Ask Dr. Keith – May 2024

Dear Dr. Keith, I’m a 57-year-old woman who’s been married for 32 years. My husband and I are both still working and recently moved into a gated golf community, our retirement home. We have a 30-year-old son who still lives with us. The initial plan was for him to move out on his own when we moved, however, much to the dismay of my husband, our son guilted me into allowing him to stay with us a little longer. Our son finished college and earned his degree. He has a wonderful job, so it’s not an issue of him being able to afford living on his own. I’m fearful he won’t be able to survive by himself, because he’s never lived by himself. He’s always lived with and been supported by us. I’m afraid if he leaves, we will see very little of him.

My husband has told me for years that I baby him too much; that I’m not doing him any favors by taking care of all his needs. I cook for him, make his bed and clean his room. I wash and fold his laundry. He has no responsibilities around the house, yet he is disrespectful, lazy and confrontational when we ask him to help us with chores. It’s easier to do them ourselves than to ask him for favors; doing so generally ends up in an unpleasant confrontation. He has the entire upstairs living space to himself and takes his dinner there instead of sitting down and conversing with his father and me at the dining table. He has very few friends and dates periodically. He’d rather be on his computer surfing the internet or playing video games and gets quite upset when we bother him. We’ve never charged him rent or asked him to help out with household expenses or groceries. We made it easy for him and gave him a good life. I’ve tried to be a good mother and friend. I’m not sure what to do. My husband wants him to leave; I want him to stay, however, things would have to be different. He’d have to learn to be grateful and respectful, and I don’t know if he can. I feel like I’m losing my son and my husband. I’m starting to resent my husband and my son. I’m feeling confused, lost and caught in the middle. Please help me gain some clarity.

Caitlin W.

Huntersville, NC

Hey Caitlin,

To become a parent is one of the most challenging and rewarding choices we can make, and the most important job you’ll ever have. The problem that I see recurring more and more is parents wanting to be their kids’ friend instead of taking on the responsibility of being their parent. They allow their children to be disrespectful, manipulative and irresponsible without consequences early on in their lives, and they carry those negative behaviors into adulthood. To be a friend is a poor choice; to become a parent is the right choice. Many parents are afraid their children will not like or love them if they’re held accountable or given consequences for their bad behavior, poor choices or being irresponsible. Sound familiar? If you choose to avoid setting healthy boundaries or enforcing consequences for poor behavior, your children will become disrespectful, defiant and irresponsible because there are no repercussions. If you choose to enforce healthy boundaries and hold them accountable for bad behavior, they may not like you for it, but they’ll learn to respect you. If you choose to raise children, run a business, develop a personal or professional relationship fear-based, you’ll set yourself up for failure. A parent’s job is to teach their children to become accountable, adaptable, responsible, respectful and resilient in a world that’s not fair; not everyone wins or gets a trophy. That’s right, I said it, not everyone in the real world gets a trophy – it should be earned. Healthy self-esteem is built through accomplishment, not given or gifted. 

The one common thing I’ve found in healthy, successful relationships is that each one makes the other feel like they’re a priority. Does letting your 30-year-old son live with you make your husband feel like a priority when he’s made it clear he doesn’t approve? Has your son earned the privilege of staying with you with the constant contempt and disrespect he shows you both? Enabling is disabling and entitlement cripples, and I’ve seen it destroy many relationships. What are you afraid of? Is it becoming an empty nester, feeling unloved or being called a bad parent? In a healthy marriage, the wife should be the husband’s priority, and the husband his wife’s. If you keep putting your son’s needs above your husband, you’re sacrificing your marriage. Is it worth it? People become accountable, responsible, respectful and resilient when it’s required, and it hasn’t been required of your son. What should you do? Refocus your energy and attention on your husband and your marriage, and make them a priority. Learn to set healthy boundaries with your son. Discuss a plan of action to transition your son into a place of his own, and make him responsible for his living expenses and stop the enabling. He may resent it at first, but eventually, he’ll learn to respect it. He’s going to sink or swim, and that’ll be his choice. It’s your responsibility and time to fill the pool and throw him in without a life jacket.


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