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How to Treat Your Adult Child like an Adult — Even When They’re Still Living under Your Roof

parents talking to their adult child

It might seem like just yesterday you were dropping your child off for their first day of kindergarten. Now, they’ve graduated from college, and they’re eager to start their life as an independent adult — and back to living in their childhood bedroom, minus the superhero sheets and princess pillows.

There are plenty of reasons that a child may need to move back home. They may have just graduated, unsure of what they want to do next. Or they may be working, but want to save up some money for a year. Or maybe they’re experiencing a rough patch in their lives, such as losing a job or getting divorced.

Whatever the reason, if your adult child is living with you, you’re not alone. The trend of adult children living with their parents is on its way up, and it’s becoming more common for children to live with their parents into their 20s and beyond.

    5 Fast Facts about Adult Children Living at Home

  1. In 2016, about 32% of young adults lived at home, compared to 20% in 1960.
  2. Young men (18-34 years) are more likely to live with a parent than with a partner.
  3. Young men are more likely than young women to live with a parent.
  4. Factors such as education, race, and ethnicity have been linked to young adults living at home.
  5. Young adults are more likely to live in their parents’ home than with a spouse or partner in their own home.

Whether your adult child is bunking with you for a few months or a few years, it’s important that you treat them like an adult. It can be tempting to go back intro strict parent mode, but having your child live with you gives you another opportunity to teach them the skills they need to become independent.

And treating them like their actual age will help build trust and actually strengthen your relationship in the long run.

Here are five ways you can treat your adult child like an adult while they’re living with you.

1. Set boundaries — and be clear about them.

When your child was young, they needed boundaries to keep them safe in a world they were still learning about. Now that they’re older, they may be able to make smart decisions, but those decisions can impact you. For example, if they decide to leave the kitchen a mess, it may be harder for you to cook your next meal.

Set clear boundaries while they’re living in your household to avoid any misunderstandings. Tensions can become high if you and your child have different opinions about something they’ve done, which can be avoidable by setting a few simple expectations.

Some boundaries you may want to discuss with your child include:

  • Household chores, such as doing the dishes and cooking meals
  • Having guests over, including if they can spend the night
  • Times you want the household to remain quiet, such as at night
  • Alcohol and tobacco use

You may also want to discuss if or when they plan to move out, such as at a certain age or when they get a stable job. Remember to be empathetic and understanding when it comes to a potential timeline.

It may be helpful to have some of these boundaries in writing so there is no confusion down the road.

2. Respect your child’s choices and independence.

It may be hard to admit your child has grown up — especially if they’re living at home. However, they aren’t teenagers anymore, and it can help if you acknowledge and respect that. They may not be completely thrilled with their living situation, and treating them like a child may make them feel worse.

It’s important that you continue to respect their independence while they live with you, especially if the eventual goal is to increase their independence and have them move out.

If they’re abiding by the household rules that you’ve agreed upon, try to hold back any judgments about their lifestyle choices. This may include what they eat, who they spend time with, and how late they sleep in.

Respecting their privacy is crucial. However, if they’re leaving their food all over the kitchen or sleeping in late on the living room couch, don’t be afraid to have a discussion about respecting your household. Holding them accountable is a major component of increasing their independence.

3. Avoid the blame game.

You may not have been planning on having your adult child back in their old bedroom, and that can be frustrating. However, try not to place blame on them — or yourself.

If you make your child feel like a burden, you may end up pushing them away. By blaming them, you run the risk of damaging your relationship with them, possibly for a long time.

Try to be empathetic and understand why your child is living at home. If they feel like you’re criticizing their life choices, that can take a toll on their confidence. This may make it harder for them to believe in themselves and achieve their goals.

It’s also not productive to think about what you could have done differently as a parent. Their situation is much more likely a result of the economy or a relationship that just didn’t work out than the way you raised them. What matters right now is that you support them in their life as it is.

