Carolyn Hax: Addicted adult son fends off mom’s pressure


Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Caroline: My adult son lives with his father. It took him six years to earn an associate’s degree. He’s had the same part-time job since high school — except during the peak of covid, when, to his delight, he was earning more from unemployment than when he was working.

I encourage him to find a full-time job; he’s talking about a bachelor’s degree. My cynic tells me it’s because living with dad is easier than working and paying your own bills. And since we’re paying for his younger brother’s high school diploma, he expects us to do the same for him.

Dad seems happy to let the situation continue; he is certainly reluctant to force changes. Son’s attitude towards me – not towards others – is confrontational and sometimes aggressively defiant. How dare I expect him to get a job!

I realized he made me feel like I was… bullied. By my son. I love him and would like to have a relationship with him, but I have to protect myself. I do not know what to do.

Launch error: Leave him alone. An adult who doesn’t use your money and shelter to live that way is none of your business. When you continue to pressure him, you cross the line and interfere in his life and in the arrangement with his father.

It can be hard to accept when you know that on some level you are right about empowerment, and when you still feel like a parent, even though your child has grown up. But difficult is not impossible. Exit. When you talk to him, talk about something else. You did what you could. Now it’s up to him.

Dear Caroline: I decided to have little or no contact with the only living members of my immediate family: my brothers and sisters. I am no longer willing to subvert my dignity and self-respect to maintain a superficial front of family unity only to be subjected to a constant stream of abuse.

How do I respond to my parents’ longtime friends or relatives who refuse to recognize the merits of keeping my distance from my siblings? It’s hurtful when some question, minimize or deny my good reasons.

I wish I had a better answer than, “You’re entitled to your opinion, but I find it hurtful,” which I didn’t have the courage to say. suggestions?

In the Family Wash: So that’s what you have to say. It’s your peace of mind. Words are fine, but the saying is where you will find the strength.

It’s normal that you haven’t found it yet; it is a huge and harrowing process, and its rewards will gradually come to you at every step. No need to pressure yourself for the next one; you can just rest a little with this first step of minimal contact. Ultimate goal? Needing no one’s approval but your own.

In the meantime, rely on simple, disengaged no-answers: “Thank you.” “OK so.” “Interesting.” “Hmm” [while nodding your head]. Instead of reasons—their questions aren’t your obligations—try saying, “Long story,” “No, thanks” (great as non-sequential), “I’d rather not say,” “Thank you for your concern,” changing the subject and walking away. They can’t challenge you if you’re not there to be challenged.

Tell us: What’s your favorite Carolyn Hax love story?

· I don’t have any advice, but I hope Family Wash’s explanation will serve as an example to all well-meaning people trying to reconcile estranged family members. It’s incredibly hard to walk away from abusive people, and it’s even harder when the people around you don’t believe you or think it’s wrong.

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