Tough Love can Resolve a Crisis in Confidence

A website visitor asks, “I’m hoping you can help out with my 27-year-old son. He was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) back in high school, and nothing has been the same since. He’s just an older version of the kid he was in high school. He started college, but dropped out. He doesn’t hold a job for very long, either. He doesn’t abuse alcohol or drugs, and I don’t think he’s depressed, because he has a girlfriend (who is about as unambitious as he is). He hangs out with friends and isn’t particularly gloomy.

“The problem is that he’s living with us, and it’s a glaring reminder that he’s not getting on with his life. If he were living with us to pursue college, that would be one thing. But he’s going nowhere. Friends have suggested that we kick him out of the house and give him notice that living at home has an expiration date! But what if we push him out and he becomes depressed? Maybe it’s better to stick with the trouble we know?”

Dear Reader, there is a glaring contradiction in what you’re saying. On the one hand, you want your son to believe in himself. You want him to develop and demonstrate the confidence required to move out and become more ambitious. At the same time, you don’t have the confidence that he can do it. That’s the contradiction. And I’ll bet your son sees it too. You cannot GIVE him confidence. He has to foster that within himself. However, by acting as if you don’t trust him to cope with living on his own, you’re implying that you don’t believe in him, either. I’m not blaming you for his problem, but I am holding you responsible for making it worse.

The only solution here is to decide on a date when you will require him to exit. I have some friends who did this with their 18/20-year-old kids. They lived in a big house, and the family relations were actually pretty good. As a result, it was tempting for the kids to stay even when they were no longer kids. The parents wished to go back to traveling and doing other things they had been involved in twenty years before. So what did they do? They put the house on the market! That drove the message home really fast. I’m not suggesting you sell your house if you don’t want to, but I use the example to show how important it is to SHOW your son, and not merely tell him, that you mean it. You and your husband may have to get creative.

I realize you might not follow what I’m advising. It’s too much trouble, and it’s too frightening. There might be a scene. I get all that. You’re probably a peaceful and reasonable person, and you don’t want to spend your days engaged in drama. But there’s a drama occurring under your roof right now. It’s a crisis of confidence and self-respect in your son. You told me as much in your note.

You don’t really have a choice about conflict. Take your pick. Either postpone the inevitable, or confront it now and get it over with. And by the way, don’t focus on the ridiculous (and increasingly disproven) ADHD label. Your son manages to focus on his priorities. He manages to pay attention enough to find and sustain a girlfriend and a circle of friends. He has the capacity. He’s just not utilizing it when it comes to holding a job or planning on a place to live. And he doesn’t really need to as long as you continue to enable his casual lifestyle. Chances are good his “diagnosis” of the mythical ADHD gave him tacit permission to be a slacker.

Tell him you believe in him, then SHOW him you believe in him by putting an expiration date on his already prolonged childhood under your roof. Everyone, especially your son, will be better for it.