“I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” This famous line comes from the character Wimpy in the Popeye cartoons from long ago. It suggests that the person handing out the hamburger will never get paid for it; not Tuesday, not ever. Well meaning at the time, Wimpy just won’t be back to pay that bill. While it was funny in Popeye, it is not so funny in reality.
There’s a phenomenon today among adult children living at home with their parents. The range in age is vast; people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and even beyond. Many of these adult children are offering to pay for the hamburger on Tuesday but never come back to do so. To add insult to injury, for some reason they think it’s perfectly okay. For sure you know one or two of them, whether they are adult children of a family member or your friend, there’s too many of them once you start looking around.
This isn’t the case for the adult children who come and stay temporarily after losing a job or attempting to save a few dollars to buy a home. They come and go with a plan and the living situation is only temporary. It’s the adult child who is living like a teenager off their parents and they not only find nothing wrong with this, they have absolutely no plans on ever leaving.
The funny thing is, for every one of these real-life Wimpys, there’s a mom or a dad at the ready to offer a symphony of excuses. For a lot of these grown kids, there is substance abuse involved at some level and in some form. Whether it be alcohol or part of the opiate epidemic that is killing too many of the citizens of this nation, there’s usually some underlying numbing agent when it comes to this type of existence.
So where is the foundation of this problem? Is it found within the adult kid who won’t grow up, or maybe in the substance they indulge in? Does the blame fall on the crazy world we live in today, or is it the person who is supplying the surroundings, money, and opportunities to live a life like this at the foundation of the problem? Is this you?
Most people know at least one of these grown children who have manipulated a parent for far too long; they are everywhere. You’ve probably even offered up advice on how to handle the problem to a crying mom who doesn’t know what to do with their 35-year-old son or 25-year-old daughter who is still living like a teenager in their home.
You may have had a friend confide in you over this problem. The conversation usually starts out with the parent saying they can’t take it anymore, and they need to do something. Then after you’ve hashed out the most obvious options, like make them fly the coop, the conversation abruptly ends. The fed-up mother or father is ready to wait until their kid “hits bottom” and wakes up. Then you walk away realizing you were nothing more than a sounding board for your friend’s long and very repetitive venting.
The bizarre thing is that this friend of yours, who is having all this trouble with their own kid, finds it so easy to point out all the other parents who are fools because they are basically putting up with the same thing from their kids. To add insult to injury, that friend of yours usually has the best advice for how that foolish parent can fix the problem, advice that they’d never follow themselves.
Many of these parents feel sorry for that grown adult child kicking back in their basements and wallowing through life. They are the first ones to bail out Junior after his second or third DUI, throwing good money after bad with the hopes this will be the deciding blow. These parents are waiting with bated breath for their adult child to “hit rock bottom,” a mythical place that is said to miraculously turn them around and put them on a path to a productive life.
You cannot change Wimpy’s life, he will be floating hamburgers on credit for decades to come if his lifestyle stays the same. You can’t make him find work. You certainly can’t go to work with him and make sure he doesn’t lose this job like all the others. Those past jobs where they picked on him, the boss had it out for him, or everyone else was treated wonderfully except for him are the scripted reasons he’s still unemployed; you’ve heard it all before. You are at a loss for all the things that you’d like to make reality Wimpy do, but you are not at a loss for what you could do.
There’s only one thing you can change and that is you, in a situation like this.
While you certainly cannot change your adult child’s approach to life, you can change your approach to your adult child, even though it seems awfully late in the game. As Crosswalk suggests, if you want things to change, you have to remember that the goal is not to fix your adult child, but to fix yourself. It is not easy, many parents are afraid they will hurt the feelings of that adult child by drawing a line. Sadly, that is often what your kid is banking on, to get their own way.
You don’t want to make their life comfortable on your dime and your time to the point that they have no reason to leave. If there is a substance abuse problem, money is the last thing you want to supply for your adult child. Requests to borrow any amount of money should be met with a “no “from you. If they are doing or keeping drugs in the house, then you have every right to insist that your adult child will have to go. Whether they choose rehab, a homeless shelter, or a friend’s house, it is not your choice, it’s theirs. Your choice is that you won’t put up with drugs in your home.
If, for some reason, they are thrown in jail, bailing them out isn’t always the best course of action. Usually, jail means they were at a point where they were in danger of causing harm to themselves or others, so jail can be a safe place for them under those circumstances. If your kid doesn’t suffer some type of consequences for inappropriate behavior, it is a lot easier for them to repeat it in the future. Jail will offer consequences if they’ve committed an act that calls for incarceration, like carrying drugs or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
You will not change your adult child’s behavior, but you can change yours when it comes to your everyday dealings with that child. It is far from easy and it is probably going to pull on your heartstrings to leave them in jail, to boot them out for bringing drugs into your home, and for saying “no” when they come up with a story that sounds legit for you to lend them money.
You have only one ability when it comes to helping that Wimpy on your couch, and that is for you to change. The promises that never materialize will keep on coming, so let that adult child know that those promises mean nothing to you anymore. It is action that you want to see. No more hamburgers, because Tuesday will never come.
[Featured Image by Jovan Gojkovic/ShutterStock]