Want My 21 Year Old Daughter to Become More Independent

Updated on August 15, 2011
D.J. asks from Reston, VA
14 answers

My 21 year old daughter needs to become independent, she has never really given me much problems throughout her childhood and teen years, which I am very grateful. No drugs, no alcohol, no staying out late, and she is still a virgin. And she went right to college after high school. But to be honest I really wish she would break out of her shell at this point, she basically stays in the house unless she is going somewhere with me, and doesn't have any friends she even talks to on the phone. She does have an associates degree which she got when she was 20, she had started working on a bachelors degree, but failed a math class twice and has started taking semesters off from school. I also have to keep pushing her to look for work and she has become very discouraged with that as well since she hasn't been getting any calls from employers, and is tired of taking hour long assessments that come with many of the online job applications.

I'd also like to add that she has never been on a date, and looks much younger than she is. I have tried to encourage her to start wearing makeup more often and taking more time with her hair, etc. so that she will look more her age. I thought this was all great when she was still a minor but she will be 22 soon and I think this can end up being a major problem for her not having had any type of romantic interactions with the opposite sex. She says she would like friends but doesn't seem to make any, she had female friends when she was younger but lost touch and they all seem to be doing their own thing now, they have other female friends, boyfriends, cars, staying in dorms, etc. I am really starting to wonder if I should push her to go and stay on a college campus, even when she got her associates she has always lived with me. She seems perfectly content on sitting around the house all day either on the computer or watching TV. She doesn't even go sit on the porch or even walk around our neighborhood, she is always either in the house, at school when she is attending, or somewhere with me. I really think she should be out enjoying herself more, almost like she doesn't want to grow up. I told her maybe she should join one of those meet-up groups for foreign language, since she is interested in foreign language, I really want her to make some friends, male and female.

She worked for about a year at her school when she was getting her associates degree, and had even befriended a couple of her coworkers,but it was work study and ended 2 years ago when she got her degree. And she lost touch with the few friends she did make there. She is very good with saving her money though and still has savings from that job, so I make her buy her own personal needs and just started charging her $50 a month to help me with living expenses. It's always just been just me and her in the household since I am a single mom and have never married, I will miss her tremendously when she does eventually move but I know it's not healthy for her to just be sitting around the house or with me all the time. I want to get her to the point where she can move out the next couple of years.

I pay all the bills as I always have and drive her where she needs to go, which is another issue because I sent her to drivers training 6 years ago, and she passed it but has yet to actually take her road test and get her license. She let her permit expire 3 times and I made her pay her own money each time to renew it, and have told her that if she doesn't get her license soon I am going to stop driving her around, which is easier said than done. I also charge her sometimes for gas when I take her certain places and when she was working. She seems serious this time about taking her road test, but I really don't understand why it has taken her so long to finally, do it. I started dating in my teens, got my drivers license at 17 and left home at 20 when I joined the military, don't know why my daughter is so laid back and content at not being independent and on her own. She did make wiser choices than me though when it comes to not dating too young, and getting her associates degree young, but a lot of that came with my influence, support and guidance, now that she has more control over her own decisions she is starting to slack off. She stopped going to school 2 semesters ago and said she wanted to take the upcoming semester off too, but I had her sign up for fafsa and said even if she just takes one class per semester she needs to get back in school. The plan was for her to only take 1 semester off while she worked but she was slacking on searching for a job, and has yet to find a job. I had to stay on her quite a bit to get her to apply for the jobs that she did apply for. She will usually do what I ask of her, but I want her to know for herself what she needs to do not just do it because I said it, to know how to make good decisions for her future on her own. I need to get my daughter back on track, and to know that my daughter can take care of herself. Any advice would be appreciated.

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answers from Norfolk on

I don't think she's depressed so much as she is very introverted, happy with her own company and doesn't need to be part of a herd.
I lived at home through college and moved out when I was 25 (I was working Wendy's and another food service job at the mall for resume money for a year after graduation before I found a job in my field).
It was scary relocating someplace 8 hrs away from where I grew up to someplace where I knew no one but that was where the jobs were so I had to do it.
Also my then boyfriend (now husband) was interning in the area and he was there on again off again for 3 months at a time (and traveling a lot for work).
We saw each other as often as we could but I was on my own for a lot of that time for a few years.
She needs to get her driving license - it's a life skill.
Also she needs to finish up school (and living on campus might be very good for her).
Explain to her that you expect her to get an education, get a job and move into her own apartment - and set up a time frame for when these things will happen.
She might be afraid of growing up and being on her own and/or she might be afraid of leaving you alone.
Sometimes the baby bird needs a push out of the nest before they can fly on their own.
What do you do for social interaction?
Show her you'll be fine by going out and having friends over (show her how it's done).
Also - stop making it totally comfortable for her to be at home with you - she needs a reason to be wanting her independence.
Cut off most internet access (unless it's job/school related) and put plug locks on the tv(s).

