Empty Nest? Not yet...

Will they ever move out? The challenges of living with adult children.

By Melanie Flynn


After graduating from high school, most North Shore adolescents attend college.  Parents assume that four consecutive years of higher education will culminate in   employment, the pursuit of an advanced degree, or both.  Nostalgia sets in, even before it all happens.  We reflect on our children’s development from infancy through adolescence, and think about the about the myriad of opportunities they’ll have as they enter the adult world and become self sufficient, contributing members of society.   But what happens when life presents “bumps” that parents can’t predict?  What if the path we’ve constructed in our minds is not the one our children take? 


The US Census Bureau shows a steady rise in the number of young adults living at home since 2005.  We can certainly blame a sluggish economy for the increased number of college graduates who are either underemployed or unemployed, and we know that unemployment rates are highest among those without a college degree.    We talk about the kids (and there are many) who’ve landed great jobs, and are happily living in downtown apartments, or who are furthering their education.  But we don’t talk about those who have not finished school, have struggled with emotional issues, who can’t (or won’t) find a job, who lack the maturity to gain independence.  Is it laziness, poor parenting, a sense of entitlement, or complacency?  Do young adults really want to sleep in their childhood beds and eat Mom’s home-cooked dinners indefinitely?


Most parents who have young adult children were living on their own and supporting themselves by their early twenties. They have worked hard at providing for their children and even harder at being good parents.  Although we want our children to grow up feeling valued, talented, and confident, an inflated sense of self-esteem can clash with the harsh realities of life.  In a community where financial success yields endless comforts, and adults seem to effortlessly hold coveted, high paying positions, our children’s expectations for employment are often lofty and impracticable.  Entry-level jobs (as parents well remember) can be boring, low paying, and arduous.  But hard work, dedication, and commitment lead to achievement, authentic self-confidence, and a propensity toward independence.


Whether “emerging adults” (an age classification coined by psychologist Jeffrey Arnett, bridging adolescence and adulthood) fear rejection in the job market, or struggle to find meaningful employment, they need to understand the value of work, and its necessity to their social, emotional, and fiscal development.  Waiting tables, washing cars, bagging groceries, or working seemingly endless hours in any training program will all result in increased self-knowledge, adaptability, and hopefully, maturity.


Living with adult children is joyful when they’re employed, forging ahead, saving money to live on their own- and it’s temporary.  The challenge for parents comes when there isn’t a plan, a steady job, or motivation to get going.  We can listen, suggest, and support, but we can neither dictate our kids’ lives nor predict their paths.  If we push them out of the nest before they’re ready to fly, they’ll come home, probably with more diminished self-esteem.  But if we require our emerging adults to find and maintain employment, perform household chores, spend their own money and be contributing members (instead of messy guests) of our families, then maybe they’ll feel the self-value they’ve earned.  Achieving independence at home may be the catalyst these “emerging adults” need to seek their place in the world, and to embrace, rather than avoid, adulthood. 


Email: melanieflynn@linksyouth.org

Links-North Shore Youth Health Service empowers young people to make informed, responsible decisions about their health, well-being and sexuality.






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