Parenting Failure to Launch: My 21-Year-Old Won’t Move Out

We get it, it’s been a tough year. But at some point, your kids need to grow up and leave the basement. Here are six steps to nudge them along.

By Brienne Walsh Illustration: Pui Yan Fong
PUBLISHED 01/04/2024 | 7 MINUTES

Tom, a commercial fisherman based in Maine, was hesitant to allow his 21-year-old son, Chris, to move into the house Tom shares with his girlfriend. But Chris agreed to pay $400 a month in rent and $100 a month for groceries. Tom hoped that this would help offset household expenses and motivate Chris to find his own place.

But then COVID-19 hit, and Chris lost his job. He didn’t work for a year, and during that time he didn’t pay for rent or groceries. And when he did start working again in early 2021? He still didn’t chip in. Instead, he bought himself two cars that now sit in Tom’s driveway—and he doesn’t plan on moving out anytime soon. 

Chris is far from the only Gen Zer living with their parents. An estimated one-in-three adults between the ages of 18 and 34 do so—with around 2.6 million people between the ages of 18 and 29 having moved home during the pandemic. And in 2022, the National Association of Realtors reported that 27% of first-time homebuyers moved from a friend or family’s home. Add to that the increased cost of living and it’s no wonder many don’t want to go anywhere.

“Adult children have gotten comfortable with the security of free room and board,” says Kimberly Foss, the founder of Empyrion Wealth Management. “Now they can’t envision paying their own way.” 

Short of kicking your kid out, getting them to leave the house of their own accord can feel impossible. But there are a few steps you can take to teach them financial responsibility and encourage them to leave the nest. Here are six ideas to help you get started.

1. Set Rules and Boundaries

This may be one of the best ways to motivate an adult child. “If you make your young adult’s life too comfortable, they are less likely to want to leave,” says Andrea Woroch, a financial expert and mother of two. “Setting various household rules around getting a job, doing chores and who they can invite over and when ensures they respect the living arrangement and understand that they can’t freeload.”

2. Be Honest

Behind closed doors, you may complain about your adult child’s ingratitude and lack of initiative. But have you ever tried to tell them how you feel? “When you put everything on the table with your children and give them the unvarnished truth—that being so dependent on their parents as an able-bodied, able-minded adult is unhealthy—it can lead to a growth process that allows everyone involved to feel significant, understood and loved,” says Foss.  

3. Stop With the Handouts

Are you still paying for your kid’s phone bill on the family plan? Do you ask them what they want when you’re ordering take-out, and then pay for it? Sure, these things seem natural, but they are also holding your child back from taking responsibility for their own lives—and finances. “The whole point is to get your kid to start paying their own way—or at least part of it,” says Foss. “If you are constantly providing financial backup, they de-incentivize this important learning process.”

4. Don’t Bail Them Out

When you see your kid digging themselves into a financial hole—such as buying two cars they don’t need—it can be hard not to help them climb out of it. But if you keep on paying for their mistakes, they’ll never learn the tough lessons that they’ll need to survive as adults, and perhaps even as parents themselves one day. Rather than offering money, sit down with your kids and make a plan for paying off debt. For example, teach them the 50-30-20 budget rule or just help them set up automatic payments. Guide them; don’t baby them.

5. Expect Accountability

If you wake your kid up every day for work because you know they’d otherwise be late, you’re not doing them any favors. “It doesn’t serve kids, long-term, to continue catering to their dependence,” Foss says. In fact, it may lead to a kid moving out only to move back in because everything was easier. 

6. Start Charging Rent

Tom had the right idea, but it’s easier said than done—literally. You can tell your kid you are going to charge them rent, but actually collecting it is another matter. One way is to set up a direct deposit from their checking or savings account, or request the payments through Venmo or another platform. “Not only will this give your adult child a quick wake-up call that life isn’t free, but it will also teach them how to budget,” says Woroch.

As an added incentive (or if you’re a softie), let your kid know that the money they are paying in rent will go toward the security deposit on their first apartment—or toward paying off the interest on their student loan debt. Throw in a few uncomfortable rules—no sleepovers with significant others, no parties and doing your own laundry—and your kid will be motivated to leave the house in no time.

Millie content is licensed from Dotdash Meredith, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle, Investopedia, The Balance and more.

Brienne Walsh is a writer based in Savannah, Ga. She contributes to Forbes, Rangefinder and MarketWatch, among other publications.


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