Parenting an Adult Child Living at Home & Good House Rules

There are many reasons why 20-somethings and 30-somethings might move back to their nest.

Those reasons may also be a significant factor in how that living arrangement should be handled.

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Regardless of the reason why your adult child returns home, here are some things you need to discuss as well as good house rules to implement.

Dr. Robert Melillo

Robert Melillo

Neurologist | Adjunct Professor, National University of Health Sciences |
Author, Disconnected Kids

During this time of COVID, having adult children that live at home with their parents is more stressful and difficult than ever. This quarantine can actually be a time that can bring a family together or it could be a time that tears a family apart. It really depends on how you approach this time together.

I work with families that have kids with various disabilities and behavioral issues, quite often the house is a very stressful place.

Sit down and agree about family values and rules

The first thing I do when I am working with a family like this is to have them all sit down and agree about the family values and rules.

What I have found is that even in the worst situations, where the house is a war zone, getting both parents on the same page and adding rules and expectations for all the family members immediately reduces at least 50% of the stress and fighting right away. When you are dealing with older adult kids and those who may have no disability, the approach is essentially the same.

Most fighting and stress are due to miscommunication or lack of communication. The only to know what others are thinking, what they want, and what they don’t want, is to openly discuss it together.

In my second book, Reconnected Kids, I write about the importance of family and good communication. The procedure is simple, first, the parents should get together and discuss and agree with what family values are most dear. This is important because if your kids don’t respect your values, that is going to create difficulty in the family.

Most kids don’t want to disrespect a parent’s values but they may not know clearly what they are, so the parents need to express that to their kids. They should then ask the kids if they agree or disagree and if they have different values.

Values are things like, honesty, loyalty, respect for one another, not taking something without asking.

Once the parents have agreed on this then, they should discuss rules for their home, brainstorm a list of rules that go from the first thing in the morning till the last thing at night. If there is anything that is creating a problem now, it must be addressed with a rule.

Schedule and conduct a family meeting

Once the parents have agreed on values and rules there should be a family meeting. Now the tone of this meeting is very important, it should be set when everyone is generally in a good mood.

This should not be seen as a punishment or as something negative. This should be approached in a loving and non-judgmental way.

If your kids feel like they are being judged, criticized, or attacked in any way this will not go well. But if it is done in a respectful democratic way then it will go great.

Don’t approach this as if you are dictating the values and the rules either, even though the parents have discussed it, and have written some things down you must approach them as suggestions and this must be a discussion and everyone must agree on the values and the rules.

Start with the values

this can be a great discussion and it can provide a great insight into what is important to your kids and to what they value in life. Once you have discussed and agreed on the most important values then start with the rules.

You can say, ”Your mother and I have written up some rules as starting points for discussion, let’s go through each one and see if we agree, if not let’s see what we can agree on.

If you think there are any rules that we left out or any that should be dropped bring that up for us to discuss. Let’s go step by step and when we are done we will have a set of rules for this house that we can all agree to.”

Related: What Are Traditional American Values?

Read and discuss the rules that you have written out

If there is a disagreement try to resolve it as best as possible. Try to think of everything, like what time they go to sleep, noise, or anything that is particularly annoying to you.

Do your best to also try to help motivate them to use this time to get better.

Limit screen time, try to encourage reading, learning, online classes, etc. It would be great if you set up family game nights or if you can set rules for exercising.

If there is a disagreement, be flexible but ultimately this is the parent’s home so the parent’s needs should take some precedent over the kids.

Discuss the consequences upon breaking a rule

You must be in control of your house. The last thing may be the most important, you must discuss the consequences if someone breaks a rule.

Ask the kids to give their ideas about this. You will often find that they will come up with better and more effective consequences than you would. There must be accountability or these rules mean nothing, there should be consequences if one of the parents break the rules as well, it must be seen as fair.

To make this more effective, you could add rewards as well. If no one breaks the rules then maybe you could all go on a great family vacation somewhere. You could also even offer a cash reward for older kids, that will probably work best.

Once the whole family agrees the bottom of the document should be signed like a contract. The sooner you do this the better life will be, good luck, stay safe.

