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My grown up child won't grow up...

Posted by on Jan. 30, 2013 at 5:30 PM
  • 30 Replies

... and I'm at my wits end!

My name is Kara and I live in CT. I'm 40 years old and have four kids (boys 20, 12, 8 and a 6 year old girl). My 20 year old will be turning 21 in May and he seems to have no desire to ever grow up and be on his own. He's always been such a good kid behaviorally speaking. He's very polite, respectful, caring and is really loving towards his family. He is incredibly young for his age though. He doesn't have a driver's license, he isn't in college, he doesn't work. He's never had a girlfriend (though I have found a Playboy or two in his room so I know he at least has an interest there). He stays up half the night and sleeps half the day and does nothing but sit in his room on his computer. Some days I don't see him at all or, if I do see him it's because I've called him up for dinner or to do a chore. It bothers me that he doesn't seem to have any drive whatsoever.

When he graduated from high school he asked to have a year off to decide what he wanted to do. I didn't have a problem with that and figured I'd rather he do that than waste money on him going to college and not taking it seriously. Well, that year has come and gone... and now two more have, too. My fiance and I have been seeing a family therapist to try to get some ideas of how to approach this situation, among other things. She suggested that we write down a list of expectations and that we sit down and talk to him about it. She said that we shouldn't have to remind him of these things and to make it clear that these are things we expect from him as a contribution to our household. So, last weekend we did that. We sat with him and talked for a long time. It seemed to go well and I think we did a good job at expressing our feelings and concerns without attacking him. I felt pretty good about it at the time... but NOTHING has changed. And it is infuriating.

We gave him a very, very small list of things we expected: keeping his room clean, doing the dishes, cleaning his bathroom weekly, shoveling the walkway when it snows, letting the dogs out on weekend mornings, filling out his FAFSA form for college and looking into schools... and interacting with the family instead of being holed up in his room all the time. He's only done the dishes when he's been reminded, repeatedly, and even then he often "forgets." His room is still a mess, he's done nothing for college, the bathroom was cleaned (half assed) only when we reminded him, he's still holed up in his room. And the one weekend he was supposed to let the dogs out, he overslept and didn't... which put us back to square one with the puppy's potty training. He's genuinely sorry and very apologetic about these things when confronted and reminded, but, seriously, it's getting very old. I just want to scream at him and shake him and tell him to grow the hell up! (Even though that approach hasn't helped in the past)

We updated the therapist about the lack of change after implementing her plan and she was seriously shocked. She could not believe that it had no impact on him whatsoever. Now she's suggested that I may need to act as his personal scheduler. She thinks I need to give him a list of specific days and times to do these things and have him put them as reminders into his phone. So, we will try that... but then what? What if that doesn't work either? There's nothing to take away from this kid. He doesn't have a car, he doesn't drive, he doesn't go hang out with friends, I don't give him money for anything. The only thing I could take from him is the internet and we've been discussing that. I'm thinking that maybe I change the router password on a daily basis and that he has to "earn" the password by finishing his daily chores. Maybe it will help, but I find myself getting very angry that I still have to do these things as if he's a little kid. He's NOT a little kid. At his age I was a single mom to him, living on my own, working and going to school. I can't even get him to pick up his room! It's ridiculous.

I've toyed with the idea of telling him he may have to join the military if he doesn't do what he needs to do to get into college. I'm just not sure if he'd survive the military though and I don't want it to ruin the really good parts of who he is (and there really are so many). The laziness and lack of discipline just don't seem to be changing on their own though and I know he'd have no choice but to get it together if he were enlisted. My fiance served 24 years in the Air Force and even he is worried that my son just wouldn't be able to handle it though and that it might be bad for him.

So, what in the world do I do? I'm running out of ideas and my patience is near its end. I would welcome any and all suggestions! And I know that was an extremely long intro post so thank you for reading it. :)

by on Jan. 30, 2013 at 5:30 PM
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by Mary Ann on Jan. 30, 2013 at 5:44 PM

I would make a contract (written) listing your expectations and a time schedule if necessary.  He has been living the way you describe for quite awhile, so probably doesn't think you will follow through, so you also need to describe the consequences if he doesn't follow through.  Maybe college isn't the right answer for him - he might be better suited for a trade school.  If he is interested in computers maybe a programming course.  I don't think he is going to be changing on his own after this length of time so now the hard part is for you to follow through with what you expect and then harder still to follow through with the consequences.  It is called tough love for a reason.  Good Luck.

