Here’s one of those little conundrums on which I would love to hear your opinions. Please take a minute to reply!

When your young adult children or stepchildren take up another residence, do they keep your house keys or return them?

Also and perhaps more importantly, can they enter your house whenever they want, to do laundry, get mail, visit, grab some food?

I have two young adult stepchildren living in the same town. The mother in me says, “Of course they keep the keys. To take the keys away is like saying they’re no longer a part of the family.”

A dad I was in dialogue with recently disagreed. (And no, this is not my husband disguised as a random dad.) He said, “Once they’re out, you take the keys and if they want to visit, they have to call first. Or, they can try to stop by, but you may not be home. I have my life and they don’t get free access to it.” I was glad to hear this from a dad regarding his daughter, and not from the stepmom of that girl. I think if that edict was coming from a stepparent, co-owner of the house or not, it could be the equivalent of step-relationship war.

Our family defaults to the former situation. Both my stepchildren have house keys, and they come whenever it suits them. Which, in all truth, is not very often anymore (they are now 22 and 21). But there was a time when three drop-ins per week was not uncommon.

I raised this question for discussion several times with my husband. I didn’t necessarily want a change — it’s a tricky balance and I’m sensitive to sending any messages which could be interpreted as abandonment — and yet, I felt that maybe we should be setting some boundaries about calling first. My husband always said, “That’s a good question.” Neither of us ever came up with a different answer.

What do you think? You can click comments below and write in the box so all readers can benefit from your input. Or you can e-mail me at

Mama J (Diane Fromme) is a writer, parent, and stepparent making sense of family and stepfamily issues from her Northern Colorado home and office.  For more information on her book, Stepparenting the Grieving Child, check out her website at


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4 Comments on Keep the Keys?

  1. Mama J says:

    Tall Girl responded that she still has the keys to her parent’s house and she’s over 25.

  2. Mama J says:

    Another reader emailed this comment:

    Adult children need to have boundaries regarding the home they grew up in once they move away. This can be done with a dialogue about what it means to move out, including expectations. Merely taking the keys away says “go away”. This is a really good opportunity to express how the parents feel about the adult child leaving. How freeing would it be for everyone if we could say “we are happy you are leaving, proud of your independence, and excited about what the future holds for all of us.”

  3. Wordsbybob says:

    My son is an adult with a wife and child. Maybe I don’t qualify, but here is what we do.

    Our son had a key all the time he was in college. I guess we never saw that as a problem. He now has the combination to the lockpad located by the garage door. That way, when he visits, they can go right in.

    What about the flipside? We have a key to his house since we babysit and need access to their place when they are out and we have the granddaughter.

    Bob McDonnell Freelance Writer

  4. Mama J says:

    That’s a nice arrangement, and by mutual agreement. I think overall it’s great that our kids have
    the keys to our house. The only thing I would have done differently is to set clearer boundaries
    about the “unexpected drop-ins” when we had other things going on in the house — work,
    exchange student events, etc. More of a “you can be here but unless it’s an emergency
    I can’t give you attention” kind of thing.

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