What kind of standards of conduct and behavior should parents impose upon an adult child living in their home? Our single 29-year-old daughter lives with us in separate quarters off of the main house. She knows how deeply we feel about marriage as the only appropriate context for sexual expression, but she's made a habit of having her boyfriend sleep over on a regular basis. I know I can't force her to change her behavior, and I don't want to lose the influence we have with her or hurt our relationship by making this an issue. But it does bother and concern us. What should we do?
This is an excellent question. Your choice of wording – "What kind of standards …?" – is significant. It demonstrates that you're attuned to two critical concepts: 1) To a certain degree, every household, and every member of every household, needs to be governed by rules; and 2) Different rules apply to different age categories.
Your daughter is no longer a child. Though it's altogether fitting that she honor her mother and father in appropriate ways, she is nevertheless a full-fledged grown-up, and thus your peer in every important sense of the term. Since she isn't an adolescent, she can't be expected to abide by all of the rules and regulations you would have applied to her as a teen. You can't, for instance, impose a curfew on her, tell her how to live her life, or place restrictions upon her choice of friends and companions. What she does outside the home is her own business. She should, however, be made to understand that as long as she's occupying space on your property, she will be expected to respect and observe your standards of conduct. It's your house, after all. Your name is on the mortgage, and that means you have the say-so as to what goes on there.
There's a great need for discernment here. All too often when an adult child moves back home, the parents are tempted to use the situation to their own advantage. They may see the arrangement as an opportunity to manipulate their offspring into "behaving" properly. In some cases they're driven by a subconscious need to deal with unresolved issues of their own – for example, a false sense of guilt about having been "bad parents" in the past or an unhealthy desire to "hold on" to their child. We live in a society where it's becoming increasingly difficult to maintain meaningful relationships between the generations, and some parents are willing to do almost anything – even to the point of betraying their own consciences and promoting family dysfunction – to keep that connection alive. We'd encourage you to avoid that mistake.
The fact of the matter is that you won't be forfeiting your influence in your daughter's life by insisting that she either honor your views on sexual morality or find other accommodations. You'll actually be asserting that influence in the best and most powerful way possible. You'll be showing her that you're serious about what you believe – serious enough to protect and maintain your own integrity even at the risk of introducing pain and strain into the relationship. She may not like this, but sooner or later she will have to learn to respect it. And that's one of the most important lessons you can give her at this stage in her life.
The key here is to shift your attitude. Instead of seeing your daughter as your "child," try approaching her as you would any other grown-up renter or tenant. Sit down together and draw up a written contract specifying the terms of her living arrangement with her. Handle this as you would any other business agreement with another responsible adult. Print out a renter contract form (they're available online or through your local Division of Housing) and fill it in with her assistance. List your house rules, making them as clear and specific as possible. Address such topics as rent, utilities, bills, pets, cleanliness, conduct, safety, and an appropriate level of respect for your property and the property of other members of the household. State plainly that behaviors that violate your personal values and moral standards – such as allowing boyfriends to spend the night – will not be tolerated on the premises.
How you handle infringements of the contract is strictly up to you. There's always room for grace and forgiveness, even between landlords and renters. But the advantage of a written agreement is that it gives you a sound legal basis for eviction in the event that violations become flagrant and persistent.
Focus on the Family has a staff of trained family therapists available to speak with you. Call us. Our counselors can refer you to reputable and qualified family counselors working in your area. They'd also be more than happy to discuss your concerns with you in a free over-the-phone consultation.
When Adult Children Move Back Home