General Question

Just_Justine's avatar

I really need help to set up boundaries with my son?

Asked by Just_Justine (6496points) February 13th, 2010

My son who is now 28 is flying in from Sweden as we speak. A little back ground info. He had a drug problem, and as a single mom I went the whole route, from tough love, to rehabs, to ignoring the drugs, to throwing tantrums to anything you can think of. It was a very long “war” of eight years that I lost. In between all this I was caring for my elderly parents. (With Alzheimer’s).
The main issues his father and I continue to have are the following. He is highly manipulative, he steals from us, and he does not want to work. He cannot hold down a job for more than a month. His dad, my ex husband, always bails him out. Which although well intentioned does not help? He got off crack, but continues to drink, and continues to lie, manipulate and smoke weed. He blames every one for his problems. When he comes back home he does not work, surfs go out all night sleeps all day.
Here is my issue. I was diagnosed bipolar last March. My parents really drained me financially and emotionally for ten years, in between all of this my sons issues I guess everything got too much. Plus I ran out of money anyway I had a breakdown.
I don’t want my son here. He uses people, all the time, for things, money and what he needs. He didn’t even ask me what gran died of. My mom died a few months ago. He is completely self absorbed. I cannot and am not in the frame of mind to deal with him, here in my home. He is toxic. Yes I do love him, of course I do, but I just cannot tolerate his behavior. What on earth am I going to do? Make him stay with friends I am thinking? I need to set the boundaries up now, before he arrives. As because I love him, he tends to walk all over me! I have only just “got my life a little on track” in the last few months. I cannot afford to compromise my health. Maybe I just need “permission” to say no. Which is silly I know. But I have no one else to talk to.

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33 Answers

Dan_DeColumna's avatar

Tell him no, and that he’ll be coming home to a locked door. If he wants to meet somewhere public, that’s fine. But tell him he’s not staying at your place. Many a 28 year old has been forcibly removed from their parents’ home for much less.

Unfortunately, it is his life to live. If he wants to throw it away with those sort of things, then that’s his right. Free will. It’s also your right to protect your health and mental stability. Especially if you’re still looking after your father. You have an obligation to him. If he just doesn’t get it, give him the URL to this page. You put it down in words quite clearly.

I wish you the best.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

I can’t say it any better than @Dan_DeColumna did. You can love him without putting up with all that.

Spinel's avatar

I agree with @Dan_DeColumna, also. Your son is almost thirty. He should have been on his own feet long, long ago. Harboring him now won’t motivate him to get his life right, he’ll just continue on in his comfortable rut of choice.

Unless you want an early grave, it’s time to tell him that he has to stand on his own two feet. It’s high time to tell him he has to work for the clothes on his back and the food in his stomach.

tinyfaery's avatar

Decide what you are and are not willing to do for your son, then stick to it. Let him know what you expect from him and don’t take any excuses. You should have doing this since he was born.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I’m curious how you can love him. It sounds pathological to me.

I love people who sometimes don’t love me back, or maybe not as much as I would like, but I couldn’t love—it just wouldn’t be possible for me, I think (at least not any more)—someone who had zero or less than zero interest in me, my needs and wants, my welfare.

I think you need to figure out quickly what “love” really means—and keep him out of your house and your life. You don’t have to love him just because “he’s my son and people expect that”. Let him stay with your ex; you have your own problems to deal with.

RareDenver's avatar

He sounds like my brother who is about to turn up here and upside my life just when I DON’T NEED IT, I’ll follow this question, thanks for asking.

Just_Justine's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land gosh I think I had an aha! moment, whenever I say no to him, he tells me I don’t love him. I think that is a huge thing for me to understand. Saying no does not mean I don’t love him.

Just_Justine's avatar

@CyanoticWasp I think love is sort of unconditional when it comes to our children, not sure though, as at times he is not easy to love.

Just_Justine's avatar

@RareDenver oh gosh I feel for you. Maybe we can work this out and find answers, I tend to agree with all the answers here. But when you are face to face with the person it is not so easy. I think though having my boundaries up in advance and having them clear may help?

