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Unemployed Adult Son Living at Home
Q: I have three sons ages 16, 19, and 21. All of my sons live home at this time. My problem is that my sons have a difficult time getting along together. I would like to be able to bridge the gaps between them. My 19-year-old has been in trouble and recently was released from jail after eight months. At this time, he is not working. All that he wants to do is hang out with his friends, party and sleep. I feel as though the only way that I can motivate him to find a job is to threaten to kick him out of the house. It's hard to do that, but my 19-year-old is setting a bad example for his 16-year-old brother. Could you give me some suggestions on how I should proceed? Should I call my 19-year-old's probation officer and inform him that he isn't working?
A: I always feel that parents who have adult children living with them have a right to expect those kids to agree to a contract. That contract, and I recommend it be put in writing, should stipulate household responsibilities to be assumed, rules of the house to be observed, and money (from their employment) that needs to be contributed towards their room and board. Your son should be able to show you a good faith effort on all these fronts. You can and should talk to his probation officer regarding any programs that can help your son receive more education and/or job training.
If he is allowed to continue to use your home as a hotel, where he assumes no responsibilities for his life, you not only are creating a negative environment for your 16-year-old (and 21-year-old) but also encouraging this 19-year-old to become a weaker and more dependent young man. I would sit down with him, lay out your expectations, set a time line for his showing you he can and will act responsibly, and have him sign that contract. Tell him you will honor his word as a man and your son and that you will give him all the support you can to get his life straight. It might be very helpful if he could form a supportive relationship with a therapist who would both challenge and respect him.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.