Current Issue

A reader recently asked me what rules she and her husband should set for their 20-something daughter when she returns home to live after graduating from college. It seems that they’d had some conflicts over house rules with said daughter the previous summer and wanted to avoid a repeat performance.

I replied that I’d rarely heard of this arrangement working. Most of the kids in the daughter’s generation have been on a never-ending entitlement program since day one, and as such things go, respect for their parents has been replaced by expect of their parents. Therefore, the suggestion that they should obey rules when they continue to live at home after high school graduation is generally received with disdain. Exceptions do occur, but they do not abound.

I advised these parents to avoid the emotional toll of trying to get their grown daughter to obey house rules, when her history suggests she will violate them. Instead, I suggesting they set her up in a small apartment and gradually wean her off their support. After this column appeared, I received numerous e-mails of affirmation—save one. The young lady’s mother wrote to express her disappointment in my answer and reminded me that she had written asking for reasonable house rules. Instead, I told them not to let her live at home. My suggestion that the daughter be slowly weaned off of their support didn’t sit well either because, Mom said, “Decent jobs are not to be had.”

It is certainly reasonable for this young lady’s parents to ask her to comply with a curfew and to maintain her area of the home according to existing standards. But if she’s typical of her generation, she will feel that because she is chronologically an adult, she should be allowed to come and go as she pleases and keep “her” room in whatever state suits her. Under the circumstances, I do not have “magical” house rules with which she will be certain to comply, much less some “magical” way of eliciting compliance.

If my experience serves me well, these well-intentioned folks are setting themselves up for lots of stress, frustration, anger, resentment, and guilt. If (as I predict) they begin having conflict with their daughter, the toll could even be felt in their marriage. Setting their daughter up in her own apartment is going to cost them a bit more than letting her live at home, but the emotional savings will more than offset that difference.

As for the idea that there are no jobs to be had, that simply isn’t true. Jobs are not in great supply, but they’re still out there. The market requires that seekers persevere and perhaps even lower their expectations.

Having to figure things out for herself would also be of great benefit to this young lady. She needs to learn how to live on a budget, something that is unlikely to happen if she continues to live at home. She needs to learn to plan ahead, delay gratification, and set fiscal priorities. She needs to learn to take care of her own basic needs, such as food and health care. In short, she needs to learn to take care of herself, and her parents need to extend her that privilege.

Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at or (817) 295-1751.

Living With Children: Rules for Adult Children Living at Home

by John Rosemond
From the May 2010 Signs