Tips for Getting Grown Children out of the Nest


Dear New Frugal You,

I have two adult children. Both graduated college in the past year and neither could find a job so they moved back in with me. I'm a widow and work to support myself and it's causing a financial strain. And yet since they moved back in, they seem to have reverted to being teenagers, borrowing the car, hitting me up for "loans," etc. I hint that maybe they should try harder to find work, but they say the market for art historians and rhetoric majors is just not there. They've always been free spirits, and I've encouraged their creativity, but this is driving me to the poorhouse. Can you suggest some ways I can help them? 

- Troubled Mom

Dear Troubled,Let me begin by saying that you may not like my advice. But, if you've raised two children to young adulthood by yourself, you know that sometimes being a good parent isn't easy. There are times that we need to make tough decisions for the betterment of our family.

First off, your kids are not alone. Many college grads are having a tough time finding jobs in their chosen fields, according to a May 2011 Rutgers University study.

Next, recognize that you're still the parent. Part of that role requires you to determine whether your adult children are serious about growing up and taking responsibility for themselves.

Mature young adults would find some job, any job, which would help them to contribute to family expenses. They would be seeking any additional training that could make their degree more marketable. In short, they would be taking steps to gain control of their financial situation.

On the other hand, using "no jobs in my field" as an excuse and reverting to being dependent upon you is not adult behavior. It's unhealthy for them to be completely reliant on you for their support.

Please note that I'm not saying that these struggling grads are all lazy kids. Many of them are simply afraid of the future. A tough job market is the perfect excuse not to confront their fears. As a parent, your job is to help them to the next stage of development.

Also, recognize that there is a difference between helping them and enabling them. Providing food and shelter while they look for a job paying enough to support them is a help. Allowing them to hang around the house all day is enabling them to stay stuck in unhealthy behavior.

As the parent, you'll need to set reasonable expectations and rules:

  • Expect them to look for a job every day. Even if it's a job that has nothing to do with their degree.
  • Expect them to report to you what they did that day to find employment. In detail.
  • Don't allow them to throw pity parties. Banish negativity from your home.
  • Don't allow them to say that any work is beneath them or their degree.
  • Remind them that any job well done can be a source of pride and a building block to something better.
  • Cheer them when you can. Congratulate them on any callbacks or other positive steps they take.
  • Assign household chores. If you're working and they're not, expect them to cook and clean the house. They need the sense of accomplishment. You need the rest!
  • Build up their confidence. It's harder for a young adult to be down on themselves when Mom continues to believe in them.
  • Don't personalize their bad behavior. They may have wasted a day. Don't call them lazy. Remind them that they're better than their behavior.
  • Don't be afraid to let them go without. If money is tight, cut the cable TV. Let it be known that you expect them to raise cash by selling some of their possessions.
  • Let them know that you cannot afford to support yourself and them. Be honest about your finances.
  • Don't make loans or give them an allowance. If they really need money, there's always the day-labor pool or odd jobs to be found.

Ultimately, you may find that you need to be like the mother bird that pushes the young ones out of the nest. Until she does, the baby birds will never realize that they can fly. By providing a "nest," you may be preventing them from stretching their wings. It's scary to throw them out onto the street, but that might be the only way to make them take responsibility.

Finally, there's a lesson for those of us who have students who are entering college.

Too many colleges and universities have sold students (and their parents) an education that's not very marketable. Instead of steering students to in-demand professions, they allow students to pursue fun degrees, such as art history and rhetoric, ones that have poor job prospects.

The University of Notre Dame has an interesting page on various jobs available to art history majors. Many possible jobs require advanced degrees. Students would be wise to search out this type of information before they pursue a specific degree program.

Finding similar information on any major isn't that difficult. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has published a paper on the value of a college degree and job prospects for various professions.

While it's a tough job market for college grads, it's not an impossible one. Many parents will find that they need to help their kids get a foothold, but allowing them to become overly dependent upon you isn't healthy for anyone.

See related: Establishing house rules for adult children, Poll: Mom matters most in shaping our financial habits

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