Is Your Adult Child Living in the Basement? How to Prepare Your Child For the Real World

Your son is twenty years old. He refuses to go to college, has found a minimum wage part-time job because “that’s all that’s out there”. He lives in your home, eats your food and when he needs extra cash (which is almost all the time) he gets it from you. All you ask of him is that he do some basic chores around the house which he either neglects or he simply refuses to do.

This is the worst nightmare for parents but it is becoming a regular topic in my counseling sessions. Parents who have children who have developed an “entitlement attitude” well into their twenties and even beyond. They come to me for solutions and I feel a little like a doctor who is sitting in front of a morbidly obese patient who has just been told they have diabetes. If only they had come years earlier and sought lifestyle changes before they developed the disease.  

So I am writing this to those who are not yet in the predicament of dealing with a child who is “failing to launch” with the hope that you can avoid this heartache and lead your child through adolescence to become strong, capable and self-sufficient. And I will work under the principle that God has given us in his Word. The principle is simple and is articulated in many ways:

  • There is no free lunch
  • You do the crime you do the time
  • What goes around comes around
  • Good things come to those who work

This is not the dream they had for their child when they were born; so how did they get there? Just like the obese person put on weight one poor choice at a time so the parents of a dependent adult child created their problem through a series of poor parenting decisions.  But it starts with violating a basic rule of life that is articulated in these verses.

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’
— 2 Thessalonians 3:10 NIV
Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty
— Proverbs 28:19 NIV

Teaching your child that they have the responsibility and the capability to succeed on their own is vital to your child’s ultimate success in this world.

Let me break it down:

“True character is built through overcoming adversity”

Responsibility: As your child grows they must become increasingly responsible for their own lives to the point that when they are an adult they will naturally take over control and live independently of you. This is a gradual process of releasing them to experience the consequences of their own decisions. There is no greater teacher than consequences. This is exactly what these verses are talking about. When we fail to work hard and our stomachs begin to rumble for lack of food we will vividly experience the consequences of laziness. But unfortunately there are too many parents who refuse to let their children experience any negative consequences of their poor decisions.  They coddle and pamper their child and rescue them from experiencing their failures. This leads to a disconnection with reality. Because as much as we may want to believe differently true character is built through overcoming adversity. And to save our children from adversity is to hobble their ability to function successfully in this world.

“Save your child from trials and you will rob them from becoming confident.”

Capability: How do our children learn to become capable and confident? Unlike the current philosophy of this age it does not come through praise. We cannot talk our children into confidence as if the more praise we heap upon them the greater their self-confidence. Confidence comes through competence and competence comes through overcoming obstacles by persevering. Save your child from trials and you will also save them from becoming confident.

I love taking to successful people. Not so much because I like hearing about their present success but because I love hearing about what trials they overcame to become successful. I had a recent conversation with a very successful internet entrepreneur who recounted the years he spent barely able to make ends meet working fourteen hour days in his basement. He told of the sacrifices he and his family made on the road to success and how numerous times he wanted to quit but didn’t. This is a man whose character was forged through the crucible of white hot trials and he came through it.   

“True happiness comes from true character. ”

Are you allowing your children to grow through their trials? Are you expecting them to overcome the obstacles in their lives and encouraging their perseverance.  Or are you more interested in their short-term happiness than their long-term success? Many parents have the mistaken view that their job is to give their children a “happy childhood”. That is just plain wrong! Please don’t misunderstand me; I am not saying that we should want our children to suffer. What I am saying is that when we focus on their happiness instead of their character we fail help them find happiness. True happiness comes from true character. So quit creating a fantasyland for your children and help them adjust to the real world of challenges, disappointments, fears and failures. And when they conquer their fears and overcome their challenges celebrate with them for the beautiful character qualities they are learning. Because they are one step closer to becoming an honorable adult and one step further from living in your basement when they are thirty!

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