The Pennington Point on Adult Kids Living at Home

The Pennington Point on Adult Kids Living at Home February 12, 2015

I just stumbled upon a blog post Lisa Pennington wrote last August, a month before her daughter, Alecia Faith, left home. In this post, Lisa talks about how she handles having adult children living at home.

Right now we have 4 adult kids living at home and 1 more graduated that’s just under the wire of official adulthood.

This is a whole new level of parenting.  People say toddlers and teenagers are hard….we didn’t have big struggles with those ages.  But adults, that is a topic that needs some attention!

I don’t know the age spread in the Pennington family, but Alecia Faith was the fourth child (and third daughter) and was 18 when she left home. Today, it has become more important for for young adults to live with their parents into their twenties, so having a young adult still living at home is not in and of itself surprising. However, I suspect a lot of people would feel that having four (or five) adult children still living at home reflects what my grandfather calls “failure to launch.”

Lisa writes this:

I am sympathetic to my kids’ situation.  They are adults living a child’s life.  They need to break out and believe me….we want our little birdies to fly from our nest.  I am not anxious to be the head of an adult living center.

But when her daughter Alecia Faith did just that a month later—breaking out and flying from the nest—Lisa wrote this:

On Wednesday, September 24th my life was changed forever.  My 18 year old daughter left home.  She gave us no warning, no signs that it was coming.  She didn’t try to talk to us about it or work with us.  She, with the help of my parents, just left.  And with her she took pieces of my heart that had been torn to shreds.  I cried harder that day than I ever knew was possible.  So hard that it scared my little boys and I had to go in my closet and put a pillow over my face to muffle the sobs.

We have spent the past 11 days trying to make head or tails out of what happened.  Why did she leave?  How can we help her?  What will happen next?

We got no real answers.  Only more confusion as some of the circumstances unfolded.  We discovered that my parents had been planning this with her without telling us (as you can imagine, an additional part of my grief is not only the loss of my daughter but the total end of the relationship with my parents).  We also learned that she has been telling exaggerated stories about what is going on inside our home to a godless woman who has been giving her foolish counsel and encouraging her to deceive us and get out.

These decisions our daughter has made are unimaginable to me and completely out of character from the girl I know.

Lisa doesn’t seem at all pleased that her daughter broke out and flew from the nest. You could argue that she was upset not that Alecia Faith left, but rather that she left without telling them beforehand and involving them in the planning. But in the same post Lisa also wrote this:

We did have a meeting with our daughter about a week after she left and it became obvious when we agreed to give her everything she was asking for that she did not intend to come home. She had sent us a list of things she wanted to change at home, but because we agreed to all of the changes and she still won’t come home….it seems there must be something deeper there that she isn’t telling us.

In other words, Lisa was upset not simply that Alecia Faith left without warning but also because she left. It appears that some commenters called her out for this, because Lisa ended up adding this note to the end of her post:

Believe me, we do not want to keep anyone in our home that doesn’t want to be here. This is not about whether she should be here or not. It is about treating the people you love with honesty, honor, respect and dignity.

In general, young adults do not just up and move out of their parents’ homes without any warning or mention of their impending move. That Alecia Faith felt the need to do so suggests that she had reason to do so. So if she’s going to talk about treating the people you love with honesty, honor, respect, and dignity, Lisa may want to start with herself.

And on that note, I want to return to Lisa’s post on parenting adult children.

1. If it belongs to me I have authority.  My house, my car, my food….I can say how it gets used and if I let you paint the room you are living in your favorite color then I am doing you a favor.  And you should be grateful.  But if it’s yours…..your purse, your clothes, your car then I should leave you alone about it, even if I have a great idea that would help you undoubtedly achieve great future successes.  I close my mouth.

So . . . adult children don’t get to choose the paint for their bedrooms without getting permission first. And even if they do get permission, it’s a favor, so they better be grateful.

Of course, we already know that Lisa feels entitled to her adult children’s labor. Check out this excerpt from another post, for example:

The next morning I asked my oldest son if he would take the van to the tire place and get it all fixed back to the way it was before any of this ever happened., which he did.  I do realize that sounds like I don’t do any work, but keep in mind I spent 20 years raising him.  Not dealing with tire cleanup is is my reward for years of diapering and nose wiping and hurting my back pulling him in a wagon.