Stephanie Mihalas, Ph.D., NCSP, ABPP

Stephanie Mihalas

Licensed Psychologist | Nationally Certified School Psychologist |
Assistant Clinical Professor, The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Failure to launch is a unique concept that has boomed in the past 15ish years where adult children have returned back to the nest. Parents are struggling with how to manage this conundrum in terms of how to set boundaries, rules, and standards for their adult children.

As many of these adult children, expect to be treated like adults, because in chronological age, they are. But developmentally they have regressed quite a bit and need extra support to manage their daily life.

Here are some tips to possibly get your adult child back on their feet and out of your house:

Ensure that your adult child maintains a routine, which is essential

This looks like setting up a wake-up time, chores that need to be done daily in the house, exercise, and a nightly routine. While this may seem overbearing, a lot of adult children tend to not wake up at a normal time, do not help around the house, and go to bed at all hours of the night.

This ends up creating a situation where there is resentment on behalf of the parents because they feel like they are dealing with a teenager again.

Expect that your adult child attempts to get a job by a set date

Many adult children, since they are living at home do not feel compelled to do much and frolic around during the day at coffee shops or the beach, and tend to freeload off of their parents. Setting a specific date, with the boundary that they will need to find a different living arrangement.

Place your adult child in therapy

Many adult children that arrive back at home have executive functioning deficits or underlying mental health issues that went undiagnosed in middle or high school that were never addressed.

By seeing a therapist, they may get the support they need now, so they can stand on their two feet without needing to rely on their parents completely.

Heather Z. Lyons, Ph.D.

Heather Z. Lyons

Licensed Psychologist, With Therapy

The experience of having your adult children move back home will likely evolve over the time that they’re with you.

For that reason, it’s important to remember that what you feel in this moment — good, bad, or ugly — will likely change with time as you and your children adjust to the circumstances.

Set collaborative boundaries and expectations

In anticipating these changes it can be helpful to take control of what those changes will look like by setting boundaries and expectations. Naturally, because you’re speaking adult to adult, these efforts should be collaborative. You might begin by setting the agenda together.

Consider what’s important to you now. This might include thoughts about how to navigate the pandemic safely, division of household responsibilities, and preferences for personal space and together time.

In the end, remember that when adult children move home this can be difficult for everyone involved. In an ideal world, adults who are able to do so, feel a sense of pride when they can be independent and successful.

Those natural yearnings have been thwarted and that can feel incredibly frustrating and demoralizing. These circumstances require compassion.

Elisabeth Stitt

Elisabeth Stitt

Author | Speaker | Parenting Coach

The basis of successfully parenting an adult child living at home is respect and effective communication.

Call for a family planning session

I would start by calling for a family planning session wherein, as a family, you brainstorm the unique needs of each family member.

If you are only parenting adult children, it will almost feel like having a roommate—but a roommate who is coming into an already established household culture.

As the primary leaseholder or owner of the house (even if your kids are paying you rent), you get to establish the broad parameters like no drugs, quiet hours between 10 pm and 7 am, and no overnight visitors. Everything else might be up for negotiation.

For example, do you expect to have family dinners? Is the cost of these dinners included in the rent? How are shopping, cooking, and cleaning up duties going to be shared? If your adult child is not paying rent or is paying a greatly reduced rent, I recommend kids putting in some extra sweat equity in the cleaning/home maintenance departments but that needs to be spelled out at the beginning—not demanded out of the blue.

Anything directly related to the running of the house is up for discussion.

Never expect to regulate personal habits

What parents cannot regulate in their adult children are their personal habits. You would never demand of a roommate, for example, that he shower every day, that he get up by a certain hour or that he limits the amount of time he spends on his electronics.

Expecting that of an adult child would be treating him like a child which is bad for his development and will hurt your relationship with him.

Have tighter behavior expectations if you have younger kids in the house

If you have an adult child living at home at the same time that you have younger children in the house, then your expectations of behavior probably need to be tighter. It is hard to convince your sixteen-year-old that she is spending excessive amounts of time on her phone if her twenty-year-old sister is on her phone non-stop.

