Skip to main content

How to parent adult children still living at home

Young people are leaving home later and later in the new millennium. The number of young people still living at home has grown by a whopping 50% since the late 80’s according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which also says that; a third of young people over 20 still live at home; more than half had tried moving out of home but didn’t like it; and when they do move out it’s not for long. Before you can say “Freedom!” they’re back again. Currently the average age young people move out is 28.

Many parents don’t mind their children living at home but find fights often break out over boundary and contribution issues. Instead of their young adults being a pleasure they’re a pain!

So what can parents do to address some of the more common issues that arise? For example them taking responsibility for their everyday lives, who pays for what, household and garden upkeep, use of family equipment such as the family car, sex, and drugs (including alcohol and tobacco).

Everyday Life

Treat your young person as the adult they are and inform them you expect them to behave like an adult. That means being responsible and most importantly both of you treating each other with honesty and respect.

Try to be a good role model for them, and that means being the best person you can be. Otherwise it’s not fair to expect them to live up to standards you don’t observe.

Be encouraging and supportive; don’t nag them about their clothes or hair (or anything about their appearance). You’re still their parent, but don’t treat them like one especially a critical parent.

Set clear boundaries and contributory guidelines (what you expect them to contribute to the household).

A good way to look at it is this - you’re all in a share house and they have to do the same as they would in any other share house and so would you, for example:

  • Pay your share of the rent
  • Clean up after ourselves
  • Pay our share of the bills (including the phone bill)
  • Be considerate regarding stay-over’s by lovers/friends
  • Not raiding the fridge of what’s obviously not ours to be raided
  • Do our share of house and garden maintenance
  • Do their own laundry
  • Observe house rules
  • Be considerate about other people’s property, ask if you can use it and take care of it
  • Communicate in an adult and civil way

Ideally, this kind of thing should start as early as possible. However if we’ve indulged our children and not asked them to do the above, then it’s never too late to start.

A good start is having a meeting to discuss shared boundaries around living arrangements and shared responsibilities and contributions. Following are some ideas for the above issues.


Many young adults stay at home because we’re staying at school longer. More and more young adults expect to get University degrees and that costs money in lots of ways – lost earnings – fees – books and so on.

Young people often have jobs but instead of making a contribution to the home, they spend it on cars and fun leaving mum and dad to pick up the bill.

Make it clear you’re happy to support them but they have to pay their own way and that might mean they get a job even if it’s part-time.

You might consider them paying an agreed-on proportion of said income to the household and bills. Do a budget and work out a reasonable share of the household expenses according to their means (don’t forget the phone bill).

Cleaning up after ourselves

If we were in a share house, we would be expected to not leave mess in shared living spaces otherwise we might be asked (not so politely) to find somewhere else to live.

You might not want to go as far as taking the same approach, nevertheless negotiations regarding household and garden maintenance and who is going to be responsible for what is a standard part of shared accommodation. Negotiate agreed tasks, write them down.

Do their share of household and garden maintenance

Once again, if we were in shared accommodation we would be expected to do our fair share.

Negotiate between you what that fair share is and the consequences of not doing it, for example the ‘Three Strikes and You’re Out’ policy. First time you don’t put out the bins you get off, everyone forgets things sometimes. Second time you get a warning; third time you get a fine (or some other consequence).

Do their own laundry

If this isn’t something they’ve learned to do by the time they get to their twenties, they haven’t been done a favour. Even if they don’t end up in a share house, but rather with a partner or in their own accommodation, people are expected to do these kinds of things. Have some fun showing them how – a ‘Laundry Day’ – have beer and pizza afterwards.

Observe House Rules

If there are not clear boundaries around behaviour, attitude and responsibility in the house then these can be discussed at a meeting, where house rules are negotiated and everyone has their say. These can be around:

  • Relationships and Sex. What is acceptable and unacceptable about running around the house naked – having people to sleep over and possibly even live in the household with them. Come to an agreement.
  • Responsible cooking and fridge etiquette. If you were in a share house, raiding someone else’s paté that they’ve cooked from scratch for a dinner party would be cause for a throw out (of the offending party, you). Agree on acceptable food and cooking etiquette including issues like cleaning up and stacking the dishwasher.
  • Noise. Agree on being quiet when coming home late (naturally), but also on when you have friends around in your room or to socialise in shared living spaces. Violation of noise rules results in negotiated consequences.
  • Communication. Agree on rules for good communication – e.g. no foul language, using negotiation and not conflict to problem solve, etc.
  • Behaviour. Agree in general on what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t. Agree on consequences for unacceptable behaviour.
  • Substance use. Agree on how drugs, alcohol and tobacco are viewed and what use of these substances the household is prepared to tolerate.

These issues will vary from household to household but if they’re agreed on – and written down they can take a lot of the stress out of living together in a shared living space.

Parents, be prepared for your children to return home even if they’ve moved out. Studies show they’re more likely to do so if your relationship has been good in the past. Also there are more issues when an adult child leaves and returns, than if they stay at home.

Be prepared for adjustment issues on both sides – after all they’re used to their freedom and you’re used to your new found space, peace and quiet.

These issues can be more conflict-laden in the case of relationship break-up or when there are grandchildren. Also where parents feel their children haven’t lived up to their expectations.

Identify deal-breakers

No matter how much you love your children and want to support them, there are some things that you might decide you simply can’t tolerate (drug-taking in the house for example).

It is your house after all, and like the leaseholder of the shared accommodation, you are the landlord/lady and have the right to have the final say.

Make sure you identify this and agree on what the deal-breakers are and what the consequences could be – for example moving out.

Have fun

Sometime it is all beer and skittles (if you can find any skittles these days). Organise some ‘together time’ every now and then and find ways to have fun. For example a ‘beer and pizza Night’ – hiring a DVD or even inviting some friends around and mixing ages – it can be a lot of fun.

If all else fails, see ‘Getting adult children to move out