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answers from Biloxi on

Couple of thoughts - mind you I have a 15 year old boy - so I am few years behind you, but I worked with young adults your daughter's age for many years.

You need to sit her down and lay out some expectations with definite deadlines. I.e., driver's license in X weeks b'c your taxi service will end on a specific date. That means she will have to pay for her own insurance and gas. That means she needs a source of income. Etc., etc.

If she has been out of school for almost 3 semesters than it is time for some hard and fast decisions. If she doesn't want to work, then she needs to volunteer - for over 20 hours per week. This would be a good way for her to experience different types of work also.

She could join a program like AmeriCorps, that basically pays you to volunteer and, upon completion of a program, gives a scholarship.

She could sign up with the local WIN job center - they could help assess her skills and have a data base of current job listings as some employers only hire through them.

This is a hard time for her age group. It is the time, I believe, when adult behaviors begin to become engrained. But it is also a time of major change and it is hard for many this age. They have to move from being led by parents to making their own decisions - some of them "freeze" in panic and get stuck.

You are right to want to make her more independent - but
If your daughter does not respond to deadlines and expectations, it may well be a good idea to rule out anything organic, like depression.

Good Luck to you both
God Bless

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answers from Appleton on

Two things come to mind:

1) Get into a martial arts program. Martial arts will help her with her self esteem and self confidence.

2) Get her into counseling. Through counseling she will see that she needs to get on with her life. She needs to set goals and find her own niche in life.

One question for you. Do you have a life outside of work and being a Mom? Do you date, meet friends for drinks or dinner? Do you take vacations with friends? If not she is modeling her behavior after you. She also may feel that if she gets her life going she will leave you behind and you will be sitting there watching TV or reading alone everynight after work and on weekends. D. she will learn from you. You need to get some stuff going for yourself. Take up golf, tennis, cermanics, knitting or whatever stikes you. Start going out with your friends and maybe join an on line dating site, I'm on Plenty of Fish, it free and there are tons of men to meet. Some are good catches but many are throw-backs.

Good luck I hope this helps.

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answers from St. Louis on

My 21 year old daughter spent today in three different airports, good news, tomorrow she will make it to New Orleans. :) She was flying standby because her boyfriend's dad works for Delta.

My point is not once did she ask for help. She didn't ask for help because never in my life have I done anything for her unless she fell flat on her face. As it is she has never fallen. Oops.

Just reading your post you are allowing her to not grow up. If my daughter didn't have her license at 16 I sure as heck wouldn't have been driving her for long. She saved since she was 14 to buy a car she knew I would not be offering her my car. She pays her expenses other than her tuition, room and board.

It is not easy but you need to cut the strings. She will not learn to take care of herself until she is forced to take care of herself. She is scared and I would imagine never taught to make decisions.

Baby steps, start by not driving her. Second she needs to pay rent, real rent not mom rent of like $50 a month. $500 ya know. She needs to pay for her own food and clothes. She is doing nothing herself. That needs to stop, you need to stop enabling the behavior.

I know of what I speak, my older son wouldn't grow up. He choose to move out rather than pay rent. He now has a full time job and almost makes as much as I do. He would never have got there if I continued to allow him to live in my basement playing World of Warcraft all day!

Oh yeah, daughter carries a 3.8 going into her senior year with a double major and triple minor.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

She really needs to go back to school full time and/or get a fuill time job. Even if she does not *need* the money, she needs to social interaction and she needs the responsibility. She needs to learn to be ambitious and to create interests or hobbies for herself.

Perhaps she isn't getting calls back b/c she's older and has no experience, maybe she is a little shy or socially awkward so she doesn't do very well on interviews. I would encourage her to go to career counseling. My church offers it for free, it is no hassle and open to anyone who is not a member of our church as well, with no pressure to attend. They help with people entering the workforce, help you understand your skills and with dialogue, resume and interviews skills and everything. You can find info on an employment resource center near you here:

You really need to sit down and talk to her about all of this, help her make a plan and stick to it. I so wish I could have finished school when I was that age and had a clear path! Now is the perfect time for her to figure it out. Also, really stop enabling her, stop driving her around!

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answers from Los Angeles on

Sounds like she is a lot like her mom. She seems to be following your example.

When was your last date? You never got married. She doesn't date and I doubt some man will come knocking on your door and ask if there are any young women in your house that might want to date him.

