Parents Who Over-Function and How It Hurts Their Kids

Much has been said, these days, about the practice of Adulting. This term is used to refer to what The Oxford Dictionary calls, “The practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.”

As a therapist, I often meet with parents of these young adults who are very worried about their kids. They tell of grown children who are still living with them, working only part time or not at all, not paying rent or doing chores and even relying on parents to cook for them, wake them up in the morning, make their appointments and pay their bills. Some parents say their kids use drugs in their home and even control the entire family’s moods with their poor behaviors. What’s a family to do?

For many of today’s young adults aged 18-25 it has become the norm to delay the typical signs of adulthood like getting married, buying a first home and having children. While there are important economic reasons for this shift, it is essential to let our children make their own decisions on these matters. However, on things like paying bills, making appointments, saving and managing money, cleaning up after themselves, and working hard at a job, it is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL that parents require their adult children to stand up and accept these responsibilities – or LEAVE.

Too many parents find it easier to do important tasks for their children than to get their child to do it for themselves. All the way from doing the laundry of a 23-yer old to calling in sick for them, these parents are over-functioning which allows their child to under-function.

However, for the adult child, when a parent over-functions it robs him of the ability to build the muscles of life and keep up with his peer group. So, when the under-functioning 20-year-old has dropped out of school and is traveling on daddy’s dime or sitting home playing 12 hours of video games, his peer group is graduating from college and moving on. After a few more years, the group is getting married, launching careers and having kids. And where’s Junior? Filled with self-doubt and wondering when he will ever be happy, he is desperately lonely and can’t find his tribe – they’ve moved on.

It turns out that the stuff of happiness is the self-respect that comes from hard work, accomplishing important things, knowing others deeply and making a difference in the world. And for these things to happen – we must work for it. Struggle is essential in order to grow up well.

Want to know if you’re over-functioning? Check this list of typical adult responsibilities and see how much you require your adult child or older teen to do:

  • Pay rent
  • Finish school
  • Take care of the things they own
  • Replace the things they break
  • Call to make their own appointments
  • Clean up personal and shared spaces
  • Go to work at least 30 hours a week
  • Accept the consequences of drinking, drug use and other illicit behaviors
  • Show respect for family members, friends and colleagues
  • Pay their own cell phone, computers, insurance and car payments
  • Use credit wisely
  • Show up for commitments even when they don’t feel like it

While this isn’t a complete list, it’s a good start. Uncomfortable with having your older teen or young adult do these things because you think it will be too hard for them? Actually, it’s a gift you can give them so they can learn to manage their lives and keep up with their friends. Having a hard time getting your adult child to accept these responsibilities? Call our office to set up an appointment with me and learn how to help them launch.
– Cindy Finch, LCSW 949-480-7767.