How can parents help adult children without enabling them?
We’ve been hearing more about “boomerang kids” lately, young adults who, due to a bad economy, dearth of jobs or for a variety of others reasons, move back home with mom and dad after a season of independence.
Boomerang kids are part of a rapidly growing trend. According to a recent NBC News article, “A Pew Research Center analysis released earlier this month found that 40 percent of 18- to 31-year-olds with a high school degree or less, and 43 percent of those with some college education, were living at their parents’ home in 2012.” Another study shows that 85 percent of college grads move back in after school is over.
I come to this scenario never having lived it myself. Because my mom died when I was still a boy, and because my father and stepfather left us, I’ve been on my own since my early teen years. The idea of being in my twenties and thirties and living with my parents is a foreign concept to me. However, I can only imagine this could make for a tough situation – for both parents and their children.
The underlying question is this: How can parents help adult children without enabling them?
With the exception of a man leaving his parents to cleave to his wife, the Bible is largely silent on the specific topic of grown children in the home, and so I think we have to look to the larger principles in God’s Word for guidance. I’ll share three things, based on advice from Focus counselors, that parents of adult children might want to consider.
1. The end-goal remains the same
The Bible charges parents with certain objectives, and these don’t change just because your child grows up: we are to help our children become followers of Christ, godly men and women. (Malachi 2:15 and Ephesians 6:4)
Parents of adult children would be wise, then, to view their decision-making with this ultimate goal in mind. Doing this will provide clarity of thought and insight into when to provide “tough love,” when to speak or remain silent, or when to lend a helping hand or not.
Measure your child’s actions against the fruit of the Spirit. Ask yourself how your child is becoming equipped to one day become a husband or a wife, a father or a mother. Consider how what you do or say will impact your child’s walk with the Lord.
2. Clearly communicate expectations and boundaries
God clearly sets out expectations and boundaries regarding responsible behavior in the Bible. Parents should follow that example with their adult children. (1 Tim 5:8, Gal. 6:5, 1 Cor. 13:11)
Before an adult child moves back in, talk through things like timeframes, rent, pitching in around the house, etc. The son or daughter moving back in isn’t a child anymore, after all, and shouldn’t expect mom or dad to meet their every need and want. Likewise, they shouldn’t expect parental help to last indefinitely.
If an adult child is already living at home, then parents should consider having this conversation sooner rather than later – the more time passes without clear boundaries, the more difficult it will be to rein in bad habits that may form.
In any case, these respectful conversations should continue to periodically take place during the duration of a child’s stay.
3. “Do not provoke your child to wrath” still applies to parents
There’s a difference between parents setting clear limits on moral issues in their house, and giving an opinion on every matter under the sun. Sometimes it’s wiser to pray for the Holy Spirit to work a change in your child’s heart than to voice your own concerns over a topic.
As long as your adult children are meeting the obligations you previously talked about, try to refrain from making an issue if they are mismanaging their time and not looking for a job, for example. Soon enough the time limit for the temporary arrangement time frame will expire, and your child might have to face some unpleasant consequences.
Topics like these present a special challenge because there are as many special circumstances as there are sons and daughters. In the end, there is no list of rules parents can follow that will guarantee success – there are only guidelines that can help moms and dads navigate what might be a challenging season in life.
Because of this, may I encourage the parents of adult children with boomerang kids to constantly pray? Pray over your child. Pray over your own heart and actions. After all, in parenting or any other thing, God gives wisdom to anyone who lacks it and asks for it (James 1:5).
As always, you can also speak with one of our family help specialists by calling us at 031 716 3300.
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