“Mom and Dad, I’m Moving Back Home”

When adult children with ADHD decide to move back home, it's important that parents set boundaries and refuse to be enablers.

An adult child with ADHD moving back home with her parents

Few decisions are more difficult for parents of young adults than allowing (or inviting) a son or daughter to move back home. That decision is harder to make when the adult child has been diagnosed with ADHD.

Parents hope the ADHD sea will have calmed by the time they allow their 20-somethings to move back in. I have seen that happen, but usually the same old parent-child patterns re-emerge. The best way parents can disrupt that pattern is to learn the difference between beneficence and enabling, and to hold themselves to strict guidelines in the ways they choose to help their child.

Beneficence means offering your child something that will help him or her on the road to independent living. Enabling means giving in ways that keep your child dependent and incompetent. The classic example is a parent who gives money to a substance-abusing child, hoping it will go for rent or food, when it will most likely be spent on the addiction. The parent should either pay the rent, or perhaps not contribute at all, since money not needed on rent will go into the bottle, pipe, or needle.

For any ADHD child, and especially one moving home, there are a hundred decisions a day that require parents to distinguish between helping and hurting. Here are my top 10 beneficent moves for parents whose young adult is coming home:

Know your goal. Moving home should not be about “taking a break.” It should be about hitting the reboot button, giving someone a second chance at a good start. Kids who are too worn out to go to school, or tired of living on their own, aren’t good candidates for moving back home, and are at high risk of getting stuck there.

Begin with the end in mind. Decide before the bags are unpacked when they will be packed again for departure. I prefer renewable periods of six months, during which the child can show progress or move out.

Set consequences. This is never fun, but always necessary. Parents must hold the young adult accountable to the guidelines agreed upon — no ifs, ands, or buts — up to and including ejection. In extreme examples — and I’ve worked with many of them — the hard case ends up couch surfing or in the homeless shelter. Yet without extreme discomfort, some kids won’t feel enough anxiety to do what needs to be done.

When Teens and Screens Don’t Mix

Require employment. I’m astounded at how many parents let their children lie around for months eating chips and playing Call of Duty. Others press for employment, but allow the child to lose one job after another without consequence, permitting prolonged periods of unemployment between jobs.

Collect the rent. Children get upset about this one. Shouldn’t parents love them enough to let them crash at home for free? Not really. That’s enabling. So unless there’s a compelling reason to do otherwise (full-time school attendance, say), parents should collect as much rent as the child can afford, up to the amount they’d be paying for an apartment. However, unless the parent is strapped for cash, he or she should keep that money in a “launch account” intended to pay the upfront costs of getting the child back into the world.

Enforce house rules. After children turn 18, it should become a privilege to live at home. Parents own the house, so, within reason, parental rules apply. These will govern alcohol and drug use, dating-partner sleepovers, use of space and equipment, and so on. Deal with these challenges on day one, or they’ll become an anchor around your and your child’s necks.

Treatment isn’t optional. We launch scores of ADHD kids at our clinic every year into college, trade school, graduate school, and the workforce by using our special formula for treating ADHD. I’m going to share it with you now: Follow nationally recognized standards of practice using meds and psychotherapy. This is not very exciting (or secret), but it is highly effective.

Therapy involves family, not just one individual. Individual therapy isn’t going to get a child out on his own. That takes family teamwork. While some individual sessions can be helpful, they shouldn’t predominate until the child lives independently.

Anticipate self-harm. The child might become suicidal if pressed hard toward independence. I discuss this in my first session with families. Parents must realize that, while self-harm is very serious, the threat of it must not become a tool of manipulation.

Offer lots of hope and take no excuses. ADHD is an explanation. It’s not an excuse. Getting a diagnosis is an invitation to improve your life, not a reason to give up. Parents must hold out hope for a better tomorrow and expect that their child will reach for it.

These 10 points are only a primer. However, if you use them, the probability of a successful re-launch will go up dramatically.


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