by on Jan. 30, 2013 at 5:52 PM

Is your son depressed?  It is not healthy for a young man to just do nothing all day but be on his computer, and not even have any contact with any friends.  Did he have friends he hung out with when he was in high school, or has he always been alone?  It sounds like you should have him see a counsellor, because for some reason, he is avoiding real life. 

by Becky on Jan. 30, 2013 at 5:56 PM
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First thing I'd do is take the computer out of his room.  That's too much of an invitation for him to sit in there all day.  Second thing I'd do is take his bedroom door off the hinges (just temporarily).  That would give him no privacy, therefore no reason to sit in his room all day.  Third thing I'd do is take him to DMV and get his permit, then I'd take him out driving (if he doesn't know how to drive at all, otherwise I'd take him to go get his license).  I could go on and on, but you've got a long way before he will assume responsibility for himself, and those are the 3 that I think will have the quickest impact, and are very important things to get done immediately.

Stating the expectations without enforcing any consequences isn't going to change a thing.  There's an old saying, "If you change nothing, nothing will change."  YOU, as the parent, have to change what YOU do when the expectations aren't recognized.  Nothing you've done so far has given him any reason to think today is any different than yesterday.  Make a change!!!  Do something drastic!!!  Do what he least expects.  Then he will take you seriously, and those first few steps to his adulthood will begin. 

And by all means, be consistent!!!!  If you SAY you're going to do something as a consequence, then DO it.  Consistency is key.

I've been there with my daughter.  In a little different situation, but just like you, I was a mom at 20, single mom about two years later.  No help from her father.  Worked full time, had a full load at school.  She became a mom at 20, and I was just appauled at how different she was as a mom than what I'd been as a young mom.  She didn't take responsibility for her actions, until well after her 2nd baby was born.  I had to practice tough love with her, and it was hard.  It was definitely harder on me than it was on her.  She just thought I was crazy.  But that's okay, because now, she's almost 30, with 3 kids that she's an awesome mom to, and she's a wonderful young woman!!!

by on Jan. 30, 2013 at 6:02 PM

I have all boys, 25, 21 and 19. I can tell you when my 21 year old went through a phase of doing nothing, never coming out of his room and staying on the computer, it was because he had been introduced to porn and was addicted, he was talking with someone in Cali and it was a bad situation by the time we figured it all out. Thank God it is ok now and he is a college grad and porductive adult. We had counseling, so did he and we had a written agreement with him that we held him too and when he didn't there were consequences.

by on Jan. 30, 2013 at 6:12 PM

mac, I agree with you... where we are stuck is with figuring out what the consquences are. We have talked and talked about this and just can't figure out a consequence that we either CAN follow through on and will matter to him. Kicking him out isn't an option at this point. My mom could have kicked me out and I would have been fine. I had friends, I could drive, I had some life skills. He'd have nowhere to go and wouldn't know how to fend for himself. So, the consquences are what we struggle with. Taking away the internet is as much as we have been able to come up with at this point, but that seems pretty darn pathetic! lol

designgirl, we've talked about that. He says he's not depressed at all. He's perfectly fine. He's just content with how things are. I think that's rather sad. I shouldn't say that he never does anything or interact with anyone. He is very involved with Demolay (if you're not familiar, it's a group similar to Boy Scouts for boys 12-21). He's been a very active and dedicated member since he was 13. This is his last year in and he's gotten to the highest rank possible. He's serving as their State Master Counselor. That means he runs the entire State of CT's Demolay chapters. He has organized their entire calendar for the year, scheduling meetings, trips, fundraisers, organzing the members and their roles, appointing a "cabinet", etc. He does a lot of public speaking with the group and I've been very impressed with how well he speaks in front of a crowd. He has meetings this Friday and Saturday. So, at least he is doing something. But he very rarely hangs out with these people outside of their scheduled events and, since he is aging out this year, he's usually the oldest chapter member there. The other kids who started with him have either lost interest over the years or have moved on to other things at this point in their lives (college, jobs, girlfriends, etc). He's always been that way... he has friends, but rarely did anything with them outside of school or events. If they didn't seek him out and call him and invite him places, he was content to just hang out alone. 

by Gold Member on Jan. 30, 2013 at 6:15 PM
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Welcome!  It sounds as if you have your hands full.

I am not surprised he didn't do anything on that list to be honest as what was the consequences if he didn't.  I am more surprised that the therapist would then suggest you become his personal secretary and schedule out his time??  What kind of enabling idea is that?  No offense to her or to you, but even if he is a nice young man, it won't help him in this cold cruel world by being his personal scheduler.

