Asking Adult Children to be On their Own

 

My fiancé has asked his adult children (in their early 20's) who are currently unemployed, to be on their own by our wedding date. His son is still in college and looking for a job. My fiancé has disclosed that his son has a history of being physically violent. His daughter is hoping to join the marines. At this point, it doesn't look like they have any intentions of moving out. My question is: What do we do if they have not moved out by our wedding date? Should we be firm about this? We have also offered to partially support them by paying their rent for a few months until they are stable.

Elizabeth

 

Elizabeth,

Thank you for your question as it is so pertinent to our lives in this new millennium.  I'd like to separate the question in three components.

1) Children from previous marriages:

In general, unless the children are so young that you become their primary attachment figure, the new parent can never take on the role of biological parent.  The child will always love and should have contact with the biological parent (if available), no matter what the situation is or appears to be.  Your role as the new parent will be more like a respected and loved mentor.   Here are some guidelines:

·         You and your new spouse must have appropriate agreed upon rights, responsibilities and roles with regard to parenting but don't expect to overcome year(s) long habits by demanding change or by getting upset.  

·         Speak with and come to agreement with your spouse if something needs to change.

·         The role of encouraging good manners will largely belong to your spouse, even when the child is disrespectful.

·         It is best to remove yourself (with dignity) from a disruptive situation and simply report that bad behavior to your spouse.  

·         Never get directly involved with the discipline between your spouse and their child.  

·         Never override the wishes nor authority of the ex-spouse without the explicit direction from your spouse.  It may be appropriate for all 3 adults to discuss differences but only far away from the children.

These rules, and more, apply to children of all ages.  This can be even trickier when the child is of an adult age; remember that there are behavior patterns already established between the children and your spouse and you are not likely to win your argument even if you are correct

2. When should children move out of the house:

The sooner the better; OK, so maybe that is a bit tongue in cheek but it’s mostly true.  Children who are over the age of majority do not benefit by having enabling parents.  And that is the point; many a parent wants to be noble and give much to their children but a parent’s nobler task is to push them out of the nest.  Keeping them at home because they can't seem to hold a job or because they are underemployed or because the economy is bad or because the stars are not aligned correctly prevents the child from learning to build the skills they need to succeed in life. 

This does not mean that a parent should never collaborate with a child who has a stated plan and date of departure.  The obvious example is an adult child who is actively pursuing a new career and who has a completion date for that plan.  OTOH, never agree to this sort of situation unless it is your child's plan as they will not have a similar investment in your plan.  If this advice sounds hard, remember that your child will be happier much sooner in life if you remember that their success is your real goal.

3) How can step-parents influence biological parents:

And this, Elizabeth, is really the crux of your question.  As you've read above, there are lots of ways you can lose these battles and not many to win.  Have agreements in principal and with specifics before you decide on your wedding date.  In your case, your fiancé should certainly be concerned foremost for your safety. It is easy to see how your fiancé is concerned for his son who has angry outbursts; OTOH, I wouldn't expect him to put you in a situation where you are concerned for your safety.

If your safety or privacy is a concern, you should consider putting off your marriage until these issues are resolved.  Your fiancé naturally wants to care for his children, you wouldn’t want to marry him if he did not.  However, if your fiancé is not as adamant as you with regards to the living situation, you will need to consider if you can live with your husband's adult children in your home (BTW, they will consider it their home).  If you can live with that, then please feel free to go ahead with the wedding.  I strongly advise against you wishing and hoping that your fiancé will change his mind/behavior because it may not happen and this will cause continual marital discord.  You can choose to agree to living in a non-ideal situation so don't let me dissuade you if you can and will do that; just don't make your decision expecting him to change.

I hope that helps; please feel free to contact me for clarification.

Ron Kaufmann, MA, CO LPC #11336, EMDR Clinician
National Certified Counselor #267299
AASAT Certified Sexual Recovery Therapist 
Recovering Hearts Counseling

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