Belinda had never been loved, so she had no idea how to love and teach her son, who was 25 at the time I talked to her. Her son tried a few college courses and various jobs, but for the past couple of years he’d lived in the basement, playing video games and contributing nothing toward even the most basic household needs of the family. Belinda said there was nothing she could do, in part because on one occasion his school had diagnosed him with ADD, so how could he possibly go out on his own?
Everything Belinda told me about her son, however, did not support his supposed disability, so I recommended that she pick a date two months away and tell him that on that date—and at a specific time—he had to be out of their home and living on his own. Whether he had a place to stay, or a job, was up to him, but on the designated date he would be on his own. She delivered the message, and she offered to help him with both finding a place to stay and finding a job.
Days before the deadline, he’d done nothing about a job or housing. but he did begin to understand that Belinda was not going to change the date of his moving out. Once he understood that she was serious, within a few days he’d found a job and a place to stay. He’s now well on his way to independence.
Christine’s situation was similar to Belinda’s. Her son was also 25. He had moved from one university to another, and was within a semester from graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering—after spending $60,000 of his parents’ funds. But he decided he didn’t like engineering—too difficult—so he wanted to pursue an education in history, or—no, wait—become a policeman or a welder or somehow find an unspecified “government job.” He too was sitting in the basement playing video games and contributing nothing to anyone.
I made a recommendation to Christine similar to the one I made to Belinda, but Christine said that her son just “needed time,” and that he had a “learning disability,” despite his nearly completing a degree in a highly difficult and technical field.
Because Christine lacked the courage to require her son to move forward in life, he is still playing video games in the basement, and he’s likely to stay there for years to come.
It’s difficult to admit the mistakes we’ve made as parents that have led to the difficulties in the lives of our adult children. But if we do admit them, and begin to address them, we can still help them in most cases. If we deny our mistakes, however, and enable our children to continue to manipulate us—often in the guise of “protecting" them—their disabilities and unhappiness tend to worsen significantly.
Loving our children requires courage and persistence. Often they don’t thank us for changing our approach to them, but if their disapproval keeps us from doing the right thing, we’ll continue to hurt them.