Still hanging on to the apronstrings?

This article is for those families whose 30-year-old working son or daughter wouldn’t know where to pay an electricity account, how to boil an egg and that dirty socks and towels do not get up off the bathroom floor by themselves.

See if you recognise yourself or your child in the article below - if you do, it may be time to kick out your child or give your parents a break.

Signs that a parent's goodwill is being abused

  • Your child, despite earning a good salary, does not make a significant contribution to the household expenses.
  • You are struggling to make ends meet, while you child has money for holidays, CDs, smart clothes and a fancy car.
  • You find yourself often having to foot the bill for your child’s friends popping in over mealtimes.
  • You find yourself having to cook meals at least twice a day. Often your child actually doesn’t arrive for these and sometimes does not let you know.
  • You cannot remember if your child has ever washed a dish, swept a floor or cleaned a bath. You think there was that one weekend in 1991 when you had broken your leg…
  • Your child knows where to buy a laser mouse for his computer, but wouldn’t know where in the supermarket to get bread, eggs or garbage bags.
  • If you didn’t clean under the bed, the missing library book from 1987 would still be there.
  • You are careful to make phonecalls after 7 pm, but your phonebill remains high.
  • A request to be taken somewhere or to get something for the household is met with unwillingness.
  • Money is borrowed from you and conveniently forgotten.

Living together in peace
Many people manage to make this work, but there are certain ground rules that need to be laid down for this to happen.

Unemployment. If your child is unemployed and seems to be making little effort to end this state of affairs, it could be your willingness to continue supporting him or her making this situation possible. Set realistic limits. Say something like, “It costs us R1500 per month to have you here. We know work is difficult to find, and will not expect you to make a contribution for the next three months, but after that we will not have a choice.

Make fixed arrangements. These must be are arrived at by mutual discussion. The situation will not just resolve itself – on the contrary. Parents who are prepared to be doormats for their grown children are not doing them a favour.

Accept that relationships change. Accept the fact that your relationship is going to have to change with the changing situation. Your child is becoming a young adult, and you will need to learn to let go a little. This does not mean that you must stop giving support, but you can also expect support for yourself.

Paying his/her own way. Once a child is working, there is no reason why you should be footing the bill for her living costs. If she were not living with you, she would have to pay a lot more elsewhere. Children who study can be treated more leniently, but set realistic time limits. The last thing you want is an eternal student around your neck.

Payment also buys freedom. Accept that once a child is paying his or her way in your household, you can no longer dictate things like dress, friends and movements over weekends. You can, however, stipulate what you will tolerate under your roof, as you would do with any other boarder.

Calculate cost accurately. Calculate household and food costs accurately and give your child a breakdown of exactly what it costs to have them there. Keep in mind that if your child was not living there, you would more than likely be able to rent out that space to someone else.

You can still make ground rules. You are entitled to make certain ground rules, such as that you need to be notified by lunchtime if your child is not going to be home for supper.You are not entitled to knowing where they are at all times, but you can expect them to tell you more or less when they will return. If a child is not going to sleep at home, you need to know beforehand, given the levels of crime in South Africa. Life is too short to lie awake worrying about the whereabouts of your middle-aged child.

Child vs. boarder. If your child is paying their way, you are not in a position to treat them as a live-in chauffeur, babysitter, cook or gardener. If this type of duty is expected of them, it must be calculated in when their contribution is determined. A reduction for babysitting or doing the laundry, is quite acceptable, but then both sides must stick to the bargain. Children who study and are therefore not paying rent, can be expected to do a significant portion of housework.

Get an itemised telephone account. This piece of paper can avoid many nasty fights.

Independence cuts both ways. You and your child are not responsible for each other’s constant entertainment.

Make a fixed date, such as supper on Tuesdays, when you can catch up and chat. Nothing will make your child want to leave more quickly than feeling that you don’t have a life and are sitting at home waiting for them to entertain you.

Let go - it's the loving thing to do. Remember that sometimes, the more loving thing to do is to let go of those you love. If things are unpleasant or uncomfortable, feel free to make an end to this arrangement. Remember, penguins actually peck their young until they leave. While this particular course of action is not recommended, sometimes separation preserves rather than destroys relationships.

You are not doing your child any favours by doing things for her she should be doing for herself.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated June 2010)

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