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The Language of Love

Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Got Married

The Marriage You've Always Wanted

Ten Christian Bestsellers You Should Own

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Author Interview

Dr. Gary Chapman: Parenting Your Adult Child

By Chris Carpenter Program Director -Best-selling author Dr. Gary Chapman has written more than 20 books since 1979. His popular book, The Five Love Languages, has sold five million copies in English and has been translated into 36 other languages (including Arabic and Hindi).

In his book, How to Really Love Your Adult Child, Dr. Chapman and co-author Dr. Ross Campbell address the growing phenomenon of adult children moving home and the many frustrations that ensue between parent and child.  Their hope is to encourage parents that they can survive this stage of life in positive way. Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Dr. Chapman to discuss helping your adult child find success, positive parenting in challenging circumstances, and a few tips on how to get your children to live by the “house rules”.

In past generations, young adults would get out of high school or college, get a job, and move out.  But today, we’re seeing more and more young adults moving or staying home after graduation.  First, is that the norm?  And second, why is this happening with more and more frequency?

The latest research project that I saw said 75 percent of college graduates move back home at least for a season. Sometimes it’s financial. They want to get their feet on the ground. Some of them can't get a job right away. And it's either the streets or they live with a friend or go home. Mom and Dad’s there so it's easier to go home. It's a very common phenomenon. Sometimes they start in college. They flunk out of college and come home.  Sometimes they go to the military and get in trouble and get kicked out and come home. Sometimes they get married. They get in trouble and come home, sometimes with children. This is an even more complex issue. 

Now, I can imagine as a parent, this would create challenges for them that they weren’t planning on.

Yes, many are not dealing with it well. And that's where we think this book is going to help them deal with it well, because if you simply say to your child, okay come on back, we'll figure something out. They come back and nobody really talks about anything. They just kind of ease back into the scene, and so they're teenagers again in their behavior.

But they don't want to be treated as teenagers. So what we say is when they come back, you need to have a family conference. You need to sit down and talk. We're here for you. We want to help you. So let's think about what the future looks like. What are your desires? What are your needs? What are your goals? How can we help you get there? Sometimes they don't know what their goals are, or they don't have any goals. “I’d just like to hang out, or “I’d like to travel for a year; or I’d like to,” whatever for a year. And parents have a hard time understanding that, because that's not where they are. Hang out for a year, travel for a year, who's going to pay your bills? We've got to hear what's going through their minds, or we won't understand their behavior. So there has to be this listening time and then talking about how can we help you? That's what love is all about. How can we help you? If for example they’ve got a college degree but no skills for work, you major in history or anthropology like I did, it doesn't help you get a job. So maybe they want to be a nurse now. Okay, then let's find out what it's going to cost to go to a technical school for getting a nursing degree, and how can we help you do that? And so I say to parents if you're financially able to help them develop a skill and pay for that, then that's wonderful, because it's on a track. They're going somewhere. And maybe if they've got a child, they’ve come back with a child, then babysitting is going to be an issue; and maybe you can help them with that. But we ought to be going somewhere. Now that's the issue.

Many times a young adult will move home yet still conduct themselves by the set of rules they were living by in college or with their roommates.  Quite often, their rules are quite different from the house they grew up in.  What kind of advice do you have for folks that find their adult children are not respecting the house rules?

That's common. That's one of the common problems they struggle with. And what we say is this. Look in the conversation or conversations. It's not one conversation; it's an ongoing conversation with your adult child. You're saying to them, “We love you. We want to help you in any way we can. But we're not going to help you live an irresponsible lifestyle. If you were living in a commune you’d have responsibilities.  You'd be cleaning the toilets. You'd be doing something for the community. We're a community. We're family.”