Likewise, if your adult children are not required to join in for family dinner or family game night, that will undermine your message to your younger kids that “Families Do Things Together”.

The adult child is going to need to accept that he is still a role model for his younger siblings in many ways.

You are going to want to make explicit agreements ahead of time about when and in what way he is committed to showing up. Since the only consequence that you can give an adult child if you are unhappy with her behavior is to ask her to move out, having a regular and open conversation is essential to getting the buy-in and input that will assure harmony and cooperation.

Setting up a schedule ahead of time for check-ins where every family member can bring up issues will assure that issues are dealt with when they are small.

Related: How to Deal with a Disrespectful Grown Child

Don’t parent…advise

Once children become adults…parents must step back from “parenting” to “advising”. When adult children live at home, this can be challenging, because parents naturally…parent.

Parents never stop being parents, therefore it is easy for them to continue to try to direct decisions that their adult children make, especially when living at home.

The best way to keep an amicable and healthy relationship with an adult child living at home is to step back and become an “on-call advisor”. Meaning, instead of expecting them to do things your way simply because you are the parent, respect that they have their own mind and way of doing things.

Advise them from a position of experience, rather than a place of hierarchy. This will help, not only build a stronger relationship, but it will also make living together much easier.

Set the rules

No matter who it is, when you live in someone else’s home, their rules should be respected. The same should apply when it comes to adult children living at home. Rules should be set, rules should be adhered to and respect should be given…on both sides.

Create a contract that lays out exact expectations; how the home is to be cared for, company, over-night company, alcohol/smoking, food, and even noise.

Come to mutual agreements that will be fair for the adult child and comfortable for the parent. You should even list the consequences of breaking the rules. By doing this, there will be no miscommunication about what expectations are for the home.

Set a move out date

While in some ways, it may be great having your adult child/children at home, it could also become frustrating eventually, due to both parent and child needing their own space. Decide together that you will set a move out date.

Make it something reasonable, so that a money cushion can be created and no one feels rushed. You wouldn’t want your child to move out, just to have to move back in, due to a rushed decision. Create a move-out plan, then…abide by it.

Related: How to Stop Enabling Your Grown Child

Christine Storm

Christine Storm

Director of Community Education, Caron Treatment Centers

As we collectively adapt to a ‘new normal,’ parents are spending more time with their children–particularly their teenagers and young adults–than usual. This period of social distancing is an eye-opening experience for everyone and has led to an increase in calls at substance use and behavioral health treatment centers from parents concerned about their child’s behavior.

Today’s pandemic has spurred losses for everyone. Loss of our normal routines, outings with friends, rites of passage and milestones, and, in some cases, loss of work and a steady paycheck.

But it’s important to remember that every challenge presents an opportunity to foster skills of resilience–the ability to adapt and bounce back from adversity.

I recommend that parents work with their teenage and young adult children to recognize the feelings of grief they might be feeling and identify creative ways to celebrate missed milestones like formals, graduations, sporting events, etc.

Strengthen your bond by doing activities you both enjoy

Take this opportunity to strengthen your bond by engaging in activities you both enjoy. Watch a new TV show, cook together, go for walks, or start a new project.

Give them space when they need it, but also capitalize on these unique circumstances that have put you in the same place at the same time for months on end.

Model healthy behaviors as a parent

The best way to establish boundaries and good house rules is to model healthy behaviors yourself. Your child, no matter how old, is looking to you for how to handle uncomfortable feelings like stress, uncertainty, and boredom.

Are you abiding by your own house rules? Instead of using alcohol to cope, as so many are these days, try connecting with your support network, practice self-care, take a break from the news coverage, and practice an optimistic mindset. Your kids will follow your lead.

Claire Barber

claire barber

Mental Health Consultant | Family Care Specialist, Treeological

Consider the changes

There are many possible reasons for your adult child’s return home. For many, that return is due to the comfort knowing that home is always home.

But things have changed, and parents have gotten into new routines, eat differently, and moved things around in the home. Your old room may now be a media center or meditation room.

Talk about expectations

Adult children will need to take that into account and parents must be clear with regard to any expectations they have of their returning children. Parents and children will need to talk openly about meals, expenses, noise, schedules, and socializing.

