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How Can I Get My Adult Child to Move Out?

Dear Ryan,

My daughter moved back in with us over a year ago. She said she needed to stay one month. Nineteen have now passed. We want her to move out but can’t get her to. The pandemic has made things difficult. She refuses to get a real job. She refuses to clean up. She recently got her stimulus check and didn’t offer us anything. She is very disrespectful and now our granddaughter is mimicking her. How do I stop this toxic relationship we are in? What can we do?

Signed,
Manipulated Mom

Dear Manipulated Mom,

I can discern only so much from your question, but this is what I hear: You love your daughter, you’re willing to help her, and you offered her a space in your home when she was in need. She has outstayed her welcome and she doesn’t help around the house. It also sounds like her living with you might not be a problem if she had a job and helped with household responsibilities and expenses. And yet I wouldn’t expect her to quickly change at your request, for you describe your relationship as “toxic,” and that leads me to believe your current challenge is more than 19 months in the making. In other words, perhaps the problem isn’t her living with you; perhaps she’s living with you because other problems have gone unaddressed.

Here’s what I suggest: work first on yourself, then on the relationship, then on the problem of her living with you. Let me explain.

Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld wrote, “The devils enter uninvited when the house stands empty. For other kinds of guests, you have first to open the door.”

At some point you opened the door to the situation you now find yourself in. Not just literally, but also figuratively. And while it no longer matters when you opened the door, you should try to identify how you are holding it open. So, step one, ponder this question: Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem? When you’ve identified how you’ve contributed to the challenge you face, whether deliberately or unintentionally, you can begin to change how you respond to it.

There’s another question I’d like you to ponder: What do I really want—for myself, for my daughter, for our relationship? Too often we attempt to resolve problems with immediate concerns in mind only to sacrifice long-term outcomes and deeply held values. Of course, you want your daughter to move out. But is that all you want? Think long term. How could you address your current challenge and improve your relationship with your daughter? Pondering this should help you resolve your inaction.

It sounds as though you have been sacrificing your interests for the sake of preserving what you call a toxic relationship. Why? Has it occurred to you that this may be why the relationship feels toxic? Kindness does not require that we remain quiet. Love is not afraid.

It sounds as though you have been holding your tongue in an effort not to upset or offend your daughter. Don’t make this Fool’s Choice. You can tell others what you think without disrespecting them. In fact, you can maintain boundaries that protect your person and property and values without violating others’. Yet it sounds as though you have been sacrificing your interests for the sake of preserving what you call a toxic relationship. Why? Has it occurred to you that this may be why the relationship feels toxic? Kindness does not require that we remain quiet. Love is not afraid. So start talking.

As you talk with your daughter, look for a common cause. Given that she intended to stay only for a month, I suspect she’s also frustrated about still living with you. She may want to be independent as much as you’d like her to be. Maybe she doesn’t feel confident in her ability to navigate all the responsibilities of independent adulthood. Whatever the case, see if you can uncover some long-term goal you both share, then agree to work together to achieve it.

Finally, approach this as a problem of ability rather than motivation. You repeatedly say that your daughter “refuses” to do such-and-such. Forget about it. Focus on what you can do rather than on who’s to blame. Try to identify and address barriers to ability. This will have two effects: First, you’ll become one who tries to lift rather than condemn. Second, you’ll better uncover behavioral sources of your current situation.

Matters of parenting can be incredibly difficult and personal. I don’t feel it’s my place to tell you what to say, so I’ve tried to outline how to rethink and approach your situation. I hope one thing is clear: the work you must do is not on your daughter, but on yourself and how you relate with her. May these ideas help you find the courage to speak your truth and act with love.

Sincerely,
Ryan

Have thoughts? You can comment here.

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19 thoughts on “How Can I Get My Adult Child to Move Out?”

  1. Kelly Taylor

    It may not be the optimal way to solve the problem but giving her a specific and unnegotiable deadline to move out (meaning she will need to find a job and start supporting herself) and letting her know you will be changing the locks after that date might be the kick in the butt she needs to get herself in gear. As long as she has seen that there are no consequences for remaining and not taking responsibility for herself, she has continued to take advantage of this current situation. If you weren’t providing her support, she would have to have been doing something to provide for herself. Although she is your child, she is no longer A child and needs to start taking responsibility for herself.