I had a son that was just shy. He was going to college and just sat at home afterwards watching TV or playing video games. I told hom that no beautiful young lady was going to come and knock on our door to see if there were any men in the house that wanted to date and get married.

I insisted he get involved in our church's youth group and attend the dances they had. (Several congregations got together and sponcered a dance for his age group once a month.) He found two nice women that he was interested in, but he wouldn't take the initiative to get to know them better and the two ladies would come over together. I finally talked to them (together) and told them that if either of them was interested in my son as a husband, they were going to have to pursue him.

They did and made a pact between tham that whoever my son was interested in the other would just bow out. It worked. He is happily married with three delightful kids (IMHO) and they are planning on a fourth. But she is the aggressor in the family.

Suggestion: You and your daughter need to get out. (Show her by example.) Both of you could take a ball room dance class at a local college. You meet lots of new people that way. Find a youth group that meets and has dances and then go and enjoy. BTW, I meant a "youth group" in each of your age brackets. Have her get her driver's license. It would help if she got a job in a company with a lot of employees in an office so she could get to know some of her co-workers on a social basis. Have her pay you realistic rent. Save her rent, or what ever part you think appropriate and give it to her as a wedding present. Invest her rent in a mutual fund or in the stock market, not in a 1% CD.

Good luck to you and yours.

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answers from Honolulu on


Does she have any ambition?
Any interests?
Any hobbies???

She seems, immature?

Is she Depressed???

Will she join any clubs?? Like a book club, gardening club, cooking classes, anything????

Now she wants to take off of school?
She does not seem to have any idea, of what she wants to do.
But yet, she listens to you and has not given you 'trouble' per say.

Maybe, you need to get her some Counseling and Therapy.
She seems real 'lost.'

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answers from Dallas on

This is becoming more and more common with kids her age. I have a step-brother this way, a brother-in-law that was that way, and random friends that have done the same thing...only none of them went to school. So, she has that as a plus.

She seems to have a struggle with self esteem/self confidence and motivation. The drivers test is what makes me think that especially. It's almost like she thinks she can't do it, so why stress herself out over it. Also, she hasn't had a NEED to do it yet since you have been her backup.

I would suggest creating a list for yourself. She's an adult now, and she needs to have adult responsibility. There are things you are willing to do and things you are no longer willing to do:

Things you are okay with (these are just guesses, so you'd put whatever fits you):
- She can live in your home.
- She can eat your food.
- She can use the house, etc...

Things you are not okay with:
- No more driving her around.
- She needs to contribute financially
- She will not have free access to your car (so she'll need to get some type of transportation).

Then when you talk to her, I would try to talk to her in a way that welcomes her opinions and suggestions as well. You want to make HER make a lot of these decisions since that's a BIG problem she has. It seems she lacks in decision making and motivation. If she is participating in the planning, she is also expressing what she'll be willing to do.

Maybe something like, "You are an adult now, and because I love you so much and believe in you so much, I know that I'm doing you an injustice by not treating you like the adult you are. I've decided I need to make some changes. If you want to stay here, you'll need to contribute to the household food budget, as well as pay a more realistic amount for rent. What are some of your thoughts about this? Would you like to stay here? (if yes) What do you think you could do to get an income coming in by then? (hopefully she'll say she'll get a job) What amount do you think would be reasonable to cover rent for your room, food, and internet (or whatever other expenses you guys share)?" Listen to her suggestions and together settle on a price for rent for her room, which would cover her share of food and bills that she uses.

Then with the other things, say something like, "I've decided I'm going to stop driving you places by a certain date (that you'll settle on together). What do you think you can do between now and then to prepare yourself so that you'll have transportation?" Let her think it through and tell you what she'll do.

So, basically you are sharing what you have decided you will or will not do, then you encourage HER to tell you what she's going to do about it. And do it very loving and if she seems upset over it, encourage her by telling her that you have realized you need to let her grow up more and that you believe in her abilities to be an adult and take care of herself and you know that you have to change things you are doing to help make sure you aren't preventing her from reaching that point.

I'd also suggest coming up with a deadline together. So, once you talk about all the changes you're going to make and she thinks over the things she is going to do to prepare for it, ask her how long she thinks she'll need to be ready to do those things. Settle on a date together. If she has a say, she'll be more likely to really do it.

By the way, I'm basing a lot of what I'm saying off of a book I read called Positive Parenting by Jane Nelsen. A big part of her parenting method is to teach children how to be self reliant...and these are similar to the types of conversations she suggests to have to help encourage your children to think and make decisions themselves. You want to let them do most of the talking with you kind of guiding the way. And you want to be careful about controlling the conversation too much...or even judging whatever it is she decides to do. You have to trust her to think up things and follow through. Then you have to be willing to follow through too. Perhaps that's another thing you can talk about. If she isn't ready in time, what will happen? Decide that together.

