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Should I Throw My Son Out? - Agony Aunt

Ask Anne

Dear Anne

For the past six years my son has brought nothing but problems and heartache. He constantly lies, takes cannabis, and has been in trouble with courts through being out of his mind with drink or drugs, e.g. stealing. From the age of 14 so many valuables "went" from the house, it broke my heart, but that eventually stopped a couple of years ago. I've put him out of the house quite a few times but taken him back again, to my cost. His behaviour has started to deteriorate again and this past week has finished me. He blatantly denied taking a bottle of champagne I'd been given as a Christmas present until I found the cork, then merely smirked and offered to replace it; I discovered he'd borrowed �50 from a relative to fund his New Year night out, which I feel I have to repay as they won't get it back from him; his bedroom was always like a squat which I refused to tidy, but 2 nights ago I discovered a mouse running around when I gave in and attempted to clear a path through his clothes and dirty dishes, and today I've discovered he hasn't turned up for work for the past 2 days. He was on his final warning and so has now lost his job. I have tried absolutely everything possible and I truly mean everything including attempting to talk with him, "hard love", kicking him out, reasoning, exasperation, etc. Nothing has changed and I am worn out. I've gone through so many emotions over these years of failure, confusion, fear, and loss, and although I've reasoned with myself and friends have helped me understand I'm not to blame for his behaviour, the feelings of somehow causing this mess won't go away. At the time of writing, I've no idea where he is and financially he is a walking disaster and can't cope on his own. He is/was intelligent but got into very bad company when he was 13 and he seems to be hanging around with many of these people again. Therefore I can't get rid of the fear that a policeman is going to come to my door soon to tell me he's dead. Irrational I know, but it won't go away. He's been offered help so many times in the past. I'm frequently told that I should have disowned him years ago but it really isn't that simple when it's your own child. The stress is awful and as I have a high-powered job with its own stresses I feel as if my life holds absolutely nothing for me. I am not suicidal by any means, but this constant struggle just to keep my life together is soul-destroying. My apologies for using this email as a means of releasing some of this stress but it's late at night and I just felt so alone and helpless. Toni

Dear Toni

I'm sorry you're feeling so alone and helpless. While you have good friends who reassure you that you're not responsible for your son's actions, I appreciate that sometimes you feel lonely, guilty and unsupported. Counselling could be just what you need.

It would help you to put this into perspective, deal with the stress in a more self-supportive way and put safer boundaries between you and your son. As you've discovered, just throwing him out doesn't mean he stays out and gets straightened up, and it doesn't leave you feeling good about yourself either. You may find that a counsellor with Transactional Analysis as a background would be particularly useful. If you pick practitioners from Yellow Pages you can ask about their qualifications and approach on the phone or you could email for a list of those in your area. In counselling you may also learn some more effective tactics for talking to him.

And please note, that is talking to him. Asking him what's happening for him and how he feels. He's 19 now and you can't control him even if you want to. You can invite his co-operation but you can't compel it. And if he chooses to do certain things which you dislike, you can either protect him from the consequences of his actions or allow him to experience them for himself. This of course won't guarantee he learns from what happens to him in response to his actions, but protecting him from the consequences pretty much guarantees that he won't. For example, he's borrowed �50 from a relative. You're planning to repay it because he won't. What message does this send him? That he can go on borrowing money because you'll go on paying his debts? This isn't an easy decision but when will enough be enough? What limits will you set %u2013 and mean? What will you do, for instance, about vermin in his room?

For most of his life you've taken the role of parent in your interactions and he's been the child %u2013 as inevitably you would when he was younger. Now, though, it's more an adult-adult relationship. It's hard because he's not becoming the adult you want or taking the adult decisions you'd like him to take. Therefore, with your current pattern of thoughts, your feelings escalate to prompt you to find a solution to your problem. This means that if you continue thinking as you have been doing, you'll continue with those dreads about policemen coming to announce his death. Learning to let go and allow him to be the adult he chooses is very hard and goes counter to what you've always thought since he was a child %u2013 but what's your alternative? Continuing frustration and stress? Believing that you have to cut off all contact with him though you don't want to? What if you found ways of sharing pleasant times with him on his terms where possible? What if you found things for which to praise him? And then let him get on with it?

I hope you'll start investing more of your attention into your own life. Finding ways to manage your stress and your feelings. And I really hope you'll give that counselling a go. Good luck.

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