Ideas, tips, and information about parenting adult children

Published: Sunday, Sept. 9 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

Jeanette Petersen, left, sets the table for Sunday morning brunch while daughter Amy, right, prepares the meal for the two of them and their house guests. Amy Petersen moved back home with parents and says they have worked out a deal where one cooks and the other cleans.

Tina Larkin, Associated Press

It’s a story Garth A. Hanson has heard many times.

A 30-year-old man, his wife and children arrive at a parent’s home expecting help after losing their home. They live in the basement but help themselves to the parent’s food, beg for an interest-free loan, hog driveway space and claim hours of free baby sitting. They basically take over the house.

“I’ve seen several examples of that,” said Hanson, a retired BYU professor and lecturer who speaks at BYU's Campus Education Week. “The parents get to the point where they just hate these kids. They want to kick them out but they don’t want to endanger their grandchildren. It gets really messy until they separate.”

In a tough economy with more competition for fewer jobs, mingled with the constant problems of life, more men and women are moving home to live with their parents. But should parents provide an easy escape. When those scenarios arise, parents should cautiously examine the situation and look for ways to coach their kids to be self-sufficient, said Hanson, author of the 2005 book, “Principles of Love: How to Successfully Parent Your Adult Children.”

“I don’t think that we should significantly alter or destroy our lives to support our adult children,” Hanson said. “There may be exceptions that we should carefully consider, but not many.”

Moving home

The percentage of men ages 25 to 34 living in their parents' home rose from 14 percent in 2005 to 19 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For women in the same age demographic, the figure rose from 8 to 10 percent.

In a recent Forbes article titled "Failure to Launch: Adult Children Moving Back Home," Alan Dunn wrote that a college degree doesn't have as positive of an effect on a student's future as it once did.

"For many, graduating college manages only to increase the individual’s debt without leading to job opportunities," Dunn wrote. "With so many people graduating college, a degree does not have the same coveted rarity as it once did, and there are simply not enough jobs to go around for everyone to enter their dream career right out of college."

An adult child moving back in with parents is rarely an ideal situation, Hanson said.

Reasons for returning home can vary but could include educational pursuits, loss of employment, loss of residence, divorce, day-to-day financial woes and the need for cheaper child care. There have also been occasions when wayward adult children have moved in to abuse or take advantage of an older, vulnerable senior, Hanson said.

Parents are genuinely concerned and want to help but lose control of the situation when they fail to establish strict guidelines up front. As the situation deteriorates, parents begin to ponder questions like, “What do I do to get my child out of my home?” or “How can I help my child without getting burned?”

“This doesn’t mean they don’t love them," Hanson said. "It only means the imposition is greater than the parent wants to bear."

The interview

When an adult child comes home for help, perhaps the most important thing a parent can do is conduct what Hanson calls a “responsibility interview.” He defines this term as an event where two or more adults sit together, discuss future arrangements and agree upon whose shoulders certain responsibilities will fall, as well as consequences for failed obligations.

“I’m not kidding with this,” Hanson said. “This is one of the most important things you can do with children and grandchildren.”

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