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Just_Justine I can agree completely with unconditional love, but I can’t understand love “against my own interests”. I wouldn’t love someone—I don’t think I could love someone—who was completely dismissive and disrespectful of anything about “me”. That’s why I say that it seems pathological.

I do like your aha moment, though. Fantastic revelation; good for you!

Jeruba's avatar

You pretty much can’t help loving your son. And you can’t control what he does. If he is an addict, neither can he. But you do have choices, and you can control what you do.

“I am not willing to have you here if you are just going to carry on as you have in the past. I love you, but I do not have to tolerate that behavior. You will not stay with me while you are using. Unless you are clean and sober, you will have to find another place to stay, and I will not be responsible for you. If I have to, I will call the police and have you removed.”

Let him put himself through detox and clean up his act. Then he can find a sober living environment and get a job. He must earn his way back to a place where you will permit him to visit you.

janbb's avatar

You have my permission to say no! I think setting up your boundaries before he coems is a fantastic idea.

Just_Justine's avatar

@janbb Thank you! well it’s easier to set up when he is not around. Not sure though he’s a master manipulator which is not doing either of us any good. As all my good intentions and boundaries get flattened in his presence.

TLRobinson's avatar

@Just_Justine- Define your boundries, YOUR terms of love, before he enters your home. Do not let him in the house; he will never leave. Don’t waiver.

Remember this: you aren’t any good to anyone, if you aren’t good to yourself first! Love yourself first and more. Be strong…

wundayatta's avatar

I wish I had some useful experience I could relay, but I don’t. It just sounds really hard to have to keep your son out of your house, although I agree with everyone that you have to protect yourself first.

I’d imagine he’ll make it really difficult—saying whatever it takes to make you feel guilty so you’ll let him in. Maybe saying you are cold-hearted, or you want him to starve or die in the streets in an attempt to manipulate you into opening the door.

I guess what I might do is give him enough money to stay in a hotel for a week, and tell him he’s on his own after that.

Whatever happens, I wish you the best, and I’m sorry it’s come to this.

janbb's avatar

I think you may have to think seriously about having him in your life right now at all. If you are dealing with such difficult issues and he is so dysfunctional, why not write a letter to your son and your ex explaining as much as you want to of your situation and that you cannot be involved with him while he is not self-sufficient? If you feel you need or want to, maybe you could meet him occasionally at a restaurant for a meal, but if that will open the floodgates to his demands, you might do well to even avoid that contact. I really empathize with your situation: I have not been in the same one, but have had to set limits on a really toxic person in my life.

Adagio's avatar

@CyanoticWasp Speaking as the parent of an adult child, I have come to realise and understand that SOMETIMES, despite loving my child to bits, I do not like them very much, or aspects of personality or behaviour. I imagine that most parents experience similar feelings. I think that loving our children does not mean we will always feel that love welling up inside us. Saying no to one’s child can be excruciatingly difficult and painful, no matter how necessary at the time.

Just_Justine's avatar

@Adagio yes like when they say they are hungry. No matter how old they are you can’t tolerate that. It’s really difficult.

Adagio's avatar

@Just_Justine it’s certainly a tough situation you are facing, I hope you have some good support.

Just_Justine's avatar

@Adagio fluther is my only support right now. I live in South Africa and we are a bit thin on the ground with support groups. However, maybe I haven’t looked hard enough? I live alone, and because of my own issues I am pretty isolated. I work in a very high pressure job, so all of this has to remain secret I guess. So no, no support.

wundayatta's avatar

All right, I do have a story.

When I was 22, having just finished college and moved back home because I didn’t have a job, my parents got sick of me and threw me out. Just like that. We got into an argument and my father said “out” right then and there with nothing but what I was wearing.

I remember stumbling through the woods in the dark, furious, and trying to figure out what to do.

As much as I hated what he did, I do have to say it made me take change. I figured out where to go that night. I got a dishwashing job and then a carpentry job. I made enough money to stake me for a month in NYC, and left home, never to return (as a resident).

In one way, it was the realization of a constant childhood fear. Even though my parents put me through college, I never felt like they were there for me. So I had to be there for myself. And I was able to do that. There were many adventures before things got under control, but I was able to take care of myself.

I trust you can see the moral of the story. But let me add this: trust your son. He can do more than you think he can.

