Adult Children Still Living at Home? Getting Them To Contribute

by Reader Contributors

Adult Kids Living at Home? Getting Them to Contribute photo

Are your adult children still living at home but not helping with the bills or household duties? Our readers (and parents) offer advice on getting them to contribute to the family household.

Dear Gary,
My husband and I have young adults living in our home, one pair of them has a five-month-old. One has just started a new job, which may or may not work out; the other two are unemployed. We have a decent family income from my husband’s job, but we’re getting farther behind with mounting expenses every day. And, these young people don’t even pull their weight with chores, etc.

All of this is adding stress to our marriage, which is an additional problem. How do we get them to work, budget, etc., and take more responsibility for their own lives? Talking, family meetings, etc., simply aren’t working. They pay us lip service and agree to contribute more. Then, they go right back to doing nothing to follow-up on their promises.

Short of telling them they all have to leave, what else is there? Help!

Adult Children Still Living at Home

We have published articles on this topic, but sometimes it helps to hear from others who have walked in your shoes. Our readers had plenty to share on how to get adult children contribute to the family household and what you can/should do if your kids refuse to get on board with your requests. Read on for their advice and tips.

You might also find these articles helpful:

Enroll in Tough Love 101

Tough Love 101 is needed.

The best thing you can do for your children is teach them to stand on their own. Decide on a rent amount that is to be paid monthly, by all children, and stick to it. There are jobs and side work available to those looking for full-time employment.

Develop a list of household duties and divide them, rotating weekly or whatever works for you.

Finally, you and your husband need to set a date for all children to move out. Your kids need this to motivate them to make some decisions, and most of all, you and your husband need this to protect your relationship.

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Adult Children Living at Home: Read This Book

I highly recommend the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud. It will help you tremendously in dealing with this difficult situation.

You have allowed your children to not take responsibility, admittedly because you can’t stand to see them in pain. But you’re not doing them a favor by enabling their irresponsible behavior. Tough love is overdue!

Implement House Rules (…and Stick to Them!)

The best solution to this problem is to make staying at home less appealing. The best way to do that is to make it more like the real world.

You and your husband should call a family meeting to tell your children that changes will be taking place and explain why these changes need to happen. Make sure you and your husband are a united front and hammer out the details before you have the meeting. Tell them that you are more than willing to support them (when truly needed), but you also feel that it is your responsibility as a parent to prepare them for making ends meet on their own. After all, you will not be around forever. Explain to them that the new rules that are about to be implemented were developed with that in mind.

Here are some changes you might want to make:

  1. If you are giving them money, stop! They should have to earn every dime from here on out.
  2. Charge rent. Charge whatever amount you think is fair, but it should be at least $100 per month per person (over 18 years of age). This is a deal compared to what they would pay elsewhere. If you can afford not to use the money they pay you for rent, place it in a savings account. When they decide that it is time to move on (aka move out), you can give the money back to them. If you cannot afford to save all of the money they give you, you could just save some of it. Whatever you do, do not let them know that you are planning to give the money back to them. This should be a pleasant surprise on the day of the move. If they are ever late on their rent payment, you should charge a late fee. You should not give any late fees that they had to pay back to them.
  3. Make them pay a percentage of the utilities bills. I would split the utilities evenly. If there are five adults, each adult will be responsible for 20% of the utility bills. Remind them that the more energy and water they use, the more they pay. This will give them incentive to conserve, which will hopefully keep costs down for you.
  4. Assign certain people to certain chores. Make a chore chart if it helps. If someone doesn’t do an assigned chore, give them one warning. Every time he/she neglects that chore after you have given them a warning, permanently increase the offender’s rent by $5 a month. Do not give any increase back to them.
  5. Do not let them take your hospitality, generosity and support for granted. There are plenty of parents out there that would have kicked them out long ago. If they express displeasure over any of the changes or call them childish, you should simply point out why you had to establish these new rules in the first place. Remind them that living with you is not their only option, and if they do live with you, they will need to abide by your rules.
  6. Tell them that if any of them habitually break or ignore your new rules you will help them pack their bags. It may sound harsh, but some people need to learn the hard way. Grown and capable adults should have a lot more responsibility than these three do. It is their lack of responsibility that is causing your undue stress. If they do not choose to take on more responsibility, you may just have to give it to them.


Adult Children Living at Home: No More Free Rides

First off, charge rent. We do our children no favors offering a free ride. Those unemployed need to find work, even it they think the job is beneath them. Once they are used to paying, they will be more apt to find their own space.

You may elect to put the rent money in a separate account, unknown to them, to give back to them to be used only for a security deposit or down payment on their own place.

Yes, life can be tough, and we all need a little hand once in a while, but adult children need to know they need to be more adult, and less children.

Stop Lip Service! Get It in Writing.

I would recommend drawing up a contract with each young adult or pair that lays out specific commitments and consequences if they are not met. Review the contracts with each of them and have them sign the contracts so that everyone understands what they have agreed to. Then, if the commitments are not met, the consequences must be enforced or the whole exercise is pointless.

