new friends tend to be 18 or 19 years old.  Mike loves to be the daddy-guru who teaches the young from his vast stores of experience.  Mike justifies passing on his bad behavior as “introducing them to things they will do anyway, but this way, he is there to control the environment.” 

In reality, Mike finds comfort in corrupting others so that he doesn’t look so bad, and hopefully to get a bit of hero-worship in the process.  Eventually, these too manage to drift off as the youngsters realize that Mike isn’t just a cool older guy who likes them, but someone who has never managed to evolve beyond where they are right now.  

Typically, Mike sits around and listens to his alternative music, because they also reject the world the way it is, justify bad behavior, and blame it all on the government, the media, the corporations, and if all else fails, the parents.  What fails to dawn on Mike is that his musical heroes, his "fellow-anarchists" who he identifies with, are now 35-years old and whining the same tired old stuff they did when they were 17. 

The music, some drugs on the side, and spending late night commiserating with his buddies gives Mike all the justification he needs to continue the lifestyle that while it gnaws at him, is all that he really remembers. 

Essentially, Mike lives in a world of his own making, thinking that others buy his mess when in fact they listen and laugh later.  In Mike’s world, everything is cool, he is groovy, and he’s waiting his turn for his ship to come in.  

Mike has come to the conclusion that family is and will always be there, and so that gives him license to use and abuse them as he sees fit.  But if they were to turn their backs on him, he’d still blame them.

The real problem

There are reasons why birds kick their youngsters out of the nest and make them fly.  It’s because the baby birds are too afraid to do it on their own, and if the baby isn’t kicked out, it will never develop the wing strength to fly later when they are heavier.  Substitute humans into this idea and the same holds true.

As long as Mike has a comfort zone he can go back to, he will never evolve beyond where he is now.  If Mike should get married, it will be a disaster.  Chances are that Mike's parents will have Mike, his wife, and the kids living with them when they come along (while they "get their feet on the ground" of course).  This because he cannot support himself now, and therefore won't be able to support his family later.

At this point, getting married doesn’t seem to be a real threat because Mike doesn’t represent the kind of man that most young women would want to hitch their wagon to permanently.  Mike is too self-centered, egotistical (without reason), rude, arrogant, and few women choose a husband they will have to financially support.

Without intending to, Mom is teaching her son that it’s okay to verbally abuse people, there is always a safety net, and she is reinforcing bad behaviors that simply cannot exist later in life.  In attempting to help Mike, she is actually setting him up for disaster.

Mike’s problem has now become his mother’s problem, and it is extending to the rest of the family as well.  At age 25, Mike is fully capable of working to support himself, yet anytime this is brought up, he pulls “school” out of the bag and threatens that he will never be able to finish college if he has to work full-time to support himself.  Mike’s mom buys into this and doesn’t want to be the cause of Mike not finishing college. 

Everyone has a certain amount of financial and personal resources, and by doting on a fully-grown adult, she depletes her personal resources and the family financial resources.  Because Mike shows her no respect and uses her, Mom constantly feels frustrated and violated in her own home.  Constant worry over Mike is also affecting their marriage. 

For obvious reasons, this becomes problematic for Mike’s sisters as well.  Mike’s lifestyle looks attractive and they are incapable of seeing that doing whatever you want, playing with you friends all night, and sleeping all day long are counterproductive to a healthy and successful life.  

The consequences

As long as things remain as they are, things are only going to get worse.  And until someone decides to change something, nothing will change.  In other words, someone has to take some action, and it's obviously not going to be Mike.

Mike is on a path of self-destruction that nobody can see right now.  People do not suddenly wake up to reality when they are 25, 27, or 30.  Mike isn’t going to change his ways in the next couple of years, run out and get a haircut, pull up his pants, go to school or suddenly become responsible and get a full-time job.  It simply isn’t going to happen.  Why should it?  That requires work and then when he graduates from college, people will actually expect him to do something.

Mike has found a great subsistence for his current lifestyle and there is nothing in Mike’s life that is driving him to change.  He’s generally lazy and while he’s got big dreams and plans, they constantly change and the desire to sleep in “today” is far greater than the desire to accomplish something today.  

It’s not that Mike doesn’t see that there is a problem.  He is terribly conflicted, sees life passing him by and doesn’t feel the power to do anything about it.  Mike comes up with idea after idea, and he often manages to take the first step towards those plans.  It’s just that the path always seems terribly long and arduous, and there's always another dream that seems easier, just around the corner.  

Mike lacks personal self-discipline and is essentially a 17-year-old boy in a 25-year-old man’s body.  The big question that remains is whether in 10 years, he will be an 18-year-old boy in a 35-year-old man’s body.

The solution

Tough love is hard and sometimes, it’s pretty darn scary.  It means taking risks and with risks comes the potential for failure.  As it is said however, failure is not an option.  It is a privilege that is reserved for those who try. 

