Be it due to the pandemic, the rising cost of living, or other reasons – the UK has seen a record rise in adults continuing to live with their parents in recent years. Often this is just to give them the extra boost they need in savings or education to make it on their own. But sometimes this extended stay can go on longer or even resume after a period of independence, until it becomes problematic.

Most parents expect that the hardest part of their job will end once their children reach adulthood, though that’s not always how things turn out.

While, legally speaking, parents aren’t expected to care for children after the age of 18, naturally, many will continue to care for their child throughout their adult years, should they need it.

Though this is normal, admirable, and driven by a desire to help, it may not always be constructive. This is why it’s important to make sure that the help you’re providing for your adult child is sustainable and growth-inducing, rather than debilitating, with only short-term benefit.

So, with this in mind, we’ve put together some tips and advice that you might find helpful if your adult child is struggling to find their independence.

Enabling vs supporting your child

enabling vs supporting your child

The urge to protect and support your children is a natural part of being a parent. Though, sometimes, those instincts can lead us down a difficult path.

If you’re living with an adult child who’s struggling to stand on their own two feet, it can be easy to fall into patterns of behaviour that you intend to be supportive – but that may end up enabling unhealthy coping mechanisms.

For example, you might feel like you’re supporting your adult child while they look for work by paying for luxuries, like a phone plan with lots of data or petrol money rather than a bus pass. However, in some cases, this may be enabling them to stay stuck where they are.

Often when someone is going through a challenging time, they default to taking the path of least resistance. So, if you’re engaging in behaviours that provide an easier alternative, then it’s possible that you might not be supporting your adult children as much as you think or hope.

Even without taking into account the particular intentions or attitude of your adult child, any person is less likely to make moves to change their situation if their needs are being provided for.

That’s not to say that you should stop providing the necessities – especially as doing so is likely to make your adult child feel resentful, which may be detrimental to any progress. Instead, the idea is to avoid enabling behaviours so that your adult child feels uncomfortable enough to take their fate into their own hands, while keeping up the things that are genuinely supportive.

For instance, you might want to continue providing food, or at least enough money for them to buy their own basic groceries, while cutting off any spending on takeaways or restaurant dinners. Another good example is to provide a phone plan, but only one that’s sufficient for them to secure job interviews – not one with a huge data package.

It can be hard to avoid engaging in enabling behaviours with anyone we love who’s struggling, because ultimately we feel driven to soothe. However, in cases like this, it’s important to make sure that the help you’re providing is setting your child up with the tools they need to get themselves up on their feet – rather than making them feel better in the short-term only.

Establishing boundaries and rules

Living with your adult child long-term can sometimes become difficult and emotionally turbulent for everyone involved. Whether your child has yet to move out after school or university, or has had to return after living independently for some time, the family dynamic can be unusual and feelings of embarrassment and frustration can be common for both parties.

In order for the entire household to live well in their day-to-day life (while also creating an environment that will set your adult child up to succeed and move on) it’s important to establish clear boundaries and rules. These need to be explicitly communicated and agreed upon in a conversation – not just assumed.

Here are a few suggestions for rules that you may want to consider implementing…


The parent-child dynamic is usually intended to change when your child grows up. Once a person reaches adulthood, it’s natural for their relationship with their parents to shift from one of authority and hierarchy to a peer relationship – but it’s not always easy to get there.

One way to encourage this dynamic is to treat your adult child like a guest in your home – because they are.

You can still be supportive and loving, as ever. But it’s important to make it clear that you’re going out of your way to help them during this time, not taking care of them because they’re your responsibility.

To that end, when setting boundaries with your adult child, try to keep in mind what you would expect of a guest. One big example is communication. Many adult children returning to their parents’ homes can forget or neglect to let them know where they are, especially if they’re out late or staying over at a friend’s for the night, or assume they can invite friends or partners over without checking first.

Chances are, you would reasonably be upset if a guest in your home disappeared for some length of time without letting you know where they’d been, or brought their own additional guests. So, you could decide not to accept the same from your child while hosting them.


