The Washington Post

An adult son is living rent-free. His parents disagree on asking him to vacate.

- AMY DICKINSON Amy's column appears seven days a week at washington­ Write to askamy@amydickins­ or Amy Dickinson, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, N.Y. 13068. You can also follow her @askingamy. © 2023 by Amy Dickinson. Distribute­d by Tribune

Dear Amy: My husband and I have always been hard workers. We were never extravagan­t, but we believe we have led great lives. We set aside money for our children to go to school — and we foot the whole bill.

Our youngest graduated from college and moved to our second home. He doesn’t pay rent — or any other bills, for that matter. His girlfriend lives with him. I don’t have issues with them living there, but I do have issues with my son not working in a real job.

What I mean is that he doesn’t put in 40 hours a week. He doesn’t have to, because he has no bills. His girlfriend is a worker, so the issue is really my son. I’m getting ready to retire, and I’m tired of enabling my son. In the long run, this is only hurting him.

I am able to stand up and give them a date to move out. I’ll be generous. I’d be willing to give him six months. My husband is the problem. He grew up in a dysfunctio­nal household. I truly believe that he’s worried that his son won’t like him if we follow through on making him move.

He doesn’t want to talk about it, because it brings him down mentally. It’s causing an issue in our marriage. Do you have any ideas on how I can get my husband to see the damage we are causing by allowing this to go on? — Waiting to Exhale

Waiting: I’m assuming that your older children are out on their own — functionin­g as the independen­t adults you’ve raised them to be. I wonder what is different about your youngest that your husband believes he is so incapable of maturing into a functionin­g adult.

Enabling at this level sends a clear message: “Being independen­t is an option. You don’t have to do it; in fact, you can’t do it. You need us.”

Your husband doesn’t want your son to launch. Perhaps he fears that he will never come back, and your husband’s parenting days will be over — forcing him to face his own transition. Many families are facing an unexpected secondlaun­ch scenario, because so many young adults came back to live with their folks during the pandemic.

You should see “tough love” at this level as potentiall­y tender and affirmativ­e. You might have experience­d this when you sent your son to kindergart­en, then college. This is when parents handle their own anxiety to convey optimism and faith in their children: “You got this!”

You might start the clock ticking by asking your son to pay for all utilities and expenses until his move-out date. Do not judge him about having a “real job.” Facing employment options should be his job — not yours.

To enable the conversati­on with your husband (and son), read “Difficult Conversati­ons: How to Discuss What Matters Most,” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen.

Dear Amy: I’m intrigued to note how often people who are seeing therapists reach out to you for guidance. Does that indicate that they are looking for a tiebreakin­g voice, a fresh point of view or something else? — Intrigued

Intrigued: The answer is yes to all of your suggestion­s.

The experience of engaging in therapy can inspire and motivate people to dive in, then dive deeper. Running an idea or an impulse past me is easier than bringing it up in therapy, and might be a person’s way of “practicing” a revelation before confrontin­g it in therapy.

Engagement with a therapist will make a client curious about the process, as well as the result. If their therapy leads them toward change, they might want a “gut check” or encouragem­ent from a third party.

If their therapy isn’t helping — or they feel stuck — they may seek permission to quit or to change therapists. Therapy can inspire a sincere journey toward change and healing.

I’m here for all of it.

Dear Amy: As a caregiver to a loved one with a terminal illness,

I wish to add two recommenda­tions on how people should NOT respond to this news:

First, do not minimize the illness!

Second, do not intrude on others’ privacy. (“I heard he’s sick. With what? What’s the prognosis, and how’s he handling it?”)

— Thanks, From the Trenches

From the Trenches: Caregiving at this level is a relentless process of learning while doing. Thank you for passing your wisdom along.

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