4. Make informed decisions about money.

Remember when you used to give your child an allowance or let them borrow your credit card for back-to-school shopping? Well, times have changed — and you may need to be a little more conscious of how you handle money while your child lives at home. Living at home might help your child save some money and build their financial future, but it should not put a burden on you.

More than a third of parents say that their adult children living at home leads to some financial stress. To avoid unnecessary tension, set some rules that you both agree upon and stick to them. Some rules you may want to discuss include:

  • Asking them to be financially responsible for living with you, such as paying for one of the utilities
  • Discussing your bills with your young adult — even if they don’t pay for them — to educate them about the expenses of a household
  • Helping them set goals that move them toward moving out, such as saving up a certain amount of money each month using an auto-debit
  • Creating a budget with them and acting as an accountability partner for that budget

The goal may be to have your adult child save up to move out or learn about being financially responsible. Either way, you may need to provide a little encouragement to support them.

5. Embrace the change.

When your child was in high school, they may have spent all of their time in their room or at a friend’s house. They also may have been a little less inclined to sit down with you for a family dinner. Now that they’re older, your relationship will be different — and it may be a good thing.

More than half of all parents are happy to welcome their children home. It can allow you to bond with them and support them during a transitional period in their lives. You may be able to enjoy having your morning coffee with them or experience their recently-acquired cooking skills.

You’ve both changed in some ways — so try to embrace it. When your young adult does move out, you may just wish you had a little more time with them at home.

Finding a Balance

Whether you’re excited about your new roommate or a little hesitant, remember that allowing them to bunk with you for a little while shows them you support them no matter what. However, it’s also important that you encourage them to find their own independence. Talk to them about their goals, and ask them if there are any skills they might want to work on during their time at home.

Finding the balance between spending some extra time with your adult child and setting boundaries while they’re living with you may be complicated — but it’s important for both of you now and down the road.

Still have questions about your child living at home? Call (785) 270-4600 to set up an appointment Stormont Vail Behavioral Health Center to discuss building a healthy relationship with your adult child while they’re living with you.

2 thoughts on “How to Treat Your Adult Child like an Adult — Even When They’re Still Living under Your Roof

  1. My 24 year old daughter just finished her 2nd year of teaching amid the covid19 school closures and asked to come home when her roommate refused to abide by the stay at home orders. Her dad and I welcomed her home with open arms and even provided her with a quarantine area in our RV. Her daddy physically worked for about 36 hours straight to provide her with water, power, and sewer hook ups because she feared she might have been exposed to covid19 and didn’t want to come directly in the house. Then I cooked and took meals to her and was at her beckoning call for two weeks before she moved into the house with us. We were happy to be of help to her and glad she was home where we all felt she was safer in this pandemic. My problem is she is the same slob taking advantage of her dad and me that she was as a small thru high school kid. I have asked her for years to clean up her bedroom when I was forbidden to go thru her stuff. Today I found 8 dirty cups and a disaster you cannot even walk through in her bedroom and bathroom. I literally had to force the bathroom door open because of the dirty clothes and trash in the floor. I don’t want to destroy our relationship, but I threatened to post pictures of her messes on Facebook for all her friends and coworkers to see. I can’t keep up with picking up behind her in the other rooms of the house, and despite my desperate pleas, she will not get up and help me with cooking, cleaning nor the laundry. Im also having to take care of her dog (along with my own indoor dog plus the other 7 we have in the farm) because she leaves the dog wherever I am in the house and then goes and shuts herself up in her bedroom. The poor dog is so confused that at 18months old she has started using the bathroom in the house because she’s not getting my daughters attention anymore. I’m stretched to my max, and I’m at my wits end.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. As we have had new challenges come with COVID19, we have had to readjust parts of our lives that can sometimes create hurdles for us to overcome. Stormont Vail Behavioral Health Center can discuss building a healthy relationship with your adult child while they’re living with you. They can be contacted at (785) 270-4600 to set up an appointment.

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