In today’s economic environment, the journey to independence for young people is becoming longer and more complicated. Difficulty in getting a stable job and the high cost of living often lead to greater parental dependency, keeping children at home longer than decades ago.
Of course, this emotional and economic support can be a positive experience if the children finally manage to become independent, but as the years go by and the bonds of dependency strengthen, it ends up becoming a problem, both for the parents and for that child who cannot find his/her path in life.
What is the Adult Entitled Dependence Syndrome?
The Adult Entitled Dependence Syndrome is a phenomenon in which adults continue to depend on their parents in an exaggerated way, even though they do not have any disability, to the point that this hinders their normal development and functioning. Adult children do not leave the family home, which often ends up generating negative dynamics between them and their parents.
Often these children are constantly angry and resentful and expect their parents to meet their unrealistic demands. They generally blame others for their problems and have little empathy, so they show little appreciation for all their parents do for them.
These adult children believe that parents should be their caregivers, they see them as perpetual security providers, so they develop an Adult Entitled Dependence Syndrome. However, deep down they are often unhappy as they fail to find their way and develop their potential, remaining permanently under the shadow of parental care.
Failure to Launch: Why are children unable to become independent?
In the 2006 comedy “Failure to Launch,” Matthew McConaughey played a 35-year-old man who didn’t want to leave his parents’ house because he felt too comfortable with that life. His story inspired the phrase “failure to launch” to refer to parenting that fails to lead children toward independence.
However, it would be wrong to blame only parents since, deep down, they only reflect social norms and expectations. In fact, in recent decades parenting has moved more and more towards parental overprotection.
In the past, many children played in the street until the sun went down, and all adults had the authority to reprimand them if they misbehaved. Parents intervened little in children’s disputes to let them learn to resolve them on their own. At home, we had to follow certain rules and if we made a mistake, we paid the consequences.
Thus we learned that life is unfair and it is not always comfortable. We learned to resolve our conflicts and deal with frustrations and disappointments. And, above all, we wanted to become independent to live by our own rules. In a certain way, that parental discipline gradually led us towards autonomy and independence.
That degree of discomfort helped us develop the skills necessary to become independent adults. However, in recent times “helicopter parents” may have paved the way too much for their children. With the desire that they have a better life, they are saving them the “inconveniences” essential to grow.
The problem is that by sparing them problems and frustrations, they also limit their children’s abilities by preventing them from exposing themselves to those situations that allow them to mature. Over time, children have stopped learning to solve problems on their own and have become accustomed to looking to adults to solve things for them.
Unfortunately, during childhood and adolescence, the main coping skill children learn is asking their parents for help when they have a problem. Therefore, when they reach adulthood, it should not surprise us that they do not know what to do and resort to the only solution they know: asking mom and dad for help. Or even worse, emotionally manipulate them for helping them.
It is no coincidence that psychologists from California State University found that when parents have implemented a parenting style that is too controlling, children grow up with diminished self-efficacy and when they become adults they believe that they have almost unlimited rights. It has also been appreciated that the Adult Entitled Dependence Syndrome occurs especially when parents consider their children as an extension of themselves.
As a result, in many cases behind the Adult Entitled Dependence Syndrome are overly compassionate parents who sympathize with every display of discomfort of their children and continue to try to solve all their problems. In other cases, parents simply don’t know how to get their children to become independent and lead their own lives.
The other side of the coin is young adults who are considering increasingly difficult to find their way, both emotionally and financially. They have entered adulthood psychologically ill-equipped to deal with disappointment and the ups and downs of life.
If they are turned down for a job, they give up because they haven’t learned to be persistent. They are not capable of managing the daily responsibilities and the inevitable conflicts of a relationship. They hold unreasonable expectations about life, expecting others to meet their needs or prioritize them. And they believe they have a right to material things, even if they can’t afford them.
As a result, they feel more comfortable staying at home on the couch while the parents work out their problems, take on their responsibilities and pay all their expenses until they are 30 years old or even older.
When does living at home with parents become a problem?
It should be noted that the fact that an adult lives with his/her parents is not negative in itself, so is fact that parents help their children when they need it. The fact that children turn to their parents when they have a problem for advice or support is not negative either.
Parents can help their children with love and the best intentions, but over time we have gone from caring for our children to becoming their perpetual providers. This has established the idea that the work of parents is never finished and that they have the responsibility to correct their children’s mistakes and take care of them for life.
The problem arises when that adult child is not autonomous and does not have the desire to be. When he/she is unable to solve any problem by himself/herself and does not have his/her own life project. When he/she thinks that he/she can’t do things independently and demands his/her parents to take responsibility for him/her.
The problem exists when parents remain tied for life to children who does not want to grow up, conditioning all their decisions to it. When they can’t enjoy their retirement with peace of mind, they don’t have freedom or have to accept becoming the “scapegoats” for their children’s failure.
In the long run, this type of coexistence generates underlying frustration on both sides. Neither the son is happy, nor are the parents because the feeling of failure hangs over everyone.
How to get children to become independent?
Bats of the Uroderma bilobatum species give their young little nudges to help them “mature.” In this way they help the forearms of the young develop faster than the rest of the body so that they can learn to fly. Once the peregrine falcon hatchlings flap their wings and practice a bit in the nest, the mothers pick them up in their beaks and drop them to learn to fly, correcting their flight in the air so they don’t fall to the ground.
Nature teaches us that it is essential to find the balance between protection and autonomy. Therefore, the key to breaking this cycle of dependency is to help children develop their coping skills and gain self-confidence. Many times that means letting children experience a certain level of discomfort so that they learn to cope with frustration.
Instead of picturing your adult child as a helpless little bird whose wings won’t support it when it leaves the nest, think of him/her as self-sufficient and capable of flight. Don’t let emotions like fear of what might happen to them make you see and treat them like children.
Thinking of your children as incapable actually hurts them and keeps them under your wing. Therefore, recognize them for the adults that they are. It is likely that at first that adult child may feel uncomfortable with the steps you are taking to take responsibility for him/her, but you should not feel guilty. After all, a certain dose of discomfort is essential to get out of the comfort zone.
As a mother or father, you will always be available to your children. But everything has a limit. And that limit is at the point where your help hurts them. The mission of parents is not to protect their children forever but to educate them so that they learn to protect themselves and face life with their own strength.
Lebowitz, E. et. al. (2012) Parent training in nonviolent resistance for adult entitled dependence. Fam Process; 51(1):90-106.
Givertz, M. & Segrin, C. (2012) The Association Between Overinvolved Parenting and Young Adults’ Self-Efficacy, Psychological Entitlement, and Family Communication. Communication Research; 41(8): 10.1177.
Bishop, J., & Lane, R. C. (2002) The dynamics and dangers of entitlement. Psychoanalytic Psychology; 19(4): 739–758.