After I was thrown out of North Park University in the middle of my sophomore year, I returned to Tucson to live with my Mom and Dad. My older brother Jack, who was a graduate student at the University of Arizona, also lived at home.  In all the years we lived together with good ole mom and Dad, we never had a ripple.  We got along great! We helped out our parents, painted the house, did yard work, took out the garbage, and all the rest.  It was a great experience and you sure couldn’t beat the rent!

But someone once said, “Fish and company smell after three days.” And I’ve heard enough horror stories to know that my experience is NOT the norm.

Do you remember the milestone years in your life?  Remember turning 18 and thinking that you were on your own?  Remember turning 21 and telling yourself that you are legal? The problem is most of us, especially guys, are not grown up until we’re 25 or older.

Now, if you are going to have your adult kids living in your home for any reason, you would be very smart to set up basic guidelines. Another old saying is that “good fences make good neighbors.” And when it comes to this issue, I guarantee you need a fence.

Although your home might be rent free, it is not duty free!   It’s a home, not a hotel, and your child cannot just come and go as they please (no matter how grown up they think they are).

If you could walk the halls of the average college dorm at 2 in the morning, you’d see many kids are not home yet. And many of them are still awake!  While your son or daughter sees coming home at 3 in the morning at your house completely normal, you must set the expectation that this is not a dorm, but a home.

Your kid thinks,”Hey, I’m 21, you can’t tell me when to be home!”

But the truth is, “You are right. You are 21 and I can’t tell you when to come home. But if you come home at 3 in the morning and wake us up when you come through the door and the dog is barking… your seemingly innocent behavior now is impeding on the rights of us old folks that live in this home and pay the mortgage.”

Am I saying that on occasion a kid cannot stay out late?  Absolutely not. But it would need to be agreed on by both parent and child.

I know that college-aged kids living at home can easily turn into a nightmare. Before you agree to this, as a couple you should agree to the “fences” that you need to put in place. If you’re not on the same page, forget it. It’s doomed before you even start!

These agreements should be revisited every semester and during the summer. You might discover (or your son or daughter!) that living together at home is all it’s cracked up to be. They might want to strike out on their own. That is a real good experience for young adults to understand that REAL landlords require cash up front, security deposits, and many other expectations that are part of the real world.

Here’s some ideas for how you can build “good fences” with your young adult living at home.

1. Clean up after yourself

2  Help around the house

3. Every day ask, “What can I do to help?”

4. Respect your family members

These things mean different things to each family, so YOU have to color in that picture. Your son may think cleaning up means dropping the dirty dishes in the sink for someone else to clean. Be clearer than a kindergarten teacher on what your expectations are for living in YOUR home.

Now, many parents want to provide a free place to their children as a way of helping them get started or to help with their education.  That’s all well and good, but I know other parents that say, “If my adult child is living here, especially if they working, they should be paying rent!”

If that is the case, the rent needs to be agreed to and it needs to be paid on a specific day of the month. Cash only, no checks please!  As I saw in the store the other day “No checks please, we have a good supply from last year!

If things go awry, it’s time for reality discipline. You have to say, “Honey, things obviously aren’t working out, as your Mom and Dad we are giving you 30 days notice to remove what you need from our home because this clear is not working.”

Realize that you child might be shocked that you are taking such action.  After all, they probably think its “their” home. But reiterate the many reasons why this is not working. Ideally these will be things you’ve already shared and given fair warning that they need to change in order for the arrangement to continue.

But if you’ve asked for improvement, and you are still getting woken up in the wee hours in the morning you have to act. If you are still cleaning dirty dishes and laundry, it’s time for an intervention.

Be firm, and you will soon realize that you will probably get along better with your son or daughter once they are out on their own, living in an apartment, and and having the rights and responsibilities of young adulthood squarely on their shoulders.

Remember it’s a house…not a hotel!  It’s up to you to follow through if is not being treated like one.


10 Comments

  • Carol Roy-Amorim says:

    Love this advice Dr. Leman!

  • We’re seeing this issue cropping up with our 18 year old high school senior. I seriously doubt we’ll be able to allow him to live here much longer beyond high school graduation, as he would like for this to be a hotel or a dorm. That timeline is if he doesn’t burn the bridges with us before he graduates.
    Our 17 year old junior has learned from his brother’s errors in judgment and absolutely toes the line, and helps around the house. In turn, we have little issue when he asks to do something because he doesn’t ask for much, and he contributes overall to the running of the household.

