Failure to launch sounds like some major malfunction in the Space-X program. However, in psychological literature, failure to launch refers to adult children who are very delayed leaving, or never move out of, their family home to live independently of their parents. In a similar context, “boomeranging” refers to those adults who had lived away from home and then, for whatever reason, move back home to their family of origin. In both situations, having adult children living at home with their parents can be problematic.
had intended to write about toddler tantrums today and was doing some reading about individuation, which is the process that begins in toddlerhood and progresses throughout childhood, where children come to realise that they are separate beings from their parents and can be independent of them. The research on individuation also brought me to read more about adults who never quite made it to full independence of their parents.
Economic factors are the most significant reasons for adult children remaining at home, or returning home after a period of independent living. For example, where cost of living is lower (in Nordic countries) there are fewer adults remaining at home than in Southern Europe. In some countries, like Italy, for example, they have found that adult children remaining at home has become part of the culture and that many parents prefer their adult children to remain at home. Continuing education is another significant factor that delays young adults from leaving home. Generally, though, increasing age does predict greater independent living.
The financial capacity of parents is also a factor. Parents with higher incomes are more likely to have adult children still living in the home than those with lower incomes. Similarly, parental separation and divorce (especially having a step-parent move into the family home) leads to leaving home earlier and a decreased likelihood of returning. It seems then that when married parents appear to be a strong reliable base, their children are more likely to stay put.
There are benefits to remaining at home, especially for the adult child. Typically there is an economic benefit to being able to save money. Many adult children also benefit from the utilities and luxuries available to them at home that they may not have living independently. Some note the emotional support that parents can continue to provide and some studies suggest that adult children will maintain a closer relationship with their parents after they have moved away, often choosing to live close by for example.
Parents also value the emotional closeness that can be fostered by continuing to live with their adult children, but despite these positives, the majority of studies suggest that failing to launch and boomeranging impacts both the parents and the adult children negatively.
Parents often report that their adult children don’t financially contribute at all, or make limited financial contributions. They also report that their children, despite being adults, maintain their childlike expectations of parents being there to cater for their needs and so often do little or no chores. Both of these circumstances put pressure on parents and can lead to resentment and feeling taken advantage of. Parents can feel that their privacy and their own ability to be independent can be restricted by the expectation that they will continue to meet the needs of their son or daughter.
It is the delayed process of individuation that can also lead parents to continue to try to parent their adult child, maintaining old rules and expectations that may have been effective with a younger child, but which can’t work with an equal adult. This is a complicated dynamic that can be driven by either the parent or the adult child, or sometimes by both. The parent doesn’t “push” the child as they approach adulthood and/or the child, approaching adulthood, doesn’t try to pull away from their parent(s). Competing needs, and a lack of clear expectations of how the relationship may need to change as the child moves into adulthood can often lead to conflict.
It is this latter point that is the key to adult children successfully remaining at home. Both the adult child and the parent must renegotiate their relationships where the roles and expectations of each other are clearly defined. Sometimes this can only happen through conflict. Indeed, one study suggests that having and resolving those disagreements is central to adult children differentiating themselves from their parents and establishing their adult identities.
In my view, though, that is what childhood and adolescence is for. Why wait until your child is an adult to try to encourage them to take on their adult responsibilities? Take the time to nurture your children’s independence of you from a young age and they may be more ready to take their steps into adulthood before you’ve had enough of them, and they’ve had enough of you!