Provide Stepping Stone But Don’t Be Stepped On

I lived at home for three years following college. I had a job, but it didn’t pay a lot, and I wouldn’t have been able to afford an apartment in my hometown. I was, however, expected to keep my room neat enough that when the cleaning lady (my mother always had one, even on a very limited income) came, she could vacuum and dust. I was expected to do my own laundry if I needed something clean. Otherwise, it went in with my parent’s stuff.

I also paid $15 a week (this was 1976) toward expenses. I was also expected to provide dinner one night a week, and do the grocery shopping for it. It was small potatoes for me, but I’m sure it helped. It also taught me valuable skills and got me in the habit of practicing them. I don’t know if some version of this would work in your case, but it was a good stepping stone.

Work With Spouse for Solution

I would suggest having leases for a set amount of time (six months to a year) drawn up for the adult children to sign, thereby making it a business arrangement. I’d put various utility bills in their names, making them responsible for their payment. This would provide incentive to work. You can point out that their credit will be damaged if they fail to pay utility bills.

Also, you may want to let them know the next time something breaks, you will not pay to fix it. Instead, they will have to. Again, more incentive to work. And, while you don’t want to ask them to leave right now, you have every right to set a limit on how much longer they may live with you. Six months is plenty of time to get a job and save for a rent.

Don’t let this issue divide you and your spouse. Tackle it together! Even three year olds know that they can get their way if they “divide and conquer” their parents! By fighting with your spouse, you are taking the focus off the real issue. You both agree it is a problem, so work together on the solution.

Make It a Little Less Comfortable and Convenient

What this mom and dad need to realize is that they are the rulers of their kingdom, and these children need a wake up call. The children haven’t followed through with their end of the bargain so far, and Mom and Dad haven’t set their foot down to show the kids they mean business. Things have become nice and cozy at home for the adult children, and the parents need to make their home less comfortable and less convenient for the adult children.

Mom and dad need to formulate a plan and be on the same page in that plan together. Don’t let the kids divide and conquer. Mom and dad also need to realize that they are under no obligation to support someone else’s bad choices, laziness, insolence, rude behavior, etc. Mom and Dad should not shell out money for the adult child’s food, clothing, or entertainment. If Mom and Dad want to go out and have a good time, they are under no obligation to include the adult children.

After Mom and Dad have formulated their plan, put the plan in writing so there’s no misunderstandings. Make several copies of the plan and have a meeting with the kids so everyone is familiar with the ground rules. Everybody will sign the copies and then post a copy of the plan on the fridge. No one will be able to say, “I didn’t know”, “I forgot” or “that’s not what it said!” You’ve set the boundaries, now they need to live by them, or they are free to live by their own rules in their own home.

To help the adult child feel less comfortable at home (and make it easier on Mom and Dad’s pocketbook), try some of these ideas:

  1. Lock the laundry room door so that the adult child has to take their laundry to the laundromat. Also don’t provide them with detergent or softeners.
  2. Remove TVs, DVD players, stereos, computers, video games, etc. from the common areas during “standard working hours.” If you don’t want to remove them physically, perhaps you can lock up the room they are in, or disconnect the electricity for those outlets at the fuse/circuit box. Lock up the fuse/circuit box if possible. Those little locks for luggage are just the right size to lock on to the plug end of any appliance so they can’t be inserted into the wall.
  3. Go through the fridge and cabinets and don’t keep or buy goodies for the adult children. If they are hungry, show them the local food banks where they can apply for assistance. Make sure they know that the kitchen is off limits for anyone that can’t clean up after themselves.
  4. Some homeless shelters have rules that you have to leave the shelter between 8am and 5pm. Perhaps your home could have this same rule. You can change the locks on the front door so they can only come and go when you are home.
  5. Set consequences for not doing household chores. If the bathroom is a mess after an adult has used it, remove the offending items but don’t give them back. Make them earn the item back by extra chores. Don’t buy toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, etc. for the adults. They need to get their own. Keep yours locked up if need be in your bedroom.>
  6. Let the kids know that their holiday and birthday presents are being spent on the food, utilities, and upkeep of the home.

There’s a lot more you can do. You can still love your children, but you don’t have to enable them to continue making bad choices and have them walk all over you. Get to a group and get some help and you’ll see you aren’t alone.

Adult Children Living at Home: Help Them Grow Up

I am a single mother, and raising my two sons on my own has been a learning experience. I always felt like I was never able to “give enough” to my children and was always ready to help them, either by “lending” them money which was never paid back or letting them live with me and never receiving any help with utilities, mortgage, groceries, etc.

My oldest son finally moved out of state to find a better paying job, and I thought I was actually on my way to putting some money aside for emergency expenses. My youngest came to me once again for a “loan.” I had bought myself a great book by Dave Ramsey for my Christmas present called The Total Money Makeover. When my youngest came to my home to get his “loan,” I gave him some money (not much because I didn’t have it), and then I gave him my copy of the book, and a set of pencils, accounting notebook, and a small calculator.

The hardest part was when I told him to his face that I didn’t have any more money for him, and that I wasn’t really helping him grow up by coming to his rescue each and every time he needed money. Since that time, both of my sons call me regularly and tell me how much they love me and how they are thankful for the help that I gave them.

Reviewed September 2022

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