  • Cathy Updegraff says:

    Hi Dr. Leman,

    Excellent blog, thank you and as you said if you set up the fences and the children have a “clear” understanding of your expectations and guidelines, it will work. I also wanted to let you know that i received my books, thank you very, very much! I am enjoying them, and gleaning so much! Please thank Debbie and tell her I said “hi” and please thank your daughter, Hannah.

    Sincerely,
    Cathy Updegraff

  • Smockingmommy says:

    Well, you helped us during the toddler years when we learned to step over and walk away from the temper tantrum being pitched on the floor at the mall, during grade school about homework & accountability. Now as our son is turning 21 next week and believes he should not be bound by a curfew and shouldn’t have to do much around the house since he has a full time job at the local donut shop and is “tired” when he gets home from work. To his benefit he is working and saving for university next year. As parents we have been discussing how to approach this matter and again I thank you for the “911 – Dr. Leman”. Your advice is so very practical and today, very timely. Thank you.

  • Debra phillips says:

    Timely advice for this mom. Your example of being woken up at 3 am is exactly one of the things we have been dealing with. Thank you for your advice. I’ve been following you since my children were toddlers, and I value your wisdom so much.

  • Jean says:

    Excellent timing! We have 14, 16, & 20 year olds. The 16yo is a HS jr. with plans to attend a local college & live at home – we will certainly be using some of these tips.
    We already used a few similar things with our 20yo. Although not living at home, Mom & Dad were completely funding tuition, expenses and rent. After loosing one income source, we had to firmly say “time for you to step up and take some financial responsibility.” For Mom, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do with any of my kids, but it forced the oldest to kick up the job search – that lead to 2 jobs! Hard step to take, but so far, no regrets.

  • dkotecki says:

    Thank you for backing us up!

  • Kylie says:

    Hi Dr Leman

    Great article. Thank you. I am intere sted in hear your thoughts about 40 year olds living at home with parents. My sister inlaw is 46 and has lived with her Mum who is now 75 for the last 12 years. My mother inlaw has now decided she want to move to a smaller place and we have started the process of preparing the house for sale. My sister inlaw (who has a vision impairement, but can work) feels like she is being “forced out” even though ffor the last 4 years she has said numerous times “I can’t wait to move out of here into my own place” They have a very co-dependent relationship. I have read your “Have your new you for life” which is life changing. My inlaw’s are both the eldest in their family of origin. My mother inlaw is like a “martyr” and my sister inlaw is like a “victim”.They are also both horders which is making it fun for packing. In relation to your article, my sister inlaw constantly complains about all the things she has to do for her mother, yet she only pays $70 per fortnight board. Even though they both want to move out, they are worried about eachother, about how the other will cope on their own. As you can imagine it is a really long story. I look forward to your response.

  • amy says:

    Hi Dr Leman,
    Our daughter, 20 (2nd yr college, 2nd and last child 8 years apart) has been ‘date-crazy’ (1st bf) over the last 7 months…spending almost all her time with her bf…stop short of sleeping -over at his place (overseas student, no parents here) because we fought strongly with a ‘NO’ so far.
    She’s basically doing what she wants, when she wants…not listening to advice nor reasons nor requests.
    Do we stay patient, sweet and gentle (find it really hard to do) and let her lead her own ways under our roof or is it time to ask her to pack her bags??
    Please ADVISE/HELP; I’m really frustrated not knowing what to do.
    My husband says there’s nothing we can do until she decides to stop or come to her senses.
    Am I being too anxious, irrelevant (my daughter says other ‘couples’ spend more time together!) or have too high an expectation of her?

  • PJ says:

    Hey Dr. K,

    I agree with all your points listed above but do you have other thoughts when the age is creeping closer to 30? I have recently seen an increase in adult males who are moving back home and they have been out of school for years. Is this stunting their maturity and personal/professional development? It sure can’t help their chances in the dating world! This recent article from Time magazine seems to confirm the rise in older single adults moving home.
    http://moneyland.time.com/2012/03/20/being-30-and-living-with-your-parents-isnt-lame-its-awesome/
    I would really love to hear your thoughts on this older generation of millennials slipping back into a potential emotional and economic dependance on mom and pops.