Failure To Launch: Are You Enabling Your Adult Child?

teaching young adults to grow up illustration
Dr. Drew Rubin

This might seem like an unusual question for a parent to ask, but it’s one that makes more and more sense in the 21st century: Why are grown, capable adults, still living at home, with no prospects of getting anywhere?

“Failure to Launch” is more than just a movie with two good-looking actors full of laughs. It is a real situation, a real problem for many parents throughout the country.

In an article called How Adult Children Work the Parent System, two social workers, Kimberly Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner said,

“Some of us have more than one emotional button that our child learns to push over the years; if we don’t become aware of these buttons, they will continue to work for our child into their own adulthood. Many adult children who are having difficulty “launching” have learned to rely on one or both parents as their source of financial support . . . Where does the money come from when there’s no employment? The First National Parent Bank & Trust. Getting the parent to provide the money for these things becomes that adult child’s full time job. An adult child can actually make a career out of earning income from his parents by working the emotional system.” 

What does it mean to work the emotional system? As parents, we inherently want what’s best for our children. We will do whatever we need to, in most instances, to help our son or daughter get the emotional and physical support they need. Sometimes, a parent will go too far—continuing to support their adult child who will not work, not attend school, and do nothing to improve their life thus far. As parents, it’s difficult to see ourselves over-compensating or “taking care” of our child too much. We only want to help. But there are times when our “help” can hinder.

Any child will recognize this, most especially an adult child, and use our “emotions” to their benefit. They know we want to take care of them. They know we always will.

While having our children know that we will always have their back is a good thing, there has to be a limit. Enabling them will never allow them to be the amazing and confident people we know they can be. 

We must guard our “emotional system” when it comes to our adult children who need that gentle shove out of the nest. The successful ideals of our future depends on it.