Mike needs to leave home on his own accord, and if that doesn't happen, he needs someone to make it happen for him.

Regardless of what happens, Mike needs to be treated like the full-grown man that he is, even if he isn’t acting like it.  His complaint is that nobody treats him like an adult, and they don’t.  But then again, a grown man gets a job, he supports himself, he doesn’t run home to mommy, doesn’t raid mommy’s refrigerator, she doesn’t do his laundry, and she doesn’t clean up after him or fix his problems. 

The fact that he’s losing his safety net and support for his lifestyle means that Mike is going to pull every trick in the book including, ambivalence, dismissal, out of hand rejection of the whole idea, yelling and swearing, anger, declaring that his parents have given up on him or hate him, announcing they will never see him again, etc.  In fact, Mike will probably try several of them, just to see if there is a crack in the armor. 

If all else fails, Mike will try to enlist the help of relatives.  Mike is in survival mode and there is no telling what tactics will be involved.  That can mean trying to get sisters, grandparents, and aunts and uncles to resolve this for him.

However the case, Mike simply needs to go and let the chips fall where they may.  That’s going to be particularly hard for mom.  Chances are that when Mike does leave, he will be gone for awhile and his parents need to let that just happen.  Completely hands off!

Mike needs to find his own ground, his own space, and he needs to start to do some thinking on his own.  It will take awhile.  In the meantime, Mike’s parents simply need to let it be.  They cannot seem to want to bend, but neither can they get nasty, mean, or spiteful.  Both will have to watch their tongues as Mike lashes out.  

That of course doesn’t mean they have to take abuse or listen to lies.  They just need to respond with considerate thought and in a calm rational manner.  This isn’t about them, though Mike will certainly attempt to turn it into that.

Getting Mike out and regaining personal power

Getting Mike to go is the first order of business and one that will be most unpleasant.  It is however, the first step to regaining personal power. 

If Mike is on his way out anyway and will be making the move in the next couple of weeks, this is the easiest method.  Then, just don’t let him come back.  Mike’s parents need to immediately turn his bedroom into a home office/den or something else besides Mike’s old bedroom.  Otherwise, they may find themselves tempted to let him move back home again. 

If Mike isn’t on his way out, it’s time to change that for him.  Mike needs to be told that he is an adult, wants to be treated like an adult, and so therefore, it’s going to happen.  Mike needs to find an apartment of his own and live like an adult instead of a teenager on spring break. 

Mike will argue, bargain, threaten, or otherwise throw a tantrum over it in order to get his parents to change their minds.  While they will be tempted and even think that maybe things will change, they have to stick to the plan.  Anything that would change would only be temporary and by giving in, all they would be doing is to set up yet another bad pattern.  Mike has to be out on his own.

It’s important to set a reasonable time limit here, like a month.  Even if he’s dead broke, finding a roommate and raising enough money for rent is easily done in a month.  He’ll have to do it every month from this point forward, so why not start now?  

But since we don’t want to wait a month to start regaining personal power, Mike’s parents need to start the rule of law in the household again, and this means that all parents residing there must be on the same page. 

Reestablish the boundaries

Whatever kind of behavior they expect from members of their household, these need to be reestablished with no exceptions for anyone.  Remember, it's the job of a parent to raise the kids, teach them responsibility, and take care of them.  It's not their job to put up with their bad behavior, clean up their mess, or continue to raise them as adults.

Here are some ideas to take or leave:

Establish a household curfew – This one might get a bit nasty when Mike simply doesn’t abide by it.  If it does, the answer is simply to install a deadbolt on each door and lock it at the given curfew hour.  

Friends need to leave by 10 PM and everyone is responsible for their own mess. 

Require that all adults over 18 and not in school, financially contribute to household expenses on a weekly basis.  It doesn’t have to be much, $50 per week would be an adequate statement. 

Require that all members of the household have chores and fulfill them before they are allowed to go out – no exceptions!  This includes personal laundry.  

No television, video games, telephone, or playing on the computer until chores are done and messes are cleaned up.

Though Mike won’t see it this way, these are reasonable household rules that differentiate a home from a hotel.  If Mike doesn’t like it, he needs to be calmly told that his alternative is to live somewhere else.  

Does Mike live at your house?

If Mike’s story sounds even remotely familiar, try to take a look at what’s going on in your family and in the rest of your life.  Of course you love your child.  But that doesn't give them the right to descend on you at will, disrupt your household, and make life miserable.  

You wouldn't take that from another adult, so don't do your adult child the disservice of letting them get away with it.  

What’s more, it zaps your personal power over your own life and your own home.  You give him your personal power, it does him no good, and both of you are left with nothing.

Your Mike also needs to learn how to deal with the sometimes crummy hand that life can deal and pay for his own mistakes.  If they don’t learn now, it becomes much harder later.  

Sure, it’s hard to let go and even harder to give them a good kick in the pants.  But better to do that now than to let the steamroller hit them later. 

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