And I’m sure you know what they say about necessity.

Judi's avatar

You have permission from another mom with a dificult kid. My son is not allowed to stay in my house either.
Hopefully, he is not assuming he can stay with you.
If he is, get him 3 nights in a motel 6 and tell him he’s a big boy now and on his own from there.

Judi's avatar

I need to add (and I’m on iPhone so I can’t edit properly, sorry) that it was so freeing for me when I decided that I will not take blame for his failures or credit for his successes.
He is not an extention of you. He is responsible for his own choices. Don’t play in to the mommy guilt game and he will find someone else to play with. Or better yet, he may discover it no longer works.

TLRobinson's avatar

@Judi- ^GA! Wow! I’m going to cut and paste this answer.

john65pennington's avatar

Your tough love is going to have to go into “phase two”. by this, i mean your health and welfare now comes first, not his. he is an adult and a drug addict and alcoholic. you know and i know he will steal again from you and cry on your shoulder until his wishes are met. drug addicts are like this. first, hide your checkbook and any money you have in your house. he will go looking for both of these. next, see a magistrate or judge for a restraining order to keep your son away from you. you asked for advice and here it is. i can preach to you all day long, but only you can make these moves to protect yourself and your property. before your son arrives, advise him that he is not allowed in your home or near any of your property. hopefully, you will go and sign a restraining order and it will be served on him, when he arrives. he is your son, but he is not a child anymore. you need to learn the meaning of the word NO for him and stick to it. its your life and your property. you come first and tell your son this. he will give you a pity party lame excuse and beg, so expect this. RESTRAINING ORDER…GO SIGN ONE NOW.

snowberry's avatar

@Justine, I did a similar thing with my boy. We had had problems with him for many years. One day I discovered drug and pornographic material in his room, and that he had been bringing in girlfriends to have sex with when we were not home. That was the day we kicked him out. We were called every bad name there is, but it made him grow up and stop blaming us.

It took a long time. We are still waiting for him to grow up, but it’s getting better. And you know what? He understands why we did it, and he’s OK with us about it now.

partyparty's avatar

Always remember YOU are the most important person in your life. You MUST put yourself first. You are just coming out of a very bad time, and you have to think about yourself.

Your son chose to live the life he leads. Tell him you love him very much, but don’t feel able to let him stay with you as you have your own problems at the moment. Tell him he can call round to see you, even have dinner with you, or perhaps you could go out for dinner with him, but don’t have him staying at your home.

YOU are the most important person in your world. ALWAYS

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Adagio I think your response to me was a good one. However, if either of my kids lost any consideration or respect for my wishes, well-being and welfare to this extent or for this length of time, I think I would deliberately stop loving them—if that’s possible, of course. I would keep them out of my life out of my own sense of self-preservation at that point.

@wundayatta I liked your earlier thought, when “you had no idea”, but I would qualify one piece of advice that you offered: I would never give a suspected drug addict cash for a motel. That might be a death sentence. I would consider your idea of springing for a motel room, but I’d put it on my credit card, and any attempt to refund that money by cutting the hotel stay short would be refunded back to my card. No cash for him at this point.

Good luck, Justine. You need to be hard and tough now, not only for your sake, but for his, too, if he’s ever going to grow up, kick the addiction and become a human being and a self-respecting person on his own. If you’re lucky, he may even be a good son, but it’s too soon to think of that as anything but a goal—your immediate target is self-protection and detente with his demons.

Just_Justine's avatar

@everyone thanks so much all of you for your helpful advice you have no idea how it has helped me “hold it all together”. I made a decision to get him on medical insurance, and get him checked out (again). I have a feeling he is suffering bipolar 2. But anyhow that remains to be seen. The point is I will help him with things that will assist him to get back on track. I will not assist him with his life daily things he needs to do. He was asked to leave the country because of drugs. I am still reaffirming my boundaries and could only have done it with your guys support. So bless you all!

partyparty's avatar

@Just_Justine Hope it works out OK for you. Stay strong and good luck

Jeruba's avatar

@Just_Justine, please come back to this thread and let us know what happened.

Dan_DeColumna's avatar

^ I agree. Please do.

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