Bring it to Barb

Barb Rocks

Dear Barb,

My son is 25 years old and lives with us. In recent years he has exhibited problems with drugs and an inability to stay in school and find a career. We are heartbroken and love him. We have tried everything. We have always given him everything he needed. Plenty of money at school, so he wouldn’t have to work and have time for his studies and social life. He stopped going to classes now. He is still using drugs, avoiding responsibility, and keeping questionable company. He doesn’t think he has a problem; how can we help him?

Miserable and Angry

Dear Miserable,

A little clarification of boundaries would do the trick. You are responsible and miserable and as it stands now, he is irresponsible and happy.

Your son can do pretty much whatever he wants, no problem. You pay, you fret, you worry, you plan, you exert energy to keep him going. He doesn’t have a problem because you have taken it from him.

Look at it this way: It is as if he were your neighbor who never waters his lawn. But, whenever you turn on your sprinkler system, the water falls onto your son’s lawn. Your grass is turning brown and dying, but your son is looking down at his green grass and thinking to himself, “My yard is doing fine.” That is how your son’s life is. He doesn’t study, or plan, or work, yet he has a nice place to live, green grass, plenty of money and all the rights of a family member without doing his part.

Fix your “sprinkler system” so that the water would fall onto your lawn, and if he didn’t water his own lawn he would have to live in dirt.

We all must take ownership of certain aspects of life that are our own “load.” We also must accept people for where they are at. They need to be ready or willing to change. Acceptance with sadness makes it easier. When people act as if their “boulders” or daily loads are bigger boulders than anyone else or feel as if they shouldn’t have to carry it at all, this results in irresponsibility, or not taking a responsibility but merely shifting blame or focus.

As parents of adult children, it is a struggle to say “no” to the control, pressure and their demands that are real needs of their adult kids. Parents feel that if they say “no,” they will endanger their relationship, so they passively comply but inwardly resent. Resentment always turns to anger so now you have lost control as well as feel guilty.

Creating boundaries always involves a support network. Your spouse, church or a counselor can help you set the limits that need to be reset. To continue to open yourself up to emotionally abusive or addicted behavior without seeing true change is foolish.

You will need some fences to keep your son’s problems out of your yard and in his where they belong. It isn’t cruel to stop helping your son. Has helping him helped? Your son doesn’t have a problem; he is fine. People with boundary problems have distorted attitudes about responsibility. Consequences help establish boundaries.

You need to depend on others to help you set and keep boundaries. Many lives would have been turned around if a parent had followed through with their threats of “no more money from me if you quit another job without having further employment.” Consequences give some good learning “barbs” to fences. Time to fix your sprinkler and build some fences with “barbs.”

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at

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