It’s Not Working!

The biggest excuse I hear from people about not holding loved ones responsible for their actions is, “It’s not working.”

For example: “My twenty-five year old son moved back in. He stays at home and doesn’t even seek out a job. He acts as if he really believes he’s entitled to have me take care of him the rest of his life. He has no consideration for me, or pride in himself. I told him he’s responsible for his actions, and I have refused to do anything nice for him. I told him I’m not throwing him out on the street–yet–but I won’t do any favors for him at all. What happens? His attitude gets even worse. Holding him accountable, it seems, is making things worse.”

No, it’s not. The worsening of his attitude means you’re doing the right thing. You’re making his life less comfortable. He wants to live at home and have you take care of him without any resentment on your part. Now you’re expressing perfectly reasonable resentment. He gets angry because he still feels entitled to a stress-free life. You’re challenging him. This means you’re being effective, not ineffective. But this thinking on your part–that “It’s not working”–is how your son gets to you. You expect an overnight miracle. When it doesn’t happen, you give in to him more. You do this at considerable cost to yourself, and you undermine any hope of pride and self-esteem he might potentially enjoy in the future.

Holding people accountable for their actions when you haven’t done so in the past doesn’t lead to good feelings; it leads to unpleasant ones. This means it’s working. You can’t turn a loved one into a self-responsible person if he/she isn’t interested in being one. But you can make it harder for this loved one to be irresponsible. The anger and reaction you get is an indicator of success, not failure. Whether the loved one ultimately turns around is not something you have control over.