Most parents wouldn’t ask for money for the added expense they’ll incur, even if it will be a struggle for them, but may accept if children offer.

Parents need to remember that their children are adults in a precarious situation (hopefully not of their choosing) and avoid disparaging or hurtful remarks. Meanwhile, children will need to remember to be courteous and appreciative.

Balance communication

Parents by nature will always care and worry for their children, no matter how old they are. That being said, if as the child you plan to be out very late or all night, you’re an adult but it’s important to communicate to those that you’re living with so as to minimize the worry. Parents will need to respect the privacy of their adult children.

The most important factors are mutual respect, defined and maintained boundaries, and frequent, clear communication.

Jamie Bacharach

Jamie Bacharach

Licensed Medical Acupuncturist | Health Coach | Head of Practice, Acupuncture Jerusalem

Have your adult child contribute financially

One of the most vital components of a healthy relationship between a parent and an adult child who lives at home is that there is a lack of insecurity about the arrangement.

When an adult child lives at home, it can create feelings of guilt on the part of the child for taking advantage of the situation, or resentment from the parents due to the lack of independence displayed by the child.

To avoid these feelings, have the adult child contribute to household costs on a financial level. This will ward off resentment on the part of the parents while giving the child a greater sense of comfort and justification in living at home.

Don’t share a bathroom

Space is important to make parents and adult child living arrangements work. Bathrooms should not be shared, and ideally should be kept as far apart as possible to avoid awkwardness or a sense of encroaching of space.

Terry B. McDougall, PCC, MBA

Terry McDougall

Executive & Career Coach, Terry B. McDougall Coaching | Author, “Winning the Game of Work”

Establish rules on household chores

The rules that we’ve put in place for them are fairly simple. Help around the house, especially when asked. Don’t leave dishes or trash in your room. Clean your room occasionally. You’re responsible for your own laundry and keep it moving — meaning don’t leave it at any stage in the laundry room.

Ask before you use the car and make sure you keep gas in it. If you’re going to be out overnight, let us know where you are. Don’t take our cars out overnight unless you ask.

During COVID, we’ve been strict about not getting together with friends unless there is a 6-foot distance or if they are going out to a store to wear a mask. Normally, our family has a house cleaner who comes twice a month to clean the house. During COVID, this has not happened, so we’ve designated time on Saturdays when the whole family cleans the house together. The ‘divide and conquer’ approach has enabled to clean the whole house in a little over an hour.

We do not have our kids pay rent or for food. The expectation is that they will save up their money to be prepared to move out on their own, in the case of the 22-year-old, in a year or so, and in the case of the 20-year-old when he completes college which he plans to resume in the fall in an online program through his employment at Starbucks.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How should I handle disagreements about house rules?

Listen first: Allow your adult child to express their thoughts and concerns without interrupting or getting defensive.

Empathize: Put yourself in the child’s shoes and try to understand their perspective.

Compromise: Look for solutions that meet both your needs and those of your adult child.

Stay calm: Keep your emotions in check and avoid letting disagreements turn into heated arguments.

Review rules: If a rule keeps causing tension, it may be worth reevaluating its necessity or effectiveness.

How can I enforce house rules without being too controlling?

Collaborative approach: Involve your adult child in making house rules so they feel like an equal participant in the decision-making process.

Be flexible: Be open to making adjustments if certain rules are not working or need to be updated because circumstances change.

Mutual respect: Show respect for your adult child’s autonomy and privacy and expect the same in return.

Focus on the big picture: Remember that the goal is to create a healthy, supportive living environment, not to regulate every aspect of your adult child’s life down to the smallest detail.

How can I help my adult child transition to living?

Develop life skills: Encourage your adult child to learn essential life skills, such as budgeting, cooking, and time management.

Support their job search: Offer your adult child guidance and resources to help your adult child find a job or further their education.

Plan for the future: Discuss the steps and timeline for moving out, including saving for a security deposit, finding housing, and understanding the responsibilities of living independently.

Offer emotional support: Be understanding and empathetic during this transition period, and let your adult child know that you believe in their ability to cope on their own.

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