So, Mom does the cooking or maybe Dad does the cooking, and Mother does this. So we think it's right, it's responsible for you to have a job while you're here. Now I don't know if you want to do the vacuuming on Saturday or if you want to clean the toilets on Saturday, but let's decide what you're going to do to be a part of the family. You’re a responsible adult. You're going to feel better about yourself if you're making a contribution. But these conversations have to go on so that the young adult comes to understand that this is for their good. They feel better about themselves if they make a contribution. And so that's what I would say. The problem is this often we tend to lay down rules for them. We get frustrated.

Then we say, okay, if you're going to stay here, then this is what you're going to do. And if you miss this, then you're on the street. Well, they'll be on the street, I can tell you.

So what you have to do is keep the lines of communication open. You have to revisit the issue. And you have to affirm them when they come home at a reasonable hour. You say, “I just wanted to tell you, I really appreciate that last night Mom and I slept well just knowing you were here.”

In other words, don't be sarcastic. Be honest about your feelings with them.

That's right. But honestly share your appreciation so that the young adult doesn't get the idea that the parents are always on their case. What I like to say to parents is this, “The first 18 years, you taught this child your basic philosophy of life. You taught them whatever it is you taught them. You taught them for 18 years. They know what you believe. They know what you think. They know that now. They've got that. You don't have to keep harping on that. What you want to do now is move from monologue to dialogue and you want to interface with them as an adult.

With that said, as a parent what are some effective things that you can do even while your children are still growing up to implant the “responsible adult” seed in them? What are some practical things that you can do?

I deal with that issue in the book I wrote some years ago called The Family You've Always Wanted in which I deal with the five fundamentals of a healthy family. And one of those fundamentals is that parents teach and train the children. And those words are very different. One emphasizes words, the other actions. But I talk about how with words and actions we help our children learn to be responsible, because the key issue when you get to be an adult is being responsible for your actions and taking responsibility for yourself. And this can be learned early, but it involves having rules, things we do and things we don't do in our family, with consequences, and consistently applying the consequences.

It has to do with the child feeling loved. And that's the five love languages of children concept, making sure they feel loved. And it has to do with the child learning to accept responsibility and affirming them when they do that. And when we do that as they're growing up, they come to adulthood with the foundation to be responsible young adults.

Is it appropriate for a parent of a stay-at-home adult child to say, “It’s time to move on son or daughter?  Or, should you just kind of let their situation run its course and see what happens?

If we have those conversations about goals, and where we're going, if we set time limits on which we're going to try to accomplish here, you’re having this done or that done. And they just don't get any of the steps done over a period of a year, let's say. They don't do anything to make progress. There's a time to say, this arrangement is not helping you. It's not working for you. We love you too much to do this another year. So either we’re going to really start taking some steps toward going somewhere, or you're going to have to find another alternative. There is a place for that. It needs to be done but not in anger, which is often what happens. We just get so fed up with them that one night we just, in anger, lash out. And now the last memory they have is us pointing the finger saying, “You get out of this house; I don't care if you ever come back.” We make all these statements that we later regret. So it shouldn't be done in anger. It should be done in an attitude of love. “This is not helping you. It's obvious to us it's not helping you and therefore were not willing to continue this. So if we can’t start helping you move in a positive direction, then you're going to have to on your own find something else is going to work for you, because this is not working and were not helping you.”

Are you seeing any signs of encouragement in this current generation, the Millenials? Or do you see more things that alarm you about this current crop?

I think there are some positive things. I think among those who are Christians, they tend to be extremely passionate about their faith. That is very, very, positive in my opinion. Because the great hope of transforming life is in our relationship with Christ. And I think that many of them are finding that, who have come out of all kind of hurtful things in the past, they're finding healing in Christ, and that's very, very positive. Another thing just across the board, not just with Christians is that this generation is expressing more interest in the importance of family and relationships, less interest in climbing the corporate ladder. They’re looking back at their parents who sometimes worked 60 to 80 hours a week and they're realizing that they didn't have time with the family and they're saying to themselves, “I don't want to do that.”

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