Photo by Bermix Studio for free use on Unsplash.

When it comes to the term, “failure to launch,” I used to imagine the Hollywood version: Young adult lives in the family home’s basement, playing video games, maybe smoking marijuana, and languishing away while enabling, but helpless, parents shake their heads and wonder, “when will my child get his life together, already?!”

But, after doing family counseling for some time, it’s clear the real version of “failure to launch” is much more complex, deeply-rooted, and layered. Often, I find the young adult in question doesn’t want to live at home, but also doesn’t want to face all the responsibilities of adulthood, either. So, familiarity and safety win—and, weeks turn into months turn into years.

According to Mark McConville, PhD, author of “Failure to Launch,”[1] it’s important to find out what’s blocking the young adult from taking that next step. In some cases, the reason is as simple as the young adult not knowing how to take on the tasks of adulthood, like paying bills, balancing a checkbook, and getting a job. But, oftentimes, the young adult is too embarrassed to ask for help.

Another idea presented by McConville is that well-meaning parents haven’t yet transitioned their roles from a caretaking role to a consultant role. He argues that, when we stay in a caretaking role for too long, our adult child responds with child-like behavior. After all, one can get pretty used to being taken care of!

But, one of the best ideas I read about in McConville’s book is how families can take the necessary, but often scary, step of launching their adult child into the “real” world. He asks parents to imagine a distant nephew is staying with them and act accordingly. For example, if your distant nephew wanted to drink to excess in your home, would you be OK with that? Or, would you set clear boundaries around such behavior? When faced with such a scenario, many parents might imagine that, no, maybe I wouldn’t do his laundry. And, no, maybe he wouldn’t be able to live with them rent-free.

“Failure to launch” dynamics create distress for parents, but also distress for the young adult. Instead of imagining what might be “wrong” with a young adult who still lives at home, it’s likely time to see the situation through the lens of fear, attachment, and obstacles to developmental milestones.

Written by: Britt Young, M.A., LMFT

[1] “Failure to Launch, by Mark McConville, PhD

Our self-pay rates will soon be updated. Please contact our staff for more information.