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I don’t know how many of us want to be taking full responsibility for our children well into adulthood.  Caring for them while they’re young is hard enough.  But did you know that preparing your kids to move out, get jobs, and become independent adults starts when they are little?  Did you also know there are some things we can do as parents to sabotage our children’s ability to become capable adults?  Learn which four mistakes you need to avoid if you want your kids to take care of themselves one day.

Jeff Tesch, LMFT

What does an independent and healthy adult look like?

  • Takes ownership for their life
  • Understands that consequences are a result of their choices.  This understanding leads them to be careful and intentional about their choices so they can have positive consequences instead of negative ones.
  • Gainfully employed
  • Continually seeks to improve themselves
  • Lives on their own
  • Is capable of managing a home, finances, and relationships
  • Takes pride in their work
  • Has the strength to handle the difficulties of adult life

What I’m seeing in my office

I am seeing more and more clients who desperately want their children to become independent adults, move out, get jobs, contribute to society, and feel pride in their ability to be capable of providing for themselves.

Yet, they are frustrated because their children are:

  • Still living at home
  • Not earning an income for themselves
  • Not motivated to pay their own bills, clean their own space, or contribute to the household
  • Afraid of becoming an adult
  • Avoiding the responsibility of caring for themselves
  • Spending all their time and money on recreation

Here are some real examples of situations that I see:

  1. Example One:A client who has a child in his forties who doesn’t have a job so my client pays this child’s mortgage, does his grocery shopping, buys his clothing, and does his laundry.  My client is getting ready to retire and is worried that her retirement will not be enough to support her AND her son.
  2. Example Two:A client who did her son’s homework when he was in high school, pays his speeding tickets, bails him out when he gets in trouble with the law, pays the majority of his bills and cares for many of his needs even though he is into his late twenties.  The client is frustrated that her son isn’t more motivated to take responsibility for himself.
  3. Example Three:A client whose 25 year old sleeps all day, plays video games all night, emerges from the basement for food from time to time, quits every job he starts, tried college for a semester then quit, and now struggles with severe depression.  This mom wants her child to move forward with life, but doesn’t want to make him move out because she’s afraid of what will happen to him. 

Why this is a concern

Kids who do not learn how to be independent adults struggle with their sense of self-worth, do not contribute to society, and become a source of stress for their parents.

Very few parents intend for this to happen

Many of the parents I see in my office never intended for their children to stay at home forever.  They really do want their kids to be thriving adults.  However, they didn’t realize that many of the things they did for their child out of LOVE actually made it more difficult for their child to become an independent adult.


Mistake #1 Not Teaching Responsibility

It is important that kids learn how to be responsible for their:

  • Own choices
  • Relationships
  • Belongings
  • Own happiness
  • Finances

And to learn how to work hard.

I have found that the best way to help raise responsible adults is to start when they are young by giving them a few responsibilities then gradually adding responsibilities as they age.  Throughout the whole process, you are giving them guidance and teaching them the skills they need to be successful. Hopefully, by the time they are adults they have the skills and capability they need to become fully independent.

Here’s some graphics to give you ideas of ways you could GRADUALLY guide your child to full responsibility:

Responsible for taking care of a home

From The Crafting Chicks

Responsible for finances

From Money as You Grow

In short, if you want your children to be 100% responsible for themselves by age 18, gradually increase the percentage of responsibility they have for themselves each year so that 100% responsible at age 18 in the next natural step.

Mistake #2 Rescuing Children From Consequences

As parents, we often want to protect our children from discomfort so badly that we will rescue them from the consequences of their choices.  If parents do this, then their children never learn to take ownership for their own choices.  They also begin to believe that they can do whatever they want, that life should always be kind to them, and that other’s are there to make them happy.  These are dangerous and debilitating beliefs.

How do you avoid this?  By letting children experience the consequences of their decisions, even if it causes discomfort in their lives!

Discomfort is an excellent teacher.

Here’s an example from my personal life:

When I was in college, I was not careful with my money.  There was one particular semester where I did not have enough money to pay my tuition.  I told my mom hoping she would make up the difference for me.  Gratefully, she said “No”.  I didn’t attend college that semester.  That was hard for me.  However, I was incredibly careful with my money after that and paid for each semester in cash.  I graduated without any debt.

It was this discomfort of my choice that taught me to be more careful with my money.  If my mom would have rescued me from that consequence, I would never have learned that valuable lesson.

Some people will tell you that consequences hurt your child.  There are some consequences that do.  Learn more about that here.

However, in my twenty years of clinical experience I have found that rescuing your child from consequences does FAR MORE damage then letting your children experience consequences ever could.

Take a minute to do some self-evaluation.  Are your kids making some unhealthy choices right now?  Are you protecting them from the consequences of those choices or allowing them to experience the consequences themselves?

Mistake #3 Over Indulgence

Another trap that parents fall into out of goodness is wanting to give their kids everything.  Parents naturally want their kids to have more than they did growing up.  The problem that we run into is that most of us grew up with a lot and giving our kids more than we had edges on spoiling them.

Also, kids get used to having everything they want handed to them that it becomes difficult for them to go out and get something for themselves.

Let me share some examples of over indulgence that I have seen in my practice:

  1. A four year old who refused to wear any shoes that weren’t Nike brand.
  2. An elementary aged child who threw a tantrum on the way to an expensive restaurant because he was tired of what was on the menu.
  3. A dad who bought many toys for his kids every time they went to the store, spent thousands of dollars on them for their birthdays and Christmas.

I’m not saying “Don’t give your kids gifts, trips, or opportunities”, I am saying to be mindful of how much you give them.

Mistake #4 Allowing Unbalanced Time

What do I mean by that?  I see children who have not learned the skills necessary for adulthood because they spend the majority of their time developing only ONE skill.  I have some clients who are only good at video games, sports, or socializing.

I want to be clear, that athletics and social skills are an integral part of a child’s development.  I love when kids know how to play a sport or interact with others well.  I just get nervous when it’s the only thing they know how to do.  I encourage parents to think about what skills their child will need to thrive on their own and make sure they get an opportunity to practice those skills each week.  You are seeking to balance the sports, social time, and screen time-not to eliminate it entirely.

I have parents ask themselves:
“Is my child’s life balanced?  Will what they’re doing pay off in the long run?”

Final Thoughts

Make a list of what skills and abilities you feel your children need to become independent adults.  Once you have that list, you can start gradually teaching your children the things on that list.

Your kids will not thank you during this process, they may even whine and complain.  However, they will thank you when they are capable adults.

Happy Parenting!



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