  2. Kevin

    Complete hogwash! You’ve provided no real help to this person. You should have asked a fellow coworker for a solution and presented that rather than sound like an idiot spewing word salad.

    1. Kelly

      Thanks for sharing, Kevin.

    2. Ree

      Did that tantrum make you feel better?

    3. Steven Thomas

      Many of life’s relationship challenges are really more like a tossed salad than a slab of steak. Is more difficult to gather the ingredients and assemble them to create joy in the eating than just throwing a quick answer that seems to solve the immediate symptoms. Mr. Timbles’ answer was a tossed salad. You have to eat it slowly and savor it rather than just throw it out since there are multiple ingredients and you don’t feel you have the time to enjoy the process. Instead of the quick answer that will work short term and may end the long term relationship, work to find communication that will preserve the value of the relationship. Unless of course you truly find no value in the relationship. In that case just go find a coworker in the office for some quick solution.

  3. Maggie Stinnett

    The unaddressed concern, is the welfare of the (presumably) minor child (grandchild) in this scenario. As a grandparent myself, now that my sons are adults, my grandkids welfare is uppermost in my heart and mind. And due to economy and incidents beyond their immediate control, each of our adult sons returned home at least once after moving out, not related to the pandemic year(s). We had a plan, on work, pursuit of education, and related matters (household contribution) in each case that made it somewhat less challenging.
    It certainly seems that these grandparents are probably the “safety net” for this nuclear family of mother and child, and that they could benefit from introspection as suggested but also from professional help to get the conversation underway. The grandchild’s offer biological parent is never mentioned, so that adds to the concern that their daughter is possibly not stable and capable of being the sole provider at this time. Professional help may be needed there too along with encouraging her to become that competent parent herself, since she apparently supported them proper to the pandemic. She may be dealing with an untreated mental health issue.

    1. Renee

      I agree that the welfare of the granddaughter is probably the real concern, which makes it difficult to use tough love with her daughter. It seems “Manipulated Mom” has two relationships to work on. Maybe while she is doing the work Ryan suggested, she could start building a stronger relationship with her granddaughter by doing one-on-one activities and being careful how she relates with her daughter when her granddaughter is present.

  4. Elaine Martin

    All you did was blame the woman who asked the question. Very disappointing response.

    1. Steven Thomas

      He did not blame he encouraged introspection and careful examination of each persons role in the situation. After years of working with individuals in difficulty one of the hardest lessons to teach is self control is you major power then appropriate boundary setting. I believe both of these were at least alluded to. The other comments mentioning the need for professional support are very appropriate. Often frustrated individuals work to fix blame instead of the problem. The person asking the question is very frustrated. Counseling to look wider and deeper is very important first step.

  5. Carla B.

    My first reaction was to say buy a set of suitcases and pack for her, but after reading Ryan’s thoughts, his plan sounds healthier and more effective! My son stayed home until he was 25 (and didn’t get his driver’s license until he was 24), so I feel for your frustration.

