For the past few weeks, social media and the major news networks have been buzzing with a story about a New York couple who successfully sued to have their 30-year-old son evicted from their home. News outlets from Good Morning America to The New York Times are calling it a “real- life case of Failure to Launch,” a reference to a 2006 movie starring Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Anyone who has read about this case or watched any of several interviews with Michael Rotondo will surely know that this family’s private drama, now made public, bears almost no resemblance to the cheesy romantic comedy that ends with A-list celebrities McConaughey and Parker head over heels in love with one another.
In the movie, Matthew McConaughey plays a partying yacht-salesman who is perfectly happy living at home so he can sponge off his parents and avoid getting into long-term entanglements with the many beautiful women he seduces. Unlike the charismatic playboy of the movie, Michael Rotondo has stated that he does not wish to live at home, but feels he has no alternative. He has no job, no plan for independent living, no apparent support system beyond his parents, and no joy in life after losing visitation rights to his son.
The difference between Hollywood’s rom-com version of Failure to Launch (FTL) and the real thing is a subject I have been writing about since 2016 when we published the first article in our series on FTL, Failure To Launch: 9 Tips for Managing Anxiety in Dependent Adult Children. Since then, we have had more than 50,000 page views on this series and hundreds of parents have contacted us to get expert help with their own FTL problems.
When I wrote the first FTL article in 2016, I had no idea it would generate such massive interest. The response, I believe, is due to how we treat the problem, giving it the seriousness it deserves, instead of treating it as a joke, as happens in the movie and so much of the mainstream media reporting of the Rotondo case.
Many of the families who contacted us for help with FTL were at the point of writing their own eviction letters. Fortunately, they came to us first, instead of trusting the latest advice trending on social media. The Rotondo case has been hyped as a story of millennial entitlement run amok, but the problem of real life FTL is much deeper than that.
Much of the focus in recent weeks has been on the inappropriateness of the young man’s behavior. Yes, it is inappropriate to not have a job and still be living with your parents at the age of 30. But how is it any more appropriate to involve lawyers, judges and law enforcement in a family conflict over a young person’s struggles to launch in life?
One gets the impression from the interviews and news reports that neither parents nor son knew where else to turn for help. Otherwise, we might be hearing about counselors, supportive services, and family help programs, instead of courts and eviction notices.
I would not presume to judge what this particular family needs in the way of help, but anyone can see that help is needed. Eviction and the $1,100 cash offered by the parents are not going to solve the real problem, which is how this young man will support himself and live independently after 30 years of relying on his parents.
Any parent who has lived through the frustration of FTL probably understands the impulse behind this family’s decision to write that eviction letter. But in the back of our minds we know that a judge’s order alone is not going to solve the problem.
Many parents are torn between the urge to take extreme action like the Rotondos and allowing an FTL situation to persist because they don’t know what else to do. However, the experience of our Resource Specialists over the last two years has taught us a lot about what families can actually do to address the problem of FTL and foster independence in their adult children living at home.
Before You Write the Eviction Letter – Preparing Young Adults with FTL for Independent Living
Communication is Key
In one of his interviews, Michael Rotondo mentions that he and his parents no longer speak to one another. Volatile emotions and tension in the living space can make face-to-face communication difficult. Yale FTL expert Eli Lebowitz, PhD, advises that communication by letter can actually be quite helpful in such instances. The key is to express concern for the young person and a belief in his or her ability to handle independence, while setting down clear expectations for living together in the meantime.
Look for Causes of the Problem
In a 2016 podcast on FTL Dr. Lebowitz pointed out that most young adults who are still dependent on their parents are far from happy with the situation. In many cases, underlying anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorders contribute to the problem. In other instances, the young person may lack confidence and a sense of self-efficacy, have a dependent or avoidant personality style, or just feel overwhelmed at the prospect of becoming self-sufficient. Mental health issues can be a real obstacle to independent living and should be addressed prior to issuing ultimatums about moving out of the family home.
Have a Realistic Plan for Independence
Michael Rotondo challenged his eviction on the grounds that he needed more time to prepare. The six months he requested may seem excessive after years of prodding from his parents. But it doesn’t matter how much time is allowed if underlying mental health issues have not been addressed and there is no realistic plan for independence. Such a plan should address the obvious issues of employability and how to pay the rent and bills, as well as quality of life matters such as establishing a support system outside of the family and ensuring the young person has the skills to manage his or her own apartment.
Hire a Life Skills Coach
In the movie version of FTL, Matthew McConaughey’s parents hire professional “interventionist” Sarah Jessica Parker to date their son and lure him out of the family nest. That’s fine if you can afford her fees ($3.3 million per episode during the height of Sex and the City). A second best option for most other families is to engage the services of a “life skills coach” to provide support and teach skills for independent living, such as cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, shopping, and financial literacy. All supportive services – therapists, counselors, and vocational services, in addition to life skills coaches – should be put in place prior to the move to independent living.
Consider Offering an Allowance to Aid the Transition
The $1,100 Michael Rotondo’s parents offered him in their notice of eviction is not enough to sustain independent living for more than a month or two in most housing markets. Many parents of non-FTL young adults offer some form of financial help through college and several years beyond. There is nothing wrong with that if you can afford it, and in the case of FTL, it may be a necessity for a period of time while your young adult eases into independence.
Look into Options for Government Assistance or Benefits
The truth is that some young people will never be fully independent, while others may require substantial treatment and supportive services to obtain a measure of independence. In some cases, the cost of FTL may be more than a family can bear for long. Most states and localities have government-sponsored services that can help relieve the financial burden. Calling 2-1-1 in your state is a good starting place to find out more about these options.
Contact a Resource Specialist
Users of this website are encouraged to contact us with questions and concerns regarding FTL in a loved one or friend. Our Resource Specialists are expert clinicians who can answer your questions and offer free guidance and support on dealing with an FTL situation in your home or that of someone you know. This is a free service made possible by our sponsor, Laurel House, Inc.
Read the Entire Series
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