Tough Love: Should You Hold the Line, No Matter What?

Posted April 29, 2010 by

Tough love got a bit tougher for our family this week. So never say, “It can’t get any worse.” Sorry to disappoint you, but it can.

But despite this thought, as long as we are still upright, there is always hope.  It’s possible to get stuck in the inertia of paralysis, but hope is still the necessary ingredient to taking the first step forward.

I don’t want to go into too many sordid details, but let’s just say our older son is really on the crash and burn. We see it; he does not.

Two weeks ago, or so, he was suspended from his job that he loved, did well at and had never had a problem with.


Because he chooses to attend musical events where he enhances the whole experience by ingesting things that aren’t legal or medicinally necessary for him.

OK, only a suspension, but he is, for various reasons, choosing not to go back.

This is problematic from my way of looking at things. A significantly overdrawn checking account, which will soon go to collections; a more significant amount of credit card debt (due to online gambling) that is soon going to hit interest rates that really should be outlawed; and cancelled car insurance due to non payment (back to the overdrawn checking account). Last I knew, and it hasn’t changed, it is illegal to drive without car insurance, even though plenty of people do it.

Admittedly, I don’t understand. My husband and I love our children and work hard. Very