  6. Shannon

    As the parent of a child who has come back home to live, I can relate to this situation to a degree. With the current high cost of housing, many of our daughter’s friends are “roommates” with their parents, many of whom are single themselves, and treat the situation as such. In our case, we initially agreed to let our daughter live at home to save up to buy a house. The biggest thing for us was setting rules. Not the rules of her childhood, but those of respectful adults. This included paying some form of rent to help cover household expenses, keeping her area of OUR house clean, cleaning up her messes in common areas and having a general respect for us as parents and people. Then the pandemic hit and she lost her job, while attending school to get into a specific career. While we fully support her efforts to improve her situation, we did not want to financially support them and her. So again we had a conversation about expectations. We would be there to assist, but not to do. It was made clear at that time that if she does not do what is expected of her, the help would stop and she would be on her own to figure it out. We stopped the rent and she found a part time job to pay her bills and supplemented with her down payment savings as needed. Along the way there have been times when it appeared the train was coming off the tracks and we addressed it with her, not as a chastising parent, but as someone who wants her to reach her goals and be a responsible adult. She is now at a point in school where she cannot work and successfully complete the program and is relying on her savings while we agreed to help with little stuff, so long as she sticks to the plan. As a parent with an adult child at home, I would say its never too late to set boundaries. Not just with her but with yourself. How much are you willing to sacrifice to support your grown child? It’s very important to communicate. Have conversations… not accusations. Addressing this issue now that it has become a problem will be much harder and she has to be willing to help correct it. If not, nothing will change your situation unless you give up and give her the boot. Which you obviously are not ready to do yet. So maybe start off with something like “lets come up with a plan to get you back on your feet, what do you feel will accomplish that and how can I help (not do)? And this is what I need from you in return…” After that, set the rules, for me it was “this is still my house and you are now an adult, as long as you are working towards this… I will help. If you stop, you are on your own and will have to move out” Come up with a mutual and reasonable timeline, then hold her accountable. As a grandparent you have rights that can ensure the safety and well being of your grandchild, if it comes to that. If your daughter is doing what she agreed to and is still struggling when the time is up, reassess and address. While you want her out of your house, I would guess you also want to see her become an independent functioning adult and she obviously needs guidance in this area right now. I wish you luck!

    1. kelly

      Thumbs up for this. I like your rationality at working towards a solution that works for everybody and no one ends up feeling used.

    2. Ryan Trimble

      Thanks for sharing, Shannon.

    3. Rachel

      This is a great response. Communication, respect & realistic expectations

  7. Judith Williams

    Thoughts & Prayers, Cook until Done: This is a start in recognizing that it’s a relationship issue, rather than content or a pattern of behavior. However, I was
    dismayed to read Ryan Trimble’s answer.

    When I first encountered VitalSmarts training, I was astonished, as it was the first time in my corporate career to experience nontechnical training that I could actually use, quite a contrast to the usual vague “feel good” or “feel scolded” charm school sessions that were the norm, which would leave me without a single tool to implement the insights gained, to address very real issues.

    The “crucial conversations” training modeled statements I could make, questions I could ask, when to be quiet and listen, how to set up one-on-one meetings, how to use deadlines and written “contracts” – a host of very specific behaviors I could adopt. (One of my aha moments was realizing that these were the very techniques that my socially astute boss used effortlessly, and which helped make our partnership of diverse skill sets so successful.) What was effortless for her required study and preparation on my part. And VitalSmarts gave me specific behavioral tools to use.

    Manipulated Mom has a very real problem and deserves better than the lame “thoughts & prayers” advice to think about the toxic relationship. A friend of mine had a very similar problem several years ago, and managed to resolve it while preserving and strengthening her relationship with her daughter, but it took a lot more specific behavioral techniques than the advice offered here.

    Is VitalSmarts moving away from its behavioral roots? I hope this is not a sign that VitalSmarts is lapsing into the useless “thoughts & prayers” and “cook until done” advice that is the staple of most nontechnical corporate training.

    1. Ryan Trimble

      Thanks for the feedback, Judith. This is helpful. VitalSmarts is not moving to what you suggest. What you have is someone ever learning, and I think you’re right: we can do better. Thanks for keeping us on point.

  8. John

    This article seems to be written by someone who is a good writer, but has very little experience in the realm of communications and interpersonal relations. He was probably assigned the topic, but he offers little by way of any real clear solutiion.

  9. Jimmie

    I don’t often comment on a blog, but this one was impressive. The tough love for the mom to give herself probably wasn’t very welcome, and some comments seemed to agree with that. However, I found Ryan’s essay to be useful as we all navigate our very changing times, and wisdom offered for more than just a parent child issue for this one case.

  10. Brenda L Buck

    I Love your response, Shannon! My Son is 23, still living at home, but as a roommate. He has a good job, and pays for his half of everything. Rent, utilities, groceries, gas, etc…. His dream is to live with me for the rest of my life, and help take care of me as I get older.

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