Failure to launch

Failure to launch – What does it mean when they move home after college? And, what can parents do about it?

Dear Dr. Friedman: My son is a college senior. I think that he’s suffering from failure to launch. He hasn’t spent any time looking for a job. His plan is to move back in with me and his father. Should I allow this? Or, should I throw the lout out? His grades are not very good and he has switched majors a half dozen times. He doesn’t know what he wants to do. I say that he should wait tables until he figures it out.

Tough Love Mama

Dear Tough:

This is a complicated question. Also, it is a very common problem. In fact, in the office, I see several parents and newly graduated seniors struggling with this question every June. It depends why your son wants/needs to return to the family home. I sense by the tone of your letter that you are feeling frustrated with him.

There are likely reasons behind your son’s possible failure to launch

However, my guess is that there are reasons behind your son’s reluctance to establish himself on his own. In order to make this decision, you and your husband need to have a serious talk with him, hopefully in person and soon.

Together you both need to approach him in a supportive and non-adversarial way. Ask him what makes him want to return home. Although many kids move out on their own upon graduation, not all kids are ready to do so. If this is the case, you need to help him to get himself ready.

If he isn’t ready, what will it take to help him to become ready? Some young adults are just a bit scared and need some reassurance that you will be there for support, even if you are not living under the same roof. Others are truly not yet ready to set out on their own.

If your son isn’t ready to launch lay a foundation to help him to get ready.

If this is the case with your son, you need to be supportive by laying out ground rules. Don’t just give him a “free ride”. If he is truly troubled about becoming independent you may consider encouraging him to obtain psychotherapy to work on issues of separation and independence. In fact, depending on his concerns you might make it a requisite to moving back in with you.

Seek adult “parent management” to help him get ready to launch

This can be a challenging problem. If you and your husband get support and guidance from a psychotherapist, it sends a message that you are concerned and that he isn’t the only one who has contributed to his difficulty becoming more independent. Consider finding a psychotherapist who has helped other parents with this journey.

Often, it’s a good idea to require adults living in your home to share responsibilities for cost and upkeep.

Also, you may want to require that he pay room and board even if you don’t need the money. (You can always quietly put the money in a savings account and give it to him when he gets his first apartment.) This will help him get into the habit of taking on adult responsibility. In discussing this with him, try to remember that all kids have mixed feelings about becoming independent. In part, they want to be on their own, in part, they are frightened of the awesome responsibility. It’s important to remember that being supportive entails establishing realistic goals and providing clear boundaries.

Dr. Friedman

Dr. Lynn Friedman

Dr. Lynn Friedman, Ph.D., FABP, is a Clinical Psychologist, a Supervising and Training Analyst, and a Clinical Supervisor in full-time, private practice. She provides evaluation, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as supervision to psychoanalysts-in-training and other mental health professionals. Beyond this, she is a board certified, psychoanalyst who teaches at Johns Hopkins University and the Washington Baltimore Center for Psychoanalysis.

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