VN Editors

Failure to launch: How to get your grown son to pay rent – or move

When they’re teenagers, mothers have to struggle to hold their sons close. They’re eager to leave and start their lives, and they think they’re way too old to need any more mothering. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if instead of leaving, they stay, or worse they leave and then come back? Learn how to get your grown son to pay rent, or move out of your home, and get him standing on his own two feet again so you can finally start dancing on yours.


Failure to Launch Syndrome

Women tend to blame themselves the minute anything seems to go wrong with their children, but don’t kick yourself if your grown son seems to lack the ambition to get the heck out of the house. This is actually a common problem, and it’s getting more common all the time.

Forbes recently explored the issue of Failure to Launch, a catchall term used to describe grown children who seem unwilling or unable to cut the apron strings and leave the nest. More and more young adults (and even not so young) are living with their parents. This trend can be blamed largely on the economy; similar patterns have emerged in the past during financial downturns.

According to some experts, people in their 20s are going through a developmental phase that could explain this desire to stay close to home. When financial troubles are also occurring, adult children will feel even more reluctance to leave. Research shows that around 13 percent of adults aged 18 to 29 move back in with their parents after an attempt to live alone. The vast majority say they move back home because of the economy.

Society also plays a part. Some experts say that entitlement could keep adult kids at home. Research shows that today’s 20-somethings have a high sense of self-esteem that can be at odds with reality. We live in a day and age where anyone can become a reality TV star, YouTube sensation or dotcom billionaire overnight. It’s the age of entitlement, and everyone thinks they deserve a piece. This could keep many adult children at home, waiting for their ship to come in. When it doesn’t, it leads to despair and hopelessness that makes it even harder to leave.

Is it just bad parenting? No, absolutely not, says Psychology Today. Societal changes haven’t just made children feel more entitled; it’s brought them into a world where everything is too easy. Drive-through, high-speed Internet, shopping online, fast food – it’s all just so easy. When life gets hard and the road gets tough, many adult children feel completely lost and unable to deal with their reality. They stay close to home instead, and cling to the familiar, because that is easy…and easy is what they’ve become used to.

Now, you’ve just got to figure out what to do about it.

Tough Love

“I’d sit him down and give him an earful,” cries VN member Jean, weighing in on the topic of an adult son who won’t leave or pay rent. She advises tough love and a frank heart-to-heart talk: “Because I love you, I am giving you an opportunity to step up…Pack up, and I hope you learn your lesson.”

Does your son see you as being weak? It is possible that you are being taken advantage of, and that’s certainly what’s happening if your child is making no effort whatsoever to earn their keep. At the very least, your adult son should be helping with chores around the house and seeing to their own needs. You should not be doing his laundry, cooking his meals or taking care of any of his needs. Do anything more than take phone messages, and you’re on a slippery slope.  As jean says, “you are the only one who can teach him that women will not tolerate this kind of behavior – by refusing to tolerate it.”

“It’s hurting YOU,” reminds VN member jsl. “You shouldn’t be enabling him to stay away from adulthood. And if drugs or alcohol is involved you could be making it easier for him to get sucked in.”

VN member WhiteFire charged her son room and board when he turned 18. She saved the money, and when there was enough she took him hunting for an apartment. The saved money was enough to pay for the deposit. “Then I said…you are on your own,” she says.

“Stop treating them like the child they choose to remain,” advises VN member zsa zsa. “Don’t enable to disable.”
Emotional Support

A little tough love can go a long way. Sometimes, a grown son who won’t leave home just needs a kick in the pants. But sometimes, he needs to be treated much more gently. Your child may not be entitled, or lazy, or waiting for some dream job to manifest. Your child may be severely depressed, and need a lot more care than what you’re able to provide.

VN member sunny shared her experience with her adult son, who graduated from college with his degree and learned that the field he was in just wasn’t really or him. “He has moved back home, lives in the basement and has absolutely no drive or ambition. Daily he fights the pain of not being able to be an extravert in an extravert world.” She’s asked him what he wants to do, but he always has the same answer: “I don’t know.”

Healthy diet and exercise is one way to battle depression. Certain foods, and a certain level of inactivity, will only make symptoms worse. Encourage your child to be healthier; perhaps even ask them to help you go to the gym more, or become more active. Try to get him to see a doctor who can tell if he is depressed, and figure out the best possible course of treatment.


Even if you believe your son may have a mental illness like depression, you cannot be an enabler. Don’t make it easy for him to sit around, even if your heart is breaking for him. Outline a clear list of things he has to do, responsibilities to meet, and tell him the consequences if he doesn’t meet these expectations. Stick to them! VN member Sandwiched Boomers says that establishing boundaries is one of the healthiest, and most important, ways to deal with your adult son who won’t launch.

You are a parent, not a doormat. You’re not a crutch, you’re not a safety net, you are not an ATM. You may feel hurt, even embarrassed and ashamed, when your son won’t stand on his own or at least chip in to your household. Don’t be embarrassed, because there are many parents like you. Don’t be ashamed of your child, because there are many adults just like him.

Breathe slowly, and try to set all emotion aside when you explain to your son that you love him, but you cannot support him. You did that for 18 years, and now it’s his job. Tell him he’s got to move out, or pay x amount of dollars in rent every month. Tell him you’ll help him find an apartment, or maybe a shelter, even help him with his resume if that’s what he needs. But you won’t help him act like a child anymore, because the time for that has passed.

Be loving, be firm, be honest. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed, and don’t be bullied. While your son may resent you in the short-term, in the long-term he has to know how to stand up on his own. One day, he’ll appreciate that life lesson.



Sign up for the Vibrant Nation
newsletter and stay connected!