If your adult child is earning while living at home with you, then it can be important to ask that they contribute to their living expenses as any other member of the household.

This may or may not be the right decision for your family. But, if hosting your adult child is putting strain on your finances, then it’s likely you’ll want to ask that they pay their fair share. Equally, requiring rent payment is a great step in making sure your home environment isn’t enabling an unwillingness to move on.

On the other hand, the most common reason that adult children remain at home is because they need to save money in order to move. Therefore, it’s perfectly reasonable to provide for your child while they do so – as long as you can afford to, and feel that it won’t hold them back.

Alternatively, for the best of both worlds, you may want to consider asking for a regular rent payment, and putting it into a savings account that they can access once they’ve moved out.


Asking your child to contribute to the housework while living at home might sound obvious, but it’s important to be clear about your expectations when it comes to chores.

You may want to consider having a family meeting to decide the division of labour. Giving your adult child responsibility for specific jobs can foster independence by giving them a sense of ownership. Plus, it can help to avoid any miscommunications or misunderstandings over who’s doing what.

It might be the case that there are some jobs around the house your child finds difficult or tedious, and others that they find easier to manage. If there are any they struggle with that you don’t mind as much, you might want to take this into account when divvying up chores.

So long as they hold up their end of the bargain, collaborating in this way can help to make them feel validated – which is far more productive than an oppositional feeling of being told what to do.

Time limits

To avoid letting your adult child get too comfortable living with you, it’s best to set a clear agreement on how long they’ll be staying with you. It’s okay if this is for a long time – so long as it’s clear that it’s not forever.

Part of making sure your actions are supportive rather than enabling is to be explicit about the duration of their stay as a guest in your home. Setting a time limit will help to emphasise the reality that they need to continue working toward their goals, to eventually gain some independence.

A good way to do this is to set renewable periods of time that are conditional on certain progress being made, to encourage them to stay active. For instance, you might decide that they’re welcome to stay for up to six months, and after that they’ll be welcome to stay for another six months if they’ve made some genuine progress in finding a job, saving, or studying, to name a few possibilities.

For tips and advice on how to support adult children while keeping boundaries in place, you might want to have a read of the relevant section of our article on supporting children here.



Aside from setting boundaries and rules, counselling, therapy, and coaching can help families from all walks of life in a variety of different circumstances. Getting support from a professional can also be especially helpful if you’re dealing with delicate social and familial problems like supporting an adult child.

If you or they can afford it, encouraging your child to regularly attend sessions with an accredited counsellor or life coach can help to take some of the weight of supporting them off of your shoulders. And, due to impartiality and client confidentiality, it’s likely that they’ll feel empowered to be more open about their issues and struggles without worrying about how the person listening will be affected.

It’s also worth keeping an open mind and being aware of the possibility of any undiagnosed mental illnesses or neurodivergent traits in your child or yourself. Often, people only realise that they’ve been struggling with undiagnosed issues – especially those that make executive functioning difficult, like depression, anxiety, and ADHD – when they’re in a tough place that highlights their symptoms.

Alternatively, or in addition to private counselling, it can also be a good idea to attend family therapy sessions. Especially if there’s a lot of difficulties with arguments and tension at home surrounding your adult child’s stay, it can often be a good idea to talk these out with professional help.

If you want to find a private therapist or counsellor, you may want to have a look at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)’s therapist directory. It’s best to only consider using practitioners who are properly accredited by the BACP.

Final thoughts...

Living with an adult child can sometimes be a difficult and complicated situation for everyone involved. However, with the right attitude, collaboration, and some hard work, it’s possible to provide the right kind of loving support to help your child flourish, and eventually fly the nest.

We hope that this advice has been helpful to you, or that we’ve provided a perspective that you perhaps hadn’t yet considered.

You can find more articles on family life – including how to cope with empty nest syndrome and how to care for elderly relatives – on the relevant section of our website here.