Dear Mr. Dad: Our 28-year-old daughter lost her job a while back, and after burning through her savings, moved back in with me and my husband. That was nearly nine months ago. In the beginning, I enjoyed having her around, but at this point, she’s definitely overstayed her welcome. Not only is she giving no indication that she’ll be moving out, she’s also leaving messes all over the house and rarely if ever offers to help in any way. The biggest problem though, is my husband. I found out that he’s been giving our daughter money and is even paying her credit card bills. Now I find myself fighting with both of them. Is there some way to resolve this?
A: You’re in a real pickle. But unlike most pickles, this one has three ends. On one, your chronologically adult daughter is freeloading instead of owning her own home or at least paying rent. On another, she’s abusing your hospitality and acting like an inconsiderate teenager. On the third, your husband is making things worse by giving your daughter money.
The good news is that there is a way out. The bad news is that it won’t be easy.
Let’s start with the third end: your husband. In my view, our main role as parents is to prepare our children to be self-sufficient, which means that at some point, they should have a job that brings in enough to pay rent, buy groceries, buy a car, and put gas in it. Your husband undoubtedly has good intentions, but they’re backfiring. By paying your daughter’s bills and giving her money, he’s essentially removing any incentive she might otherwise have to grow up and move out, and he’s making her more dependent on the two of you instead of less. He’s also subtly telling her that doesn’t believe that she’ll be able to get back on her feet. Right now, your daughter is probably feeling very discouraged, which may make it even harder for her to change her situation.
Item one on your checklist is to have a heart-to-heart with your husband and explain this to him. I’m betting that he’ll be willing to pull the plug on your daughter’s free lunches—or at least set an end date. Once the two of you reach an agreement, bring your daughter into the discussion. Start by telling her that you’re sympathetic about her financial situation, but she’s going to have to put together a plan that ends with her getting her own place.
Draft a list of expectations, topped by finding a job. Until that happens, she needs to treat the job hunt seriously, spending a minimum of five hours per day on it. Sending out resumes will be important, but she should focus on trying to set up networking meetings, informational interviews, and actual interviews. Despite the rosy economic picture the media likes to paint and the number of new jobs created every month, it’s still a tough market out there, so give your daughter 90 days with an option to extend if she’s truly making an effort but just hasn’t been able to land a job.
Once she starts getting paychecks from someone other than your husband, you can set a deadline for her moving out. In the meantime, she can take on some basic household chores. This probably sounds a little cruel, but one day, your daughter will thank you. Forcing her to set expectations for herself and to be more responsible will help restore some of the self-confidence she may have lost since moving back home nine months ago.