Stuck in the Dependency Trap? Launch Your Adult with ADHD

Many adults, young adults and parents feel frustrated and stuck when faced with a loved one’s inability to achieve the major tasks and benchmarks to move forward and get on with their lives independently. 

Often referred to as "failure to launch," this term is not a true diagnosis, not a “failure,” not a result of “bad parenting,” and not reserved for millennials. For adults and young adults with ADHD and co-existing mental health conditions, “launching” successfully involves the whole family system for the parents as well as the adults. Mother and Daughter Arguing on Couch

"The "Dependency Trap"

As parents we know all too well how living with our complex kids have shaped our lives. We are used to fiercely advocating and navigating our lives around our kids’ needs. But over time, our well-meaning, painstaking and often enervating accommodation routines can unintentionally strengthen dependency. Dr. Eli Leibowitz, PhD of the Yale Child Study Center, calls this the "dependency trap." He states that although a young adult (or adult) may resist change, it’s possible to change the parts of the system through the parents to develop a sense of secure identity outside the home and eventually create independence. 

Here are six ways for sowing these seeds for change.  

Resist the Urge to Take Care of Your Adult Child Clothes on Floor

It’s tough to hold back the urge to take care of our young adults, especially during times of distress or failure, but the message we’re unintentionally communicating is that they’re incapable of problem-solving. The rule of thumb needs to be: if your young adult is capable, let him do it. It may be faster or simpler to pick up her clothes off the floor, clean his dirty dishes, or even do her laundry, but in the long run, we are not doing them (or us) any favors. 

Quick Tips:

• In an effort to resist the urge to accommodate, rather than asking over and over again to pick up their clothes or clean up, take a photo of the offense and text it to the perpetrator! The message will be communicated and often taken care of on the spot!

• Find out if your young adult is using her digital calendar and setting alerts on her device for appointments. Work together (if he asks for support) and remove yourself from being “personal assistant.”  

Determine Your Expectations Young Adult Vacuuming

If your adult child is living at home, one goal is to make the cost of living at home approximate costs for living away, depending on your situation. Require a certain level of effort for earning privileges to eliminate a sense of entitlement. 

Quick Tips:

Decisions can be made about:

• Paying rent (or parents possibly putting the “rent” away into a “savings account”) or living rent-free

• Paying for car, gas, insurance, and/or other transportation

• Groceries, cell phone, credit card

• Education, Training

Set Boundaries Parents Read Report or Contract

Having an agreed-upon set of boundaries is important, which must include follow-up for consequences if rules are broken. It’s helpful to set up a signed contract with an outline for consequences in writing.

Quick Tips:

Contracts can include agreements such as:

• Apply to five reasonable jobs per day, with email proof, and if not, move out by xxx date; if no job by xxx date, volunteer by xxx date where volunteering is no less than 20 hours per week. 

• Secure Student Loans, attend classes regularly, and if get “B” or better, parents will reimburse

• Agreement for young adult to pay for missed doctor’s or counseling appointments. 

Draw the Line with Drugs and Alcohol 

Substance abuse can go hand in hand with ADHD and co-existing mental health conditions. Oftentimes, substances are used to self-medicate when an individual is not sufficiently or effectively medicated. This becomes a vicious cycle for the family system in setting acceptable rules and boundaries. 

Quick Tips: Sad Father Arguing with Daughter

Design boundaries around drugs and alcohol that work for you for your young adult to live in your home and/or to receive financial support, such as:

• Your adult child must be willing to test as drug free or must go to rehab. If she refuses she must leave the home and not receive financial support. 

• Your adult living at home must attend at least 3 support meetings a week and get counseling.

Require Respect to Family Members

Although emotional dysregulation and impulsivity is commonly exhibited among individuals with ADHD, we still need to draw the line for disrespectful behavior. This includes abusive verbal and physical behavior as well as actions against personal property. 

Quick Tips:

• Identify consequences for cursing, degrading or negative talking back or yelling obscenities.

• No physical threats or police will be called and told the young adult is a threat to self and others. 

• Any damage to property will be repaired at the damaging individual's expense. 

Keep Communication Open and Loving Mother and Daughter Talking Lovingly

Violated boundaries and expectations can be the result of unclear communication. It’s important to keep dialogue open and transparent. Show empathy and compassion for your adult child’s experiences. 

Quick Tips:

 • When failure occurs, acknowledge the event with care and concern. Do not try to solve or fix the problem. Be a listening sounding board. 

• Briefly reflecting back your understanding of your adult child's experience, expresses you are listening. Even if it’s not exactly “right,” your young adult will let you know. What’s important is that you’re engaging in meaningful discussion. 

Supporting an adult child with ADHD and co-existing conditions can be challenging. To loosen dependency and resistance for change, parents can:

• Resist the Urge to Take Care

• Determine Your Expectations

• Set Boundaries

• Draw the Line with Drugs and Alcohol

• Require Respect to Family Members

• Keep Communication Open and Loving

Experiment with some of these and let me know how it goes for you!




 PS. Need more assistance creating change to support your adult child with ADHD? 

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we can talk about some solutions you can put into place now!


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