I am guessing if he is in his room most of the time, he probably has a computer in there, tv, cell phone?  And if he's never had a job, then you have pretty much foot the bill on those extra's?

Since he's never had a job or a license, I would start there.  I would write down a "Cause and Effect" list for him. 


You have 1 month to get your drivers license or, I take the cell phone away.

You have 2 months to get a job or, you find another place to live.

All the while you keep the list of expectations you originally had and if he can't follow that, start taking his vices away from him.  TV, Computer, cell phone.

Even the best of kids need tough love cause it's a tough world out there, and he clearly hasn't stepped an ounce in to  it if he's never had a job and he's 20.  

The human race all have an ability to survive...while you may not like the survival route he takes, you have to make a decision for what you would like him to be as a real adult.  Do you want him to be a husband dependant on his wife to do everything for him, or do you want him to be a man who provides for his family?

Keeping him in your home without forcing him to stretch his legs into the real world will just keep your situation the same.  Yet you mentioned you have  younger kids.  It won't set the best of examples for him if you don't start shoving him out of your nest.

My oldest daughter struggled to grab footing after she graduated high school.  She just played on her computer, with no ambition.  I booted her out when she kept giving me attitude of the expectations I had for her. (that's how girls react)... She's thriving now, but I had to stop holding her hand.

I've made all my kids fund their own lives totally by the time they were 18 and graduated.  I allowed them to stay living in my home, but they had to pay rent to live here.  But, they all had jobs at young ages.  Nothing in this world is free, and I sure wasn't going to let my kids free load off of me.  

It made my middle one move out real fast when I bumped up her rent for breaking rules.  We get along great now, but she doesn't live with me either.  She's 21. 

Oh, and I'm 43....I just rely on the way I raised them and how I raised them.  I worked through my true fears in here with these ladies in some ways...I just didn't let my kids know I was afraid.  

They're doing okay.

You'll do okay too....just give him a REAL shove...none of this wimpy little scheduling stuff that should have been done when he was in middle school.

Best wishes!

by Gold Member on Jan. 30, 2013 at 6:32 PM

Have you had him evaluated at all? Although some kids might enjoy doing nothing, the level of doing nothing is pretty high, I'd suspect some issues that need work.

by Louann on Jan. 30, 2013 at 6:45 PM

Hello Kara and welcome!!  We're happy to have you here.  You've already got some good advice it seems.  The girls here are awesome!  I hope you can get it worked out.  Trust me when I say you aren't alone.  I'm going through some things with my son right now and to say it is hard and heartbreaking is an understatement.  Just hang in there and do the best you can.  We're all here if you need to vent!!  Hugs to you   :)

by Susie on Jan. 30, 2013 at 6:51 PM
Why have you enabled your child for so long????
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by on Jan. 30, 2013 at 7:00 PM

Thank you very much everyone for your thoughtful responses and ideas. I really appreciate it so much.

The suggestions of taking away the cell phone and computer are our best options at this point, I think. I think those are our best points of leverage. They're the only real immediate consequences that will really impact him, I think. We're going to start there. The cause and effect list is a great idea. I'm going to work on that this week and have another sit down with him on Sunday.

The drivers license is one I'm on the fence about. I took him for his permit on his 16th birthday. I paid for two different driver ed courses for him. He's taken his test and failed it three times now. In his defense, the last two failures weren't... I don't want to say not his fault... but definitely disappointing. The first was during parking. His front driver's side tire was slightly on the yellow line and it was an automatic failure. The rest of the test was fine though. The last time he had passed the test and returned to the DMV. He parked the car and got out so that the owner of the car could get in. The instructor failed him for that. He exited the car without turning it off and removing the keys first and said it was a safety issue and automatic failure. So, it's not that he can't drive a car well. The tests haven't gone so well though. Now I'm not sure how much I want to push the driving issue. He doesn't really seem to care whether or not he gets the license (and never did... it's because I pushed). If he gets his license now, that just means I'm going to have to pay additional money to get him put on our insurance. Since he doesn't seem to care whether or not he drives, it's really not going to be a motivator for him to earn money to pay for the insurance, you know? So, I could pay for him to take the test, yet again, but he wouldn't be able to drive anyway because I'm not going to pay to insure him.

Taking his bedroom door off won't really help. His bedroom is in the back corner of the basement. So, he doesn't even really need to close the door and he's still got privacy. And it needs to be closed to keep the heat in his room, otherwise we're just heating unfinished space. It would definitely be a good suggestion if he were in a more active part of the house though!

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