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When your adult child can't seem to get his act together and take responsibility for his life, some common reactions surface. Here's how to deal with them:
First, it's important to set aside your emotions.
Two common emotions – resentment and failure – fight to possess your thoughts during times of stress. You will feel resentment: Why is my child doing this to me? After all we did for her, she is self-centered and spoiled. She is going her merry way, and we have to pay the price.
And you will feel failure: If we had done the job right the first time, if we'd sent him to military school, if we hadn't sent him to military school, if I'd helped him with his math, if I'd been there when he need me, if we'd insisted that he not date that girl, if we hadn't moved during his senior year, if…if…if…
Set realistic goals.
Struggling children do not always move back home, but they all need to find a new direction in life. So with you and your spouse advising, help them set realistic goals.
A realistic goal is one that all of you believe is within reach. A realistic goal is also measurable. For example, when Richard and Betty's son, Andy, moved back to his parents' home with his children after his wife left them, he set three goals for himself: He would quit drinking, he would take a nine-month vo-tech course in welding, and he and his boys would be in their own home in 18 months. This plan was realistic and measurable.
Plan how to reach those goals.
Goals are not reached overnight. Nor do they happen without plans.
If your daughter needs to get her own place, don't simply say, "Well, Darci is going to move out whenever she finds the right house." Instead, calculate the cost of rental, lease, or purchase. (Include first and last months' rent, cleaning and security deposit, moving cost, or other expenses.) Then estimate how much your daughter can contribute per month to that fund. If it will take five months for her to save enough money, Darci can set a goal: In six months, she will be settled in her own residence.
Agree how you can help.
What do you owe your adult children? Probably nothing. For better or worse, you raised them to adulthood. They are responsible for their own decisions. To clam that their present difficulties are the parents' fault only hinders their progress toward independence.
But you do have an investment of love, and most times you will want to help your struggling adult child get reestablished. So discuss exactly what you see your role to be.
Be specific. Here are a few examples:
- "We will allow you to live at home for two years. You pay for room and board, at $300 per month."
- "We will pay one-half of your rent until the retraining program is completed."
- "We will watch the grandchildren after school every day for one year."
- "We will allow you to use the old pickup until next September so you can save to buy a vehicle."
Set specific, objective points of measurement.
Don't wait until the very end to find out if you reached your goal. Decide on a way to evaluate progress and redefine goals and roles if necessary. Set a date, such as, "On the first of December we will evaluate this arrangement." And establish some performance standards for measurement. If your child is to finish college in two years, for instance, at the end of six months he should have completed 15 or more units of credit. If he is saving to get his own place, he needs $1,000 saved by January 1.
Explain your position if goals are unmet.
Explain what your position must be if your child refuses to reach those goals – not merely fails to reach, but refuses to reach. Sometimes goals are unreachable. Sometimes circumstances truly prevent goals from being reached. Some goals are dated and lose their value with time.
Fulfill your part of the arrangement.
It might mean working overtime, going back to work, giving up golf, or putting up with a backache every night from lifting the grandkids, but fulfill your part of the arrangement. If you fail to keep your promise, you will spend the rest of your life wondering what it could have been like if you had stuck to the agreement.
Accept the consequences.
No plan, good or poor, always succeeds. Maybe your adult child will suddenly get a life, straighten out his family relationships, settle down, and live happily ever after. Or he may bomb out again and again and again. Most adult children will probably end up somewhere in between.