Saying "Get Out!" to an Adult Child

Leaving home is difficult under the best of circumstances: when parents and adult kids have had time to prepare, and everyone parts with warm hugs and well wishes. But sometimes kids get pushed out abruptly and that’s even harder.

The parents of an eighteen year old sat in my office today worrying that their daughter might push the limits to the point that have to ask her to leave when she graduates in May. She’s been skipping school, breaking curfew, and she no longer wants to take direction from her parents. Almost daily, she shouts, “I’m an adult!” at them. She’s ready to fly out on her own, finished with accepting orders from parents.

Parents boot teens or young adults out of their homes for a variety of problems: disrespectful behavior, drug or alcohol use, violating rules, failing to get a job. Whatever the reasons, most parents find it very difficult to ask a child to move out. The parents today said, “What if she never forgives us?” and “What if she ends up on the street?”

If they tell her to leave, I imagine she will feel hurt and abandoned. She might be enraged. She may lash out.

But what if they let her stay, and things just get worse? What kind of person will she become if she continues to practice aggressive, selfish, childish disregard for the rules in her parents’ house? Or alternatively, what if she’s right in assuming her parents don’t deserve her respect? What if she’s justified in her anger about rules that are unpredictable, unreasonable, and unfair? Either way, when a young adult wants to run her own life on her own terms, it’s time to leave home. In the end, leaving home is the better option when young adults are not thriving in the parents’ house. 

In spite of parents’ reservations, angry, defiant behavior often improves when kids leave their parents home. Whether they find jobs, stay with friends or family, or attend schools, stepping away from parents helps young adults become more responsible and more accountable. Life away from home creates simple measures of accountability: the rent is due on the first of the month, pay is calculated based on the number of hours worked, cell phone plans cost a predetermined amount of money. Out in the real world, young adults can escape emotional entanglement with their parents and just function within the bounds of the contracts they choose to enter.

I hope the parents don’t have to pack a bag and put their daughter out, but if they do, I think she’s ready. She’s strong and resourceful enough to leave experienced parents feeling overwhelmed. And in a few years, I think the family will heal after facing a difficult collective transition out of the stage of childhood and into full adulthood.

Posted on February 16, 2015 .