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How to Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome

Thanks to a changing economic and social landscape, an increasing number of young adults are living with their parents well into their 20s and even 30s. Financial hardship, lack of motivation, and mental health problems are among the many reasons for this “failure to launch” phenomenon. If your Adult child has taken up residence in your basement after finishing college, or if they never left in the first place, there are some steps you can take to help them become independent. First, ascertain that they are really suffering from failure to launch syndrome. After that, establish clear boundaries and expectations, and help your child develop the skills they need to thrive on their own.


EditIdentifying Failure to Launch Syndrome

  1. Distinguish between normal and abnormal young adult struggles. If your child can’t keep a job or complete a degree, you’re right to be concerned. On the other hand, it’s normal for a young adult to return home temporarily to save money or get their bearings after college. If your child seems to be putting the pieces of adulthood together, there is probably nothing wrong.[1]
    Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome Step 1.jpg
    • However, if your child seems to struggle in many areas of development, such as school, work, finances, and relationships, you may want to carefully consider whether they are experiencing a "failure to launch."
    • Try talking with friends who also have young adult children to get a better idea of normal versus abnormal behavior. What is normal for young adults now may be very different from what you experienced as a young adult.
  2. Evaluate your child’s financial situation. Ask yourself if your child is working, saving money, and contributing to household expenses. If not, consider the reasons why. Are they spending money recklessly? Or are they acquiring unnecessary debt? Even motivated young adults sometimes struggle to land their first job after finishing school. If your child shows no interest in applying for jobs, though, it may be time to have a talk with them.[2]
    Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome Step 2.jpg
  3. Notice if your child has a poor work ethic. A common feature of failure to launch syndrome is a poor work ethic and unwillingness to help out around the house. Consider whether your child has – or is actively searching for – a job or internship, and whether they pitch in with household chores.[3]
    Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome Step 3.jpg
  4. Talk to your child about their long-term plans. A young adult with failure to launch syndrome will avoid making plans to move out and become independent. They may have only vague goals or they may have big goals with little or no idea how to achieve them. If your child sets goals and takes an active role in planning their future, however, their stay with you will probably be temporary.[4]
    Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome Step 4.jpg
    • Instead of putting your child in a corner with an intimidating question like "What are you gonna do with your life?" raise the subject gently. You might say, "I noticed some pamphlets came in the mail for different universities. Did any of them interest you? What major are you considering?"

EditSetting Boundaries with Adult Children

  1. Communicate your expectations. Let your child know how you expect them to behave and contribute while they live with you. Tell them what you expect them to pay for, what household tasks they are responsible for, and what your policies are for guests and curfew.[5]
    Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome Step 5.jpg
    • For instance, you might specify that your child can have friends over, but they have to leave before 9 PM.
    • Have this talk as soon as possible, preferably before your child even moves back home.
    • Be sure to emphasize that these rules are not meant to control your child. They are meant to make living together easier and more comfortable while also helping them to move forward with their goals.
  2. Draw up a plan for household and financial contributions. Ensure that your house rules are clearly defined by putting them in writing. Talk the agreement over with your child to be sure you’re on the same page.[6]
    Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome Step 6.jpg
    • Consider including a time component in your rules. For instance, you might agree to let your child live rent-free for three months, but expect them to find a job during that time and pay rent afterwards.
    • Include consequences for not respecting the house rules. For example, if your child drives your car but doesn’t fill up the gas tank, they might lose their car privileges.
    • Make sure to specify that you can change the rules at any time.
  3. Be firm in your stance on alcohol and drugs. If you don’t want your child drinking or using drugs in your house, make it clear. Decide what you will do if you discover they are using substances behind your back.[7]
    Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome Step 7.jpg
    • Alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs often contribute to failure to launch syndrome. These substances can impair motivation and make mental health problems worse.
  4. Avoid backing down if your child tests your boundaries. Your adult child may try to bend the rules or use your sense of guilt against you. Stay firm, and remember that it’s not your job anymore to keep them comfortable and sheltered. You have a right to make the rules in your own house.[8]
    Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome Step 8.jpg
    • Giving in sends the message that you don’t really mean what you say.
    • For instance, if you told your child that you won’t pay for their cell phone, don’t give them money when they’re broke one month.
    • Be sure to communicate the rules to other members of the household, such as to your partner, so that everyone is on the same page.
  5. Consider what circumstances would warrant asking your child to leave. If your adult child becomes abusive or starts engaging in illegal activities, it’s not a good idea to let them live with you. Decide which behaviors you won’t tolerate, and stick to your guns if you feel like your living situation isn’t healthy or safe.[9]
    Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome Step 9.jpg
    • If you decide to evict your adult child from your home, then you would need to provide them with a formal eviction notice. You cannot simply call the police and ask to have them removed.

EditHelping Your Child Become Independent

  1. Avoid sheltering your child from mistakes and consequences. You might hate to see your child struggling, but slip-ups are part of the learning process. Let your adult child make their own mistakes and then figure out how to fix them. This will improve their resilience and give them a sense of agency.[10]
    Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome Step 10.jpg
    • This does not mean that you cannot be there to offer advice and help. It just means that they will have to do the work themselves and that you will not solve your adult child’s problems for them.
  2. Teach your child good financial skills. Talk with your child about saving money, living frugally, and avoiding debt. Start doing this as early as possible. It is best to begin talking to your child about these things when they are still young. However, if you did not do this with your adult child, then you can do things to help them now. Help them come up with a weekly or monthly budget so they’ll be prepared to manage their money when they move out.[11]
    Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome Step 11.jpg
    • Charging your child a reasonable amount of rent is a good way to prepare them for paying bills later.
  3. Help your child prepare for finding a job. Offer to look over your child’s resume, do mock interviews with them, or help them pick out professional clothes. If you know people who might be able to help with networking, give your child their names and phone numbers.[12]
    Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome Step 12.jpg
    • Avoid doing any of the actual work of job hunting. For instance, don’t call your professional contacts yourself – let your child do it.
  4. Encourage your child’s efforts. If your adult child is working hard to become less dependent on you, cheer them on. Poor self-esteem often contributes to low achievement in young adults, but genuine support and encouragement can help give your child the confidence they need to make it on their own.[13]
    Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome Step 13.jpg
    • You might say something like, “I’m so proud of you for getting this big job interview. Even if you don’t get the job, it’s still a great start!”
  5. Consider whether therapy could help your child. Failure to launch syndrome is often caused by underlying problems like mental illness or substance abuse. If you think your child may be struggling with depression, addiction, or a similar issue, help them set up an appointment with a therapist.[14]
    Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome Step 14.jpg
    • Seeking help for your child may even be a requirement if they are living with you.

EditSources and Citations

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How to Deal with Failure to Launch Syndrome


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