I read your article about singles living at home a few weeks ago and it really struck a nerve.
I was wondering, do you think it’s possible for a parent to want to keep an adult child single?
I am 24 and still living at home. The older I get, the harder it is for me to have a life because most of my friends are married, and my parents are really, really dependent on me. I sometimes feel like my mother likes to have me close to her so that I can take care of errands and be someone whom she can confide in.
I want to move out but I don’t know if I can cut it financially, but more than that, I know that I will be up against a lot of resistance to my moving out. I’m also worried that they won’t be able to take care of things without me.
What do you think is the right thing to do?
Dear Single Son,
Oy. You sure are stuck, huh?
Well, first of all, it must be kind of confusing to be in this position where your parents are the ones that you are worried about, and are the ones you are trying to protect. Sounds like you’ve become their parent, in a way.
To answer your first question, yes, it is possible for a parent to want to keep an adult child single, but usually this want is only a small part of the want to see his or her child happily independent.
If a parent has specific needs — if they are elderly or ill, for instance — it makes sense that the idea of an adult child moving out would be a little frightening.
I don’t know if that is your situation or not, but my advice to you is to move out before 15 years catch up to you.
The trick is to do it in a most gentle way.
First, make a list of the specific tasks that they are dependent on you for. Then, we’ve got to figure out a replacement for them. You do the grocery shopping? Well, that’s an easy one. Get the phone number or email of the supermarket, and it’s delivery from now on.
By the way, when I say “from now on,” I mean starting…now. That’s the key to the gentle transition. Start making the changes while you are still at home. That will soften the blow, making the transition sneak up on them without the shock factor.
The priority is to make certain that their physical needs are accounted. It wouldn’t be fair to have fallen into a pattern of having them lean on you and then suddenly, to swiftly step aside.
The harder part to replace is if your parents rely on you for emotional support or companionship. You may or may not welcome this as part of your role.
If you don’t think the emotional closeness is bad (and it doesn’t have to be — many times the healthy adult child/parent relationship morphs into something that looks like a friendship), then you can figure out ways to maintain it if you move out. Making scheduled (or random) visits is a nice way to hang out and still have the space to make it on your own.
If you find being their friend (or their therapist) is something that is bad for you, then that is something that you will have to put up boundaries around, even if you never move out. And that is not an easy thing to do, especially if we slather on that extra layer of guilt for leaving them hanging.
Going with that, we have to make room for what it would be like for you to move out. I would guess a big piece would feel like you are abandoning them or neglecting them. Intellectually, I’m sure you know that your life has to come first, and if you feel that this arrangement is holding you back, then that is not putting you first. This is a very prime time in your life, and it will only become more difficult to find your way if things continue as they are.
But knowing that and feeling that are often two different things. You may always have that voice inside you telling you that you are a bad son for leaving (especially if you stay single for some time after moving out). So that voice is there, and that is the voice of you wanting to do the right thing for your parents, and that’s great.
But who is doing the right thing for you?
It may be that fear is holding you back from leaving. I know you mentioned that finances are not a sure thing. This is scary — it is a very big risk to go out on your own. Perhaps you may want to aim to move in a number of months, while saving as much as you can, and figuring out ways to increase your cash input.
Yes, it’s guilt-ridden and scary.
However, the words of Nike, the great philosopher, still apply: Just Do It!
Aviva Rizel, MA, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Aviva maintains a busy private practice in Cedarhurst, NY where she sees couples, families and individuals. She previously served as the Clinical Director of The Five Towns Marriage Initiative. She is trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), the most effective, research-based model for strengthening couples’ connections. Aviva is also active in educating therapists and laypeople about EFT. Mrs. Rizel and her husband, Meir Rizel, MS, a Mental Health Counselor, enjoy co-lecturing across the tri-state area together almost as much as they enjoy raising their three children together in Far Rockaway, NY. To reach Aviva, email AvivaRizel.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 347-292-8482 To find out more about Emotionally Focused Therapy, go to iceeft.com.