Failure to Launch, starring Matthew McConaughey is a comedy about a 30-something year old man who doesn’t want to leave the comfort of mom and dad’s home. It’s supposed to be funny, but for many parents who have children struggling to grow up and accept responsibility for their own lives, it isn’t so amusing.
For many reasons, we see a growing trend of adult children who continue to be dependent on their parents. I’m not referring the college students who rely on parents’ financial support or stay at home to save money until they graduate. I’m talking about young adults who feel entitled to the blessings of their parents’ home but refuse to be accountable, respectful, and make an effort to be independent.
Hesitant to Leave
When I was young, my peers and I longed to be independent, living on our own, making our own money and decisions. I don’t always see that same sense of urgency in this generation. There are likely a number of reasons for this.
Maybe life seems intimidating and hard. Maybe they lack the skills necessary to successfully navigate the adult world. Our culture extols the joy of being young and carefree, rather than the rewards of being mature and responsible. Maybe they’ve watched adults who act like they don’t want to grow up either. Or maybe we have made the “nest” too comfortable.
The goal of parenting is to raise independent, functioning adults. This generation of parents has put a huge emphasis on keeping our children happy and comfortable. While children need to know they are loved and valuable, maybe we took that too far. Are we putting too much effort into making our kids happy and being “friends” to the exclusion of teaching them what “real life” is like?
Growing Up is Hard to Do
Growing up is uncomfortable at times. We don’t like to see our children suffer so we step in and do more for them than we should. While this may be well-intentioned, it sends the message that they aren’t capable of independence or that they don’t have to take responsibility.
It’s been said that the ideal parental track is to move from benevolent dictator when children are young, to teacher when they are school age, and finally to coach when they are approaching adulthood. Coaches give feedback and tips from the sidelines, but they aren’t playing the game for the athletes!
Children as a Report Card
I have seen many parents use their children as a sort of report card. If my child is doing well, then I get an A, but if my child makes bad decisions it must somehow be my fault. This is a problem.
If my self-worth is tangled up with my child’s I am going to have a hard time letting her grow up, make her inevitable mistakes and learn. As a result I might be too focused on her, pushing her to perform, berating her when she shames me by failing to live up to my expectations. I might also have a hard time letting go and letting her live her own life.
Who’s To Blame?
It’s true that we live in a culture that is quick to blame parents. And sometimes parents really are failing in proper parenting. We need ask ourselves those hard questions from time to time. Am I preparing my child for the adult world? Am I balancing love and appropriate discipline? Am I engaged or checked out? Am I consistent and fair? But sometimes kids, even good kids whose parents did things right, make bad choices.
We are a culture that shirks responsibility. It’s always someone else’s fault. Our children are a product of the culture as well as what happens in the home. They want choices and a degree of independence, but are they willing to take the responsibility that goes along with that? What consequences do they get if they fail to meet their responsibility?
Nuts and Bolts of Raising Independent Adults
To encourage responsibility in your child, consider the following:
- Stop waiting for your child to change. You can’t change anyone but yourself.
- Remember there is a difference between a reason and an excuse. Illness, divorce, adoption, learning disabilities, etc. may have made life harder for your child but they are not an excuse for irresponsible behavior.
- Decide what your expectations are, set boundaries and consequences and communicate them to your child.
- Be clear and consistent.
- Model the behavior you want to see from your child.
- Calmly insist on respectful treatment. Refuse to tolerate abusive behavior.
- Accept that after doing all these things, your child still might choose poorly.
- Don’t assume it is always your fault!
Putting Responsibility Where It Belongs
Ultimately, the message we want to give our kids is this: I love you. I’m so glad God put you in my life, but you have only been given to me for a window of time. I’ve set you up as best I can to succeed in world. This is your life. What are you going to do with it?
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and a registered nurse. After 27 years of parenting, I am about to launch my youngest of five and have an empty nest!
Suzanne Jones, BSN, LPC, NCC (225) 278-3541 [email protected]
Forte Strong says
This was a great article! I love that you emphasize that it’s not always the parents’ fault. So many things can contribute to a child’s “failure to launch”, it’s impossible to place the blame solely onto parents in most cases. That’s so important for people to understand!