Failure to Launch

Parents can help reluctant adult children become more independent.

Thanks to the lingering effects of the last economic recession, it has become more and more commonplace for adult children to return home after college. Some stay for years for years, remaining highly dependent upon their parents and struggling with autonomy. This can lead to depression, anxiety, substance abuse and feelings of isolation.

Dr. Eli R. Lebowitz, a psychologist at the Yale Child Study Center at Yale University, recommends implementing these strategies for parents of highly dependent adult children to help get them on the road to independence:

  1. Don’t be judgmental. This applies to yourself and your adult child. Don’t fall for societal labels like “lazy,” “selfish” and “overindulgent,” which only bring about deeper feelings of shame.
  2. Be compassionate. It’s important to recognize that your dependent adult child is suffering and not enjoying the lack of autonomy. It’s painful to watch peers start careers, committed relationships and independent lives when you’re stalled.
  3. Decrease accommodating behaviors. Some parents of dependent adult children continue to do their laundry, cook their meals and clean their bedrooms. Understand the behaviors that enable dependency, then set up small goals aimed at responsibility. 
  4. Seek support. Talking with a trusted extended family member or friend can provide support and advice for an adult child. Keeping it secret may intensify feelings of shame.
  5. Consider mental health. It’s not uncommon for mental health issues to exhibit themselves in late adolescence or young adulthood. Similarly, some learning issues aren’t detected during high school years. 

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