How do I know when it's time to ask my adult child to leave? After graduating from high school, our oldest son elected not to attend college. In the beginning, he had a part-time job, but it ended over a year ago. That's when all the trouble started. Since then he's been sleeping till noon every day, lying around the house, and eating up all our food. He refuses to look for another job, won't help with chores, and defies our wishes by bringing tobacco and alcohol into the home. And he's constantly stirring up trouble with his younger siblings. We don't want to push him out into the street, but we can't allow this to go on much longer. What would you suggest?
Sometimes tensions rise beyond the bearable level, even when you've done all the right things as a parent of a young adult. There may even come a time when the conflict begins to cause damage. It sounds like you've reached that point.
It would be different if your son were still a minor. In that case, if his behavior were disrupting the household and threatening the safety and well-being of the rest of the family, you'd have little choice except to stand your ground and do "damage control." Since he's officially an adult, you need to ask yourself whether there's any good reason to keep the damage-causer under your roof.
Before doing anything drastic, we suggest you examine your heart and check your motives. If you're champing at the bit to lower the boom and kick your son out of the house, pause and ask yourself why. If, on the other hand, you're unwilling to take any kind of decisive action, see if you can identify the root causes of your hesitancy.
If this seems too confusing or overwhelming, seek the counsel of a pastor or therapist. A trained professional can also help you do a thorough "damage assessment" of the entire family. At this point it's crucial to determine whether your son's presence in the house is harmful to himself or others, and if the damage is serious or potentially permanent.
The point of all this analysis, counsel, and introspection is to make sure that you're not doing anything on the basis of pure emotion. Before drawing a line in the sand, you need to be fully convinced that your actions aren't based on anger or fear. If they are, you'll almost always make a poor choice. Instead of solving the problem, you'll simply be avoiding what you're afraid of or lashing out at what makes you mad.
You can keep emotions under control and work toward a wise decision by following this three-step process:
- First, you and your spouse should sit down separately and write out a list of personal statements you want to communicate to your son. Explain your concerns in the clearest possible language.
- As a couple, review each other's lists. After an honest discussion, develop an agreed upon list of statements that you can feel good about presenting to your son together. This part of the procedure is extremely important. If both parents aren't on the same page, nothing decisive can be accomplished.
- After a joint list is agreed upon, sit down together with your son and read it to him. Make sure that he knows exactly what you expect of him. If, for example, you consider the presence of beer and cigarettes in your home a non-negotiable issue (and we would suggest that this is a question of maintaining safety and order for everyone in the house), then let him know that he has a choice. Either the tobacco and alcohol have to go, or he does. If seeking employment is a requirement for remaining under your roof, say so plainly. Don't leave anything up to personal "interpretation" on his part.
Once this process is complete, remember that follow-through is vital. This isn't about "scaring your son straight" with empty threats. That's manipulation and it won't work in the long run. If he refuses to comply with the criteria for staying in your home, proceed to the next step: ask him politely but firmly to pack his things and leave. If you need backup, don't hesitate to invite a few friends from the neighborhood or your church to be present on "eviction day." You should also be ready to call the police, but only as a last resort. If you're not willing or able to go that far, don't issue an "eviction notice" in the first place. Whatever you do, it's crucial that you remain consistent and stay true to your word.
If you think it might be helpful to discuss these ideas at greater length with a member of the Focus team, our staff counselors would consider it a privilege to speak with you over the phone. They can also provide you with a list of referrals to trained therapists practicing in your area. You can contact our Counseling Department for a free consultation Monday through Friday at this number.
Losing Control & Liking It: How to Set Your Teen (and Yourself) Free (book)
Parenting Adult Children