According to the most recent US Census Bureau report, 24 million adults ages 18–34 are still living at home with their parents. This could be for a variety of reasons—economic hardship, a difficult housing market, a competitive career landscape—but, whatever the reason, the truth is clear: it’s becoming more commonplace and acceptable to call your parents roommates.
While it may be more acceptable, this trend can lead to some unhealthy behavior. For some adult children living at home, the duration of their stay can be considered emotionally unhealthy and mean they have a “failure to launch.”
This term, failure to launch, describes the phenomenon of adult children remaining highly dependent upon their parents after college and beyond. The psychological and systematic factors underlying the failure to launch are complex and multifaceted.
It’s not uncommon for young adults navigating adult responsibilities to suffer from depression, anxiety, substance abuse and deep-seated feelings of isolation. Emotional issues often do not express themselves until late adolescence or young adulthood. Additionally, learning issues that were not detected earlier can also contribute to the underlying causes of an adult child’s struggle with functioning independently and autonomously.
But, at its core, failure to launch signifies a young adult’s struggle with his or her ability to be autonomous and to function independently from his/her parents.
Dr. Eli R. Lebowitz, a psychologist at the Yale Child Study Center at Yale University recommends the following strategies for parents of adult children who find themselves in a failure to launch situation to steer their child toward autonomy and independence:
Don’t be judgmental of yourself or your dependent adult child
Too often, parents and/or their overly dependent adult children are labeled as being lazy, selfish or overly indulgent. These types of remarks and criticism only bring about deeper feelings of shame, depression, isolation and anxiety for parents and children. In actuality, failure to launch is a multi-faceted and complicated situation.
Be compassionate with your child
It’s important to recognize that your dependent adult child likely is not enjoying their lack of autonomy independence. Ultimately, it is painful for anyone to watch their peers move on with their lives by starting careers, being in mature relationships and living independently. Understand that your child is likely not happy to be living at home, either.
Decrease accommodating behaviors that enable your child’s dependence
Some parents of dependent children continue to do all their laundry, cook their meals and clean their bedrooms. These behaviors may actually enable your child’s dependency upon you. Set up small goals aimed at helping your dependent child take on more personal responsibility for themselves. For example, expect them to prepare their own dinner, keep their room clean and pay a household utility bill if possible.
Don’t keep it secret
Keeping your and your child’s living situation a secret may intensify feelings of shame and failure. At some point in our lives, we all struggle. It’s important to appreciate our difficult times, not view them as something we are ashamed of. Seek support from family and friends about your situation
Get a mental health evaluation, for issues like depression and anxiety
It’s not uncommon for mental health issues to exhibit themselves in late adolescence or young adulthood. Some learning issues are not detected during a child’s high school years because of parental involvement and teacher supervision. So, it’s not uncommon for learning issues to become more apparent in situations where there are significant academic and organizational demands and little supervision.
Dr. Paula Durlofsky is a psychologist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, whose practice focuses on psychological issues affecting individuals, couples and families. She is affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital and Lankenau Medical Center, part of Main Line Health.