46 Year Old Son Moved In — And Won’t Leave

Reader’s Question

My son is 46 and has been living with me for the past two years. He came over and stayed with me during a traumatic breakup between myself and my former boyfriend who had been living with me for five years. My son had just ended a fifteen year live-in relationship with a woman who was the mother of his ten-year-old autistic son. He was living in a trailer at the time, and I was living in a large nice home. After my boyfriend left, my son kept staying with me. He was working and seemed to be doing well there, and we decided to move out of the large house which I could no longer afford into something smaller and share the rent, for a period of about a year. We thought it would serve both of us well, as we were both going through transitions and financially it would be a good idea. Shortly afterward, his company went out of business. He made no effort to look for another job. The landlord of the house we just moved into shortly thereafter went through a foreclosure, and we had to move into another house. I love this house and selected it primarily for me to live in alone. But he continues to live with me and still makes no effort to find work. His car needs work, but he doesn’t do anything to repair it and simply drives mine when he needs to. Not long ago, he made the comment that he has a great life and is happy. I am not. I would like to have a private life again. I’ve been single most of my life and enjoy my privacy and independence. Although I am not involved with a guy at the present, I feel a strong need for my own life and would really enjoy living alone. I’ve tried to get him to get a job and move into his own place. He says he will, but he makes no effort to do so. He has an active social life as a musician but does not date. He has become very overweight and does nothing every day but sit at the computer and talk on the phone. He is bright, creative and very sociable with lots of friends — quite capable of doing most anything. He also has his son a lot, and that is wearing on me as well. I love him very much, but I have passed the age of being a caretaker for children…that includes grandchildren.

My son has seemed to create a fantasy world and does not wish to deal with responsibility or to live in the real world. I don’t know what to do or how to push this any further. We’ve already had a big confrontation about it, and I hate the fighting. I’d love to have him and my grandson come over on Sundays and have dinner…then go home. Not live with me. Please help.

Psychologist’s Reply

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If your son had a 15 year live-in relationship, he’s comfortable with doing only what he needs for himself. This is not really a fantasy world — it’s a selfish and immature world that’s a product of a dependent or passive-aggressive personality. Individuals with his personality have:

  • a high tolerance for a dependent lifestyle,
  • a high tolerance for substandard income/assets,
  • a focus on their pleasures and interests,
  • an avoidance of adult-level responsibility,
  • a disinterest in employment or financial responsibility, and
  • a disregard for how their behavior impacts on the lives of those around them.

He has regressed to the life of a teenager — living with Mom, having his meals fixed and laundry done, having no bills/responsibilities, playing music with friends, no job, minimum chores, and playing on the computer. As he describes it, it’s a great life and he’s happy. His report of happiness is actually bad for you. It means he’s there to stay and has no intention of doing anything (like getting a job) that would jeopardize his current living situation. In fact, he’s engaging in behaviors that will make it less likely he’ll move out, such as allowing his automobile to deteriorate. As you report, when confronted he’ll say what he’s supposed to say — that he’ll look for a job, get a job, help around the house, etc. — but his lack of action tells you he’s not interested. So what are your options?

  • You can develop an “exit plan” with the idea that one of you will be exiting in the near future. If possible, you can relocate to a smaller home/apartment that focuses on Senior Citizens and doesn’t allow dependent, 46-year-old teenagers. I’m assuming you’re about 65 if he is 46. You may be eligible for such housing in your community.
  • You can encourage him to leave by changing the situation. You can insist that he pull his financial and work weight — doing the laundry, cleaning the house, paying bills, etc. You can quicken his departure by disconnecting the Internet or dropping the Internet speed to dial-up. It sounds silly, but if you have a high-speed Internet, dropping to dial-up speed is often enough to encourage computer-playing people to leave. You can always switch back later. You can also eliminate the benefits of living with you that keep him there, such as not allowing him to use your automobile, no allowance/spending money, no meals, etc. If you want some creatures to relocate, you must often relocate their food source.
  • Emotionally, it doesn’t upset him that the living situation upsets you. He’s only concerned with how he feels — not you. For this reason, when you discuss his departure he will flood you with guilt, promises, and protests. All of these comments will be forgotten once things return to normal and the threat of departure is over. To deal with his emotional attack, you’ll need to take a business approach and assure him that while getting his own place to live is upsetting and difficult, both of you will survive as you have in the past. Keep in mind that he uses the “fighting” as an effective tool against you, knowing you will hesitate to say anything as long as he is willing to fight about it.
  • In the end, you may actually need to demand that he leave. This is very selfish behavior on his part and like the teenager, if you place demands on him he will likely punish you by pouting, withdrawing attention, or even saying mean things to you. This is his level of maturity. Once he is out of the home, reduce his options for a return by turning the bedroom into a hobby room, remove his bed, etc.
  • As an aside…if you begin dating you’ll find him hostile to any new date or boyfriend. He will see your date as a potential threat to his living situation. He may act inappropriately or misbehave in an attempt to scare-off a potential boyfriend.

Many parents are faced with the situation of having “adult children” in their home. For most, their stay is brief as they transition from job to job or through a divorce process. For some parents, that adult child comes to stay, preferring once again to be taken care of by their parent, even at the parents’ financial and emotional expense.

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