3 Myths To Help You Address Your Adult Child's "Failure to Launch"

05/26/2013 09:52 am ET | Updated Jul 26, 2013
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When it comes to adult children who have "failed to launch" -- either returned home after being away to college, an attempt to leave the nest to live on their own or who have never moved out to begin with -- there is generally a variation of one or both of these two scenarios: For some of these young adults, the current economic climate has prevented them from getting jobs and having the financial security to move out on their own. Some may choose to go back to school and/or do a re-evaluation of their long-term career goals. In this case, they are in a transition period, to hopefully figure out what to do with their life given the reality they face. They are simply using their "safety net" because they are not yet ready to support themselves (they might even be accruing debt) and the safety net is there.

On the other hand, some young adults have simply gotten too comfortable at home and because their needs are being taken care of, have little incentive to leave. While your intentions are probably the best, you may inadvertently be doing your child a disservice by allowing this status quo to continue. So let's debunk three myths to help you recognize some of the ways you can help your child fully launch into adulthood:

Myth #1: My child will outgrow it.
This is not to say that young adults won't continue to mature as they grow older, but many adults become stuck at lower developmental stages as they age chronologically. Some may still act like children or adolescents around the house and may not outgrow these behaviors naturally without specific strategies to get them back on track.

As a parent, you can help provide your children with guidelines to help them move forward that recognize childhood is over. For parents it's great if you're in a position to give your kids a safety net, but it's crucial that you don't allow them to become too comfortable for their own good. Maybe your child is unable to be responsible for the totality his or her personal finances, but he or she can still be expected to take care of basic needs, like food, spending money and taking care of hygiene issues (such as doing their own laundry!), etc. I offer individualized strategies for different levels of maturity in my book Stage Climbing: The Shortest Path to Your Highest Potential that may provide you with some tools for helping you to deal with this situation.

Myth #2: I'm helping my child.
Many parents don't understand that in the long run they're not helping their kids by making them too comfortable. At some point in the future, your child will have no choice but to learn to live without you. While you may know this intellectually, it can sometimes be difficult to foresee this and connect it to how they are presently functioning. Now is the time for your adult child to learn independence -- in gradual steps, if necessary -- and while still having you around for guidance. Our final phase of parenting is to teach our children how to take care of themselves, so that they can eventually become your emotional equal. You'll always be the parent, but they need to grow and go in their own unique direction, if ever they are to reach their potential.

Myth #3: If I make them feel unwelcome, they will think I don't love them.
Insisting that your child "act his age" is actually an organic labor of parental love and really quite natural. Think about the mother cat. Cats are incredibly nurturing to their kittens, but there comes a certain point -- and the mother cat knows this instinctually -- where they finally say "enough" and shoo the kittens away. The kittens may try to come back for more nurturance, but rather quickly and efficiently, they are forced to make it on their own. Eventually, the kittens can interact with their mother again as adults, but with the empowerment of no longer needing to be nurtured. As humans, we have to do a version of this as well. When children are deprived of the opportunity to try things on their own, it can subtly, but severely erode their self-confidence, and self-confidence is crucial for optimal success in every area of life. Their fears about being independent and making it on their own only get worse as this is put this off.

It may not be easy at times to provide this brand of often tough love, but once you recognize the power you have to "gently nudge" your child into adulthood so they can reach their potential, the rewards to both of you will be unmistakable!