Parents with Children Not Growing Up and Moving Out

There was a Dr Phil show recently that featured a young man who would not grow up and go out on his own. He was quite comfortable allowing his mother to take care of his every need. The most remarkable aspect of this situation was the young man’s unabashed attitude about living off his parents. This situation may not be as rare as we think it is. I realize now that when I was growing up there was a man next door who was living off his mother. It was remarkable to me, even at an early age, how irresponsible he was.

How does this situation evolve and what should parents do to make sure that it doesn’t happen to them?

I may not be the best person to answer this question since all three of my children were more than ready to be on their own. My concern at that time was that they might be out there too early but they all did real well in life and I could not be prouder of them. So how does this life-long dependency evolve? It has to be an absence of ambition and the lack of development in one’s self-confidence.

How does a parent correct this situation?

I will leave that up to people like Dr Phil and other psychiatrists. How to prevent it from happening does not require clinical help. Dependency is a learned trait in a child. What a child learns sticks with them into adulthood. If a child’s life consists of one or both parents constantly making all the decisions for the child, how can they expect the child to make decisions on his own? If the child never experience’s the opportunity to make choices in life, the young man or woman will not be able to make life choices. If the child does not develop the maturity to overcome a fear of the unknown then there is no way they can face the unknowns of pursuing a life of their own in adulthood.

It is becoming fairly obvious that the problem results from a parent being overprotective or a child growing up in a small protective cocoon where he makes friends with computer games instead of experiencing life with his or her peers. Young people have a remarkable talent for forcing each other into adulthood. They do not accept their peer’s reluctance to try things. They introduce each other to experiences and choices (good and bad) that one would not encounter alone. This is one of the problems facing parents who home school. They have to make a special effort to ensure that their children have an ample opportunity to interact with their peers.

The most important lesson a parent can teach a child is the lesson of expectations in adulthood.

I have some relatives who raised five great kids. One of their family traditions was the “Breaking of the Plate” ceremony when the appropriate time came. The ceremony consisted of a few sentimental words about growing up and then the literal breaking of a plate. This ceremony accomplished two purposes. One, the ceremony creates a demarcation point in life for the young person. Secondly, all the young people present know that this point if life is in their future and they have to think about it whether they want to or not. What is most important is the reference made to the ceremony in early childhood. Children must grow up with the expectation of developing their way in life.

Many parents develop a general acceptance in their child that their future will consist of college, the army, truck driving or drug dealing. Expectations are a powerful force in a child but they can never be that rigid. A caring parent will expect the best but be willing to expect something less when they realize that their child is not going to perform as “expected”. The expectations game can be very effective if not rigid and dictatorial.

The expectations game can also include training in the joy of work and accomplishment with a good dose of success and failure mixed in. An adult will have difficulty with these concepts in life if they are not learned in childhood.

Be prepared to let go of the child and allow them to mature and grow in life.

I believe that is the most important parental responsibility. I tell young parents that there is “LAC” in every young parent’s life. “LAC” stands for “Life after Children”. For the sake of your child make sure that you experience “LAC”.