Back Home Again with ADHD: Parents and Adult Children Sharing a Home

 ADHD Weekly October 11, 2018

Is your nest anything but empty? Almost a third of young adults are living with their parents, just slightly more than the number who live with their spouses or partners. Often nicknamed “boomerang families,” this living arrangement is becoming increasingly common, especially among families affected by ADHD.

In boomerang families, an adult returns home to live with his or her parents, either for a short period of time or much longer. When that adult has ADHD, a new level of complexity is added to what may already be a challenging situation.

Multigenerational household with ADHD

“People with untreated ADHD are more likely to drop out of high school, so they’re undereducated and underskilled,” says David Goodman, MD, director of the Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Center of Maryland and a former member of CHADD’s professional advisory board. “They generally have more jobs over a period of 10 years, which means that they’re continually moving into an entry-level position and not building a career, an occupation, or a stable income.”

Without stability or a job that provides enough of an income to meet bills or pay tuition and housing expenses, many young adults who have ADHD find themselves back in their childhood bedrooms. Some return home with spouses and children of their own, adding to the challenges of a multigenerational household.

This creates a new situation that isn’t the same as it was when your son or daughter was a teen. When ADHD is part of the family’s equation, setting up responsibilities and creating new adult relationships has an added dimension. The urge to return to a previous parent-child relationship can occur and needs to be addressed for a healthy adult relationship to develop.

Better together

Some families affected by ADHD decide to stay in or create a multigenerational household. Many young adults find the arrangement helps them meet pressing financial obligations or develop the maturity needed for independent living. Older parents can welcome their grown children, or move into their children’s homes, for the company of living with others, as a way to improve the household budget, or for assistance in the tasks of daily life.

Starting with a family meeting, discuss the needs of the family as a whole and the needs of its members, including needs based on ADHD symptoms. What will the house rules be, and how will those rules be made? While it’s tempting for the homeowners to say “My house—my rules,” that is not always practical. At the same time, all family members should practice basic courtesies that respect each other and each other’s values.

Expect all adults to contribute to the running of the house, and no one should ever feel like he’s operating a hotel. The best way to do that is to set clear expectations and post them in a central location—Dr. Goodman suggests the refrigerator, since everyone visits it daily. Write a clear weekly schedule—Monday, laundry; Tuesday, trash, for example—as prompts, so you don’t have to nag and everyone knows what their expected roles are and what chores need to be done. 

When young children are included in the make-up of the home, parents have the final say and grandparents need to assume a supporting role—but all the adults need to appear to be on the same page for the children. So conversations about parenting and grandparenting are necessary when setting up a multigenerational home.

“We humans are built for family life,” writes Georgia Witkin in When Families Live Together: A Survival Guide for the newsletter Considerable. “Family living forces us to have regular, face-to-face contact, which reduces isolation and wards off depression. The predictable routines of family life reduce stress; the act of nurturing, researchers have found, triggers innate biochemical stress-antidotes.”

She offers some suggestions to figure out a new way of living together:

Make room for each other. We’re not talking just about physical space but a respect for independence and privacy—such as closed bedroom or home office doors. All family members should have a place they can call their own where they won’t be disturbed and for which they are entirely responsible.
Work at being pleasant and kind with each other. ADHD is still part of life and can lead to some difficult situations. Your son or daughter, though, is an adult and is aware of how symptoms have caused trouble. Before you criticize or correct a family member, keep in mind all the things you love and appreciate about the person. Offer help when appropriate and hold your criticisms when you can.
Create equal house rules for all adults. To live together, you have to agree about what you’ll do when you disagree. Make sure you have some rules about conflict resolution along with house rules about food, chores, curfews, and overnight guests. If there are children in the home, this includes rules about parenting and grandparenting. Communication is also important—there needs to be some direct communication, either in person, by notes, or text message—each day and regular family meetings to make plans for upcoming events or obligations and to work through together any problems that have come up. 
“Treat your family like your friends.” Think about it: You treat your friends with patience, you listen to what they have to say, you give them advice, and you give them the benefit of the doubt, Ms. Witkin points out. Treat your family members with as much consideration as you do your friends and multigenerational living will go much more smoothly.

Just as important as establishing the house rules is establishing a family budget. All adults living in a home need to contribute to the home’s care, either financially, through homekeeping and childcare, or most preferably through a combination of both. Sometimes working with a professional accountant or other mediator can help when creating the budget and determining how contributions should be made. Establishing a separate bank account all adults pay into and from which all bills are paid out of can be helpful.

In all cases, each family member should maintain their own checking and savings accounts to meet their own financial obligations. You can learn more about this at Managing Money and ADHD.

Long-term living arrangement or just a stop on the way?

When first considering home sharing, talk through the goals of the arrangement. Discuss the short- and long-term goals, such as when your son or daughter hopes to establish his or her own residence or your needs in having another adult in the home for support. Establish a timeframe for meeting those goals. 

If your son or daughter plans to establish his or her own residence—or you have decided that the arrangement should be temporary—discuss what he or she needs to do to prepare for an independent home. Has she completed college or vocational training, or would she like to start an educational program?  Is he still mastering life skills, including cooking meals, cleaning, managing money, and paying bills?  Like many people with ADHD, he may have struggled with self-esteem and low confidence throughout his life and may also need to work with a therapist as part of becoming ready to establish his own home.

“The parenting approach needs to remain supportive,” Dr. Goodman says. “That becomes difficult in the face of parents’ frustration with an adult child they continue to take care of.” Parents must keep in mind their ultimate goal, which is “to promote functioning, and get them out of the house and self-sufficient.” 

Some families do find themselves in a situation where an adult son or daughter is able to leave but reluctant to do so, and parents are not sure how they want to proceed.

“Then you have to say, ‘Well, what do you think the impact of your presence is in the house for us, and how do you foresee our lives being if you’re always around here?’” Dr. Goodman suggests. 

If your son or daughter is refusing treatment for ADHD, that can complicate the relationship with you. It can also affect their ability to become independent, especially if you are continuing to provide the scaffolds you created for when he or she was in high school. For many families, part of the process is to remove the scaffolds and help the young adult to become more independent. For some families that involves working with a therapist or a coach.

“Getting the adult child into treatment and on medication is a critical factor to trying to get them to move forward,” Dr. Goodman says. This includes needed treatment for coexisting conditions such as depression and anxiety.

“If the adult child is in treatment and on medication, but there are a number of other factors involved with their trepidation at moving out of the house, then the anxieties and challenges of the world and adulthood have to be addressed. Often that’s done in therapy,” Dr. Goodman says. It’s especially important for parents in such cases to suspend their frustration and impatience whenever possible and keep their timeline in mind.
 “This is a journey—not a sprint,” he says.

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