I don't see anything wrong with her continuing to live with you. I just think she needs to have a LOT more adult responsibility and you backing off on providing things for her that are allowing her to continue that way. By the way, I can totally understand why you have done what you have with her when it comes to driving her around and letting her continue to live with you, etc. I know I would struggle to not do the same! You love your daughter and want to help her. But it has made it easier for her to be how she is...which is why a change is very important on both sides.

As for friends/dating, hopefully when she gets a job that will help with that part of it. Or, do you guys go to church? Maybe there is a youth group she can join? Otherwise, she's an adult and there's really nothing you can do about that part...unless you want her to move out, but even then, it won't guarantee she'll gain much of a social life. If you want her to move out, I'd suggest readjusting the list above and letting her know you want her to move out and go from there.

I'll stop rambling. Good luck!

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answers from San Francisco on

Time to help this bird fly the nest.

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answers from Los Angeles on

She sounds depressed and too scared to move on in her life. If she's not working, she should be in school, and if she's not in school, she should be working. You are right, she needs to have a life outside of being at home and being with you. But she sounds depressed if she is unable to do these things on her own. See if she's willing to go to the doctor about depression and maybe get some counseling as well. It sounds like she is too scared to go out there and try to make a life for herself. Does she have problems with anxiety? Maybe getting counseling will help her.

Also, if she is having trouble finding a job, maybe she could go out and do some volunteer work. It would add to her resume, get her out of the house, and maybe she'll find something that really interests her. And definitely get her to drive herself around; being able to drive herself places will help her take that first step in becoming independent. Good luck!

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answers from Eugene on

You can't help her. She needs to go into therapy to help her become an adult and make a life of her own.

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answers from Portland on

She may be depressed because she doesn't have friends (that was what you said right?). And, sorry if it offends you because I don't mean to, but she sounds sheltered and doesn't know how to handle responsibility. I would hold her hand for a semester and teach her how to handle her Fasfa money if she gets a refund (money that didn't need to be paid towards tuition), have her go to a job interview seminar where they show you how to do a resume/interview, etc so she can get a job, her paying her own bills when she gets a job, and getting her own cheap dependable car that she pays insurance, etc on. Be supportive, but cut her strings too.

I think it's sweet you are so close, though I know you want her to get out in the world. If she is an introvert and doesn't like other people's company that is one thing, but if she does want friends I would give an extra push, like join a dance class together that has various ages and maybe she'll fly on her own with other friends. I also think it's great that you let her live with you and save her money. I do think she should pay for her gas, insurance, and any cell phone she has. Just so she isn't shocked when she gets out of the house and has to pay them.

Being a single mom with her talk to her about guys, maybe she got the wrong impression. Maybe she is afraid of having a boyfriend or thinks she shouldn't have one.

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answers from Washington DC on

It sounds like she's depressed and may need therapy. It is also hard to go back after taking time off.

You might have to take some tough love approaches. "DD, I love you, but you are 22 now. You need to get a job and start paying us x rent." "I can no longer take you places all the time. You have x time to get licensed."

My SS was shocked that we said he could take a year off between undergrad and grad, but if he lived here, he'd pay us rent. I will not support a fully functional adult like he was 17 again. We have a 17 yr old still and a 3 yr old. It is time for him to grow up. If he can backpack through Europe, he can get a job and pay for food. It is not mean. It is acknowledging that your child is not a child and should have his own life. I have to wonder if we have created a generation that thinks it's great to stay home, act like a kid, yet do their own thing when it suits them. Since this is about your DD and not my SS, I won't go into detail, but I find my self frustrated with his lack of motivation when it comes to growing up, too. I wanted to be OUT by the time I was 21. Him? Not so much. He also had to be told, "We will take you to school events, but you will either pay us gas money to take you to friends' houses (on our schedule) or you will take the bus. Or you will finally get your driver's license." He learned to drive after a couple of months.

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answers from Richmond on

Time for a grown up conversation. You need to tell her that she has to grow up - that you will not always be there for her and you are concerned that she is not independent enough. She needs to get on Meetup.org and find some groups she is interested in - foreign language, book club, etc. She can also start taking college classes again - even if only 1 at a time. She needs to speak up and talk to people and try to join some groups at school too. Whatever it takes to meet people. She needs to make friends and go out on dates - they don't have to be serious ones but she still needs that experience or she will fall for the 1st idiot who comes along (b/c she won't know what she wants in a mate). She needs to start paying real rent and she MUST get her license, insurance and her own vehicle. Do it NOW or you will have a 30 year old couch potato living with you!

Next question: My 19 Yr Old Won't Get a Job.