Leaving the Nest


In ancient Greco-Roman culture, children remained under the care and control of a “pedagogue” until the time set by their father. (Galatians 4:2) For boys, it usually took place in their late teens and meant assuming the privileges and responsibilities of adulthood. Jewish boys had their “bar mitzvah” on the first sabbath after their 12th birthday. At that point, they became accountable to God and were to remain submissive to their parents until leaving to establish their own family.

Rites of passage in ancient cultures were much more definitive than they are in our culture. In America, children can get a driver’s license around 16, vote at 18, and purchase alcoholic beverages at 21. But when it comes to leaving the nest, what should that age be? Should parents ever insist that a child leave their home? What requirements can and should be imposed on adult children living at home? Does the Bible address this issue?

The answers to these questions vary depending on the nature of a child’s departure. Overall, the general answer is that every family is different, and parents must decide on their own what is in the best interest of their child. In short, there is no set age when a child should leave the nest. The Bible seems to indicate that children left their parents’ home when they married. (see Matthew 19:5) In ancient Rome, it was common for multiple generations to live under the same roof.

In today’s culture, kids are staying in the nest longer. Pew Research reported that over 50% of adult children, ages 18-29, live in their parents’ home. Over 26 million remain at home with that number jumping 2 million since the COVID-19 outbreak in February. This is the highest percentage since the Great Depression. Then and now, the underlying cause seems to be economic.

One problem parents often face is what to do with a recalcitrant child who is now legally considered an adult, demands to live as an adult, but still resides in his parent’s home. Here are a few guidelines to help you in the decision-making process.

1. Remember the goal of parenting.

I’ve said many times that the job of parents is basically to work themselves out of a job. This involves teaching and training children to be independent, to take responsibility, and to live in the knowledge of God’s will. (Ephesians 5:17) The ultimate goal of every Christian parent should be that their children will love and follow Jesus. The Bible teaches that God expects young men to eventually leave father and mother in order to establish their own home. (Genesis 2:24, Ephesians 5:31)

2. Maintain a united front.

I’ve always advised couples to ensure they are united in decisions affecting their kids. It never serves a child’s best interest when mom and dad are divided on issues that impact the family. This is especially true in the case of a son or daughter who still lives at home but refuses to submit to parental authority. Husbands and wives together should prayerfully and privately determine if and when their child should leave the nest.

3. Enforce parental authority

It is critical that children living at home respect and honor their parents’ authority no matter how old they are. There’s nothing magical about turning 18, and there is more than physical maturity involved in becoming an adult. I have known men in their thirties that had not yet matured emotionally and psychologically to adulthood. Age is irrelevant when it comes to honoring one’s parents. Fathers are responsible to maintain the standards and enforce the policies of their home. If an adult son or daughter refuses to honor and submit to parental authority, then it is time for them to leave.

4. Communicate clearly and in love.

As children get older it becomes necessary to clarify the policies and procedures you expect of them. For example, I’ve always believed and practiced the policy that if you live in my house, you will go to church. There is no hard and fast verse in the Bible that commands such a policy, although Genesis 18:19 comes pretty close. I insisted on this out of personal conviction. And while you may not share this conviction, you are responsible to establish and communicate your own convictions and express them to your adult children in love.

Here are a few of the obvious expectations parents should have for their “adult” children living at home:

• Contributing to household expenses. This, of course, assumes they have a job and can make the contribution. This may be abrogated as long as there is continuing effort to gain employment.

• Assisting with household chores and maintenance. Paying rent doesn’t mean these no longer apply.

• Living in harmony with the Christian atmosphere of the home. Any relationship or activity that violates clear scriptural teaching is absolutely forbidden and will not be tolerated.

Finally, if it becomes obvious that an adult child will not cooperate or submit to the standards set forth by parents, the time has come for dad to evict. That may sound harsh, but when done in love, on the basis of biblical conviction, it is the most loving thing a father could do. Calmly inform them that the time has come for them to leave. Give them a reasonable date to be gone. Inform them that the decision is final and that you will take whatever action is necessary to enforce your decision. There is legal recourse in such situations. Hopefully, it will never come to that.

I hope these few guidelines will be helpful should you find yourself in a difficult relationship with an adult child. I could say so much more, but in closing, let me encourage you not to beat yourself up. Parents often feel guilty when their children fail to turn out as they hoped. Be patient, trust in God, and don’t compromise. Sometimes, love must be tough.

What to do with a child who demands to live as an adult, but still resides in his parent’s home.