Except that that’s not how it works. When you choose to bear a child you are volunteering to spend years changing diapers and wiping noses. The child has no say in the matter. I have nothing against asking an adult child to do a favor for you—provided you present it as voluntary and not mandatory—but the years you spent raising that child do not obligate them to acquiesce.

Anyway, back to post:

2. They should pay for themselves as much as possible.  We haven’t moved to having our kids pay rent, but that is because they are responsible with their money and they voluntarily hold themselves accountable to us about how they use it (accountable, not obedient).  But we do require them to pay for their phone (they are on our plan) and they buy their own special foods (so if they like a certain cereal or drink they buy their own, but they eat meals with us).  I have thought about charging my son for laundry services.  Free if you do it yourself, $2 per load if you convince a sister to do it for you.

When I was in college about to head home for the summer after my freshman year, my RA told us that we should sit down with our parents at the beginning of the summer and hammer out ground rules. This was really good advice. At one point, one of my sisters took a break from college and returned home for a while, and when she did so she sat down with my parents and they created an agreement. My sister paid rent (she found the amount asked quite reasonable), and her obligations to the family were made clear (so much cleaning, so many dishes, etc.). This worked fairly well.

What Lisa is talking about is different. She says she doesn’t charge her children rent, but that instead they must hold themselves accountable to her and her husband in how they use their own money. She says this is different from being “obedient” in how they use their money, but the distinction is completely lost on me. So instead of charging rent, Lisa demands some level of control over her adult children’s finances—i.e., over what they do with their own money.

I should also note that in a comment on a post about children and money, Lisa writes that the children’s grandmother sometimes give them money, and that when they do that she waits until after grandma is gone and then takes the money from the children and puts it in a family account for things for the whole family. While this makes sense for small children, it makes much less sense for middling and older children. Why not let them keep the money and choose for themselves how to spend it?

And now for Lisa’s next point:

3. Easing into adult responsibilities. Our two oldest kids are each saving to buy a car and when that happens it will be 100% their responsibility.  For now they use our cars, but there are rules.  They have to ask.  Every time.  They have to tell us where they are going and when they will be home and if that changes they have to let us know.  And they have to pay for insurance and whatever gas they use.

Remember that we’re talking about young adult children here, not high school students. I mean I get that as a parent, your car is your car, and you’re going to want to know if it’s in the driveway or not, but the way Lisa explains her rules makes her sound overly controlling.

There is absolutely no ambiguity in the next point, though:

4. Discipline is a harder issue.  For example, if we request they get up and be dressed by 7:00 in the morning and they don’t do it….what should happen?  Basically, we give them adult sized consequences for these things.  A week without the use of our car has been a consequence we used in the past.  That wasn’t fun.  We do give them a lot of privileges that we could take away if necessary.  I mean, eating here is a privilege and so is having your own room.  If you want that privilege then you have to show respect for our needs as a family and joyfully do what we ask unless we discuss it and all agree to something else.

Um. No.

Hell to the no.

Especially the part where if you want to eat and have a room to sleep in, you have to do whatever your parents ask unless, through discussion, you can get them to agree to something else. And this extends to things like when you have to get up in the morning! I’m going to hazard a guess that it also extends to things like bedtime and visiting friends. We’re talking about adult children living at home with their parents, remember?

So let’s recap. To live in her parents’ home as a young adult, Alecia Faith was expected to obey her parents and to give them oversight of her finances. She had to wake when they said, and to get permission to go anywhere (after all, using the car is a “privilege”). Her parents told her that eating and sleeping in their home was a “privilege,” and because she had raised her her mother felt entitled to her help and labor.

I’m not at all against young adults living with their parents. I’m very much against parents micromanaging their young adult children who live at home. Hammering out an agreement outlining the obligations for each party? Absolutely! But even the hammering out of this agreement itself should be done as a conversation, and conversations go two ways. And this “privilege” stuff? Really? Lisa noted at one point that one of her adult daughters has taken over all of the grocery shopping for her. Methinks it is Lisa who is benefiting the most from this arrangement, not the other way around!

I’m not surprised that Alecia Faith decided to leave and strike out on her own, and Lisa shouldn’t be either.

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