How Can I Help My Adult Child Finally Leave the Nest?

Katie has a 23-year-old son living at home, and he's been working steadily for a while now. What's a reasonable expectation when it comes to asking him to contribute to household expenses?

QUESTION: Katie in Spokane has a 23-year-old son living at home, and he’s been working steadily for a while now. What’s a reasonable expectation when it comes to asking him to contribute to household expenses? Dave says if Katie wants him to move out, they need to make the situation painful enough for him to leave.

ANSWER: My goal, if I were you, would be for him to move out. Paying rent does not necessarily cause that goal to happen. What I want to do is create a painful situation for him so he leaves…in a loving kind of a way.

There’s nothing wrong with being 23 and at home unless there’s no end in sight, and I don’t hear an end in sight. This guy’s just cruising along making money and spending it. You need to sit down with him and say, "I'm really glad you’re making better life choices. I’m really glad you’re working steadily. I’m proud of you. The next step in your evolvement into adulthood is for you to be living on your own. We need to sit down and develop a plan so that you can get your own place and learn to pay your own bills and be on your own. Part of that plan is starting this month, I’m going to start charging you rent. The rent is not going to be money. The rent is I’m going to require you to do a written budget and save what rent costs out there every month. You’re going to do that for three or four months, and then you’re going to leave. I’m going to show you how. I’m going to help you and coach you. I’ll help you do a budget. I’ll show you how to live on what you’re making. We’re going to go out and look at apartments together. We’re not going to just throw you into the cold. We’re not angry with you. As a matter of fact, we’re very proud of you, but we are going to continue to be proud of you because you’re going to continue your journey into adulthood."

I don’t know if the number of months is exactly right. Sit down and look at it. If he’s working 40 hours a week, he’s making enough to set some serious money aside, and he hasn’t been. I’m not trying to harm the young man, but him living there when he’s 30 will harm him. Young eagles need to spread their wings and use those muscles. There’s dignity in being on your own. His personality will change when he’s on his own. It’s called maturing.

The oldest leaving home is the hardest. My oldest came home from college and lived with us for three months while she put together her life and got settled into the new job, and then she moved to her new place. There’s a difference when you’re in your own place and working than there is being in your own place and going to college. It creates a different human being. I’ve watched her emotionally mature as she had to make the decisions and pay the light bill and handle trapping the mouse that was in the kitchen. You know, all these big life crises that come up, right?

His rent is behavior. If he’s unwilling to pay his rent, he’s going to get evicted. He doesn’t have a choice in this. This is Mom loving him well. Lovingly launch him—but launch him.