Living with grown children is not the same ball game as raising small children. An entirely different set of “parenting” skills is needed to make this further chapter successful and happy for all involved. Furthermore, it requires different parenting for different personalities. You will live differently with the conscientious young adult than you do with the lazy one.
Homeschooling families in this generation are doing something that the secular culture has largely abandoned for several generations now: godly grown children are voluntarily choosing to continue to live with their parents until marriage, and their parents are in agreement about this. Many believing families are opting to do this for spiritual reasons, because they see this pattern in the Bible, with good results. Abraham chose a mate for his grown son Isaac when Isaac was well advanced in years, deep into adulthood, still living at home. The lives of Ruth and Esther are set in stark contrast to the loud wandering, worldly woman spoken of in Proverbs who is seldom at home. When Dinah left home to see what the daughters of the land were doing in Shechem, she left the protection afforded by a godly home and got into terrible trouble.
The advantages of this living arrangement with adult children are many, both relationally and financially. This arrangement spares the single adult from the severe temptations of shack-up situations and possible mincing forays into homosexuality—or the appearance of evil through the set-up of supposedly “platonic” guy-girl roommate relationships, and from any number of additional devastatingly dysfunctional roommate situations whenever someone lives with anyone who is not part of one’s extended family.
In addition, living with one’s parents until one is married provides an opportunity for the young adult to amass an economic nest egg that will make a huge financial difference for them. Earning money while living under their parents’ roof with minimal expenses may even afford them the possibility of paying for a house or land with cash and never having to pay rent. Having disciplined goals during these transition years affords the young adult the possibility of further unimaginable savings over a lifetime, and relieves a young marriage of many financial stresses. (Many houses bought with mortgages end up costing three times as much over the lifetime of the mortgage. This money is siphoned from the earnings of each person; it is given over to a bank instead of building his or her own estate.)
However, as with any relational set-up, there are pitfalls and blind spots that must be avoided for this arrangement to work well. For this living arrangement to be successful it must be done with mature relational savvy on the part of the parents, otherwise the experience can result in lifetime scarring, destroyed relationships, adult tensions galore, and lifelong regrets for all parties of those lifetime relationships. [Note: because of the limitations of the English language, we will refer to the grown single child as “he”, but this applies just as much to a daughter as to a son, albeit in a slightly different manner, given the different biblical standards for men providing for themselves and their families.]
Motivational speakers for years now have identified what makes people continue to produce and live invigorated lives. People tend to stay in marriages, businesses and living situations where they continue to grow. An affirming positive loving atmosphere will keep a person in such a relationship. If this climate is not present, the tendency (or at least the lure) is to jump ship.
The key shift in parents’ thinking with regard to sharing their home with grown children has to be the realization that they are launching their young adult’s life, doing everything possible to gladden and enrich that emerging life, rather than viewing him as an appendage and a support for their own lives. In other words, the parents must learn to do life by themselves, while also finding ways to procure advantages for their son’s life. This involves choosing to carry their own load, even though the adult son continues to live in their home. Conversely, if parents are leaning upon their grown child, using him, micromanaging him, demanding of him, and/or shaming him into doing their bidding or adopting their perspectives on everything, they will find an unexpected kickback that they may regret as time passes.
Many adult children grow to be quite capable in a variety of areas and thus can potentially become a real boost to their parents’ lives. This is fine, so long as it is volunteered by the emerging adult as he thinks of it, rather than his parents extracting it from him. Otherwise, he may grow to feel “used.” Many parents unknowingly take advantage of their grown children’s capabilities (without compensating them for them, i.e. liberally and gladly paying them or returning some trade in the rent agreement, etc.) for their own parental benefit, and this may become increasingly oppressive for the young adult.
If the parents are using their adult son for their own benefit, he may at first turn away from them inwardly, and as time progresses may turn away bitterly in actuality and finally may eventually bolt because the relationship has become irreparable. Parents’ relational salvation with their grown children is to think long-term and big picture. What do you want your grown child to think of you when you at last rest in your grave? Does he perceive the relationship as enlarging and enriching for himself? Does he flock to be with you? If given a choice, is he drawn to you, or do you observe him avoiding you, living in tension because of you, skirting interfacing with you over any matter? These are alarms and bells and whistles that will only intensify, if you do not reverse them. You are fashioning your own reputation with him. What is that reputation? Are you, perhaps, winning the battle (his compliance for the moment) but losing the war of winning his lifetime permanent affection for you? These are deep waters.
As with any adult living situation, clean lines must be drawn and understood by both sides. Clean lines must be drawn regarding finances and regarding responsibilities. Otherwise, the grown child will find himself buried in a jungle of implied expectations, both expressed and naggingly felt. He may sink into depression and hopelessness, wanting to escape but not knowing how. No adult can stand doing another adult’s bidding unendingly. All such relationships end in destruction. Expectations kill relationships, unless the expectations are clearly stated, are reciprocal, and are mutually advantageous. Living in a continual win/win situation with your adult child will tie him in loving bonds with you for a lifetime. Is home a place he loves to be? Strive to see your life together through his eyes.
When living with a conscientious young adult instead of correcting him broadside, try some humor. Also, strive to posit your opinions in questions instead of edicts, fashioning your sentences more like this: “Might you find this way more advantageous to yourself?” Tell them that you are available to pray with them, if they should want that at any time for direction, and to clarify certain ambiguities for them. Brainstorm with them. Get other mature adults to brainstorm with them. Encourage them that in a multitude of counselors there is victory, as it says in Proverbs. This has an entirely different feel than ordering them around as adults.
All of this is advice for living with conscientious adult children. If, conversely, you live with a lazy, irresponsible adult child, you must put the screws to them to enforce specific expectations, in order for him to have the privilege of continuing to benefit from the advantages of living at home. Otherwise he must learn by having his cheek on the pavement of some street somewhere. Draw the expectations firmly, and perhaps do so on paper, together, not signing anything as a formal contract, but providing “paper” objectivity upon what you both are coming to agree to together. After that, the young adult, by then crossing those agreed upon ideas, willfully puts himself out of the home. It was not you that did it, but he. The aimless young adult must be made to draw up his own goals and ambitions. He must be growing old skills and learning new skills by apprenticing with others further along in those fields or studying. He must be drawing income from somewhere, or he can’t live at home. This living situation is to advance him in life, not to coddle him by providing hours for more sports and video games and other entertainments.
For young unmarried gals it is best to define their life as a full complete single life now, and the probability of a full married life later. They are to live equally well in both conditions, steadily making a difference in God’s kingdom. Get them out of the “waiting game.” Help them become fulfilled now with both meaningful income-producing work and kingdom work. No one does well with a sloppy, ill-defined, meaning to life. Get them fulfilled working steadily year round with meaning; there should be no intermittent dragging months. See to it that they wake up to a day with purpose, continually.
So, what do clean lines in living arrangements look like?
Separate your finances and financial obligations from his or hers. Does your son/daughter pay rent? Or, does he/she work for that rent for you by doing specifically X, Y, and Z, or by working for someone else to earn that rent? This area alone will destroy a relationship if not clearly spelled out. His/her obligation to you (as regards paying a fixed amount for rent) cannot be unending and open-ended; it has to be settled by fixed tasks or established payment amounts, where there is a measurable end to them and the young adult is freed from any further parental expectations. Are the household’s meal preparation and cleanup responsibilities clearly delineated? Who is responsible for what? Do you give each other space, if so desired, by leaving the kitchen when he or she enters; or vice versa? Are both of you working at what you would both have to do full-time if you were living in two separate households? Meal planning and preparations are a given in every living situation, at least some of the time.
Does the emerging adult have some space all to himself? Does he have the potential of privacy? Does he clearly own his own things and have his own bank account?
Your grown child needs space that can be organized by his own design and kept neatly or in a mess, given his personality—just as married couples have with each other. If all space is shared, the relationship will collapse. Private property is one of the first gifts even God gives to His bride (children) by allotting land by tribe to the children of Israel. (A possible solution to consider: see if you can add an Accessory Dwelling Unit, ADU, to your property, and bring in a nice tiny home that your adult child wholly finances.)
Do you give your grown child his own time, and opportunity to do his own home-based business(es) or to work for others without being clobbered by your own random, unexpected sudden requests, to get you out of a bind, that claim his time for your own ends? Are you frequently invading his time? Even if you see him doing nothing, that is his right if his bills are paid. Further, have you determined to make it financially advantageous to him to live with you, or are you eager for his financial contribution only for your own sake? A grown adult knows his parents’ motives. He observes them when you are not on dress parade.
Often remind yourself that if he were married and out of your home, he would ipso facto be using his time as he sees fit and thinking his thoughts as he thinks them, just as you did when you reached adult autonomy. Just as you do not have access to your married children 24/7, it is not your right to have such access to the unmarried, even though he is still in your own home. Adulthood is adulthood, and that includes having a separate psyche—even a private diary and private letters, just as you have. If you did not finish the job of raising him during his growing years when you were authorized by God to do it (and who of us parents ever does finish it?), you have to make your peace with the fact that that your “formation” job assignment has ended. Your grown son will never be perfect; he will never totally “arrive”—just as you and your spouse haven’t, even yet. You have to shift gears, from constant correction to living with forgiveness and adapting to all the uncomfortable, unpolished behaviors of any adult human being. Other factors (we learn from experiences, too) and influences from other people now will have their say, not the least of which is God’s input, Himself, directly into his adult soul.
Make sure that your grown at-home son/daughter knows that you are building his kingdom and not your own, and you will find that his heart will be with you to the end. If you do not do this kind of self-sacrifice and adaptation when he becomes an adult, he may flee at his earliest chance. Home has to continually be the best place on earth or another will be found, at any cost, if even only in the section of the heart that privately “longs” for such a place, substituting someone else in his/her affections. Build relational capital with your grown children for a lifetime, by never losing sight of the prospect of the last ten years of your own life. What have you relationally earned from your son by being as supportive and loving as possible? That may even involve joining the “zipped-lip” club that many seniors have found they had to join ahead of you. You have a chance to create a heaven on earth for your offspring as long as you live.
For further details, read our eBooks Waiting for Mr. Right and How a Young Man Can Optimally Prepare for Marriage. Better yet, buy the book of Savvy Teens, which includes all of that content and a whole lot more!