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Published On: October 10, 2017|Categories: Clinician’s Corner|

You’ve surely heard the stereotypes of recent and not-so-recent college graduates who move home, mooch off their parents’ groceries and have little motivation to pursue a career. While the stereotypes can be comical, the reality of the situation has become so common that clinicians have developed language to describe this dilemma that faces parents and their older children.

What is failure-to-launch?

Failure-to-launch syndrome, while not a clinical diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is a term commonly used to describe an adult who struggles to manage the transition to independent adulthood. Failure to launch syndrome tends to occur in a person’s 20s and even into their 30s and causes strain in family and caregiver relationships.

Parents who want their children to flourish may struggle when faced with a child’s failure to launch. They may experience disappointment, frustration, sadness or confusion. Many parents criticize themselves, wondering what they could have done differently.

What is an “adulting” definition?

Failure-to-launch syndrome is the term coined to express a person’s presenting concern, and “adulting” is the term people may use to explain success in this transitional stage. A person who has achieved a positive, functional and self-supporting lifestyle is a person who has figured out “adulting.”

Moving into adulthood requires the growth of important skills like time management, decision-making, budgeting, taking care of oneself, consistency and more. While college may be a testing ground in these skills, building your own life in an unstructured environment is much more challenging.

Individuals who could be considered fail to launch may experience ease initially as parents provide the necessities and comforts of life, but may eventually experience low motivation, a lack of purpose and stalled emotional development. Parents who have dependent adult children typically experience stress and caregiver fatigue.

What does it look like to struggle with “adulting”?

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to depend on one’s parents into adulthood, and this can even be a sign of a healthy attachment to caregivers. However, when a person demonstrates the following failure-to-launch syndrome signs, you’ll know it’s time to make some changes.

  • Your adult child does not pay rent or other bills: saving money after college is a good goal, but complete financial dependence can contribute to a co-dependent relationship and cause emotional strain down the line. Achieving personal success requires taking care of your personal responsibilities, including housing and utility expenses
  • Your adult child has no plan to move out: having a straightforward and short-term plan to stay home is reasonable. Having no goal of independent living or a plan to move out in several years is a sure sign that failure to launch should be addressed
  • Your adult child doesn’t know how to do daily chores: giving your children the best life possible is a noble goal, and it’s easy for it to slip into pampering. Taking care of your adult children by doing their laundry, cooking their meals, cleaning their room, and filling up their gas tank and such behaviors are not healthy indicators of independence
  • Your adult child does not act like an adult: living at home and being able to rely on the care of others can stunt social and emotional learning. Independence is filled with hard lessons, and an adult who acts, in the same manner, he or she did in high school should make lifestyle changes

An adult who has little motivation or progress towards realizing the definition of “adulting” is likely regressing in development. The best way to encourage maturity is to use the following adulting 101 tips.

What is adulting 101

As the parent of an adult child, you may feel that your influence over your child has ended, but the reality is that even after your adult children move out you can still teach valuable lessons. Use the following tips to encourage your children to build an independent and fulfilling lifestyle.

1. Don’t enable

Enabling means contributing to maladaptive behavior in another individual. An enabler may prevent their loved one from feeling the full consequences of their actions. For example, if you have an adult child living at home who does not contribute to their expenses, by paying for their needs you may discourage him from finding a job or moving out.

2. Don’t make yourself too available

Taking care of an adult child can feel as busy as taking care of teens or younger children. You should feel empowered to spend time on yourself instead of making yourself constantly available for your child. Planning your schedule around your child’s is a pattern that needs to stop.

3. Create a timeline

While parents may love having their children move back home, this transition should be temporary. Putting a definitive date on the calendar should offer some motivation. Consider having your child start paying for rent in three months, paying double in six and paying for their share of rent and utilities in a year.

4. Show support for progress in independence

Even adult children need affirmation and approval sometimes. Engage that positive psychology and applaud your child for making progress. The transition doesn’t have to be immediate, but when growth happens it’s important to recognize it.

5. Reach out for help

If your child is struggling with failure-to-launch syndrome, you can get help through

The Light Program. Whether you seek counseling for your child, yourself or the whole family, you can achieve intrinsic change for mental health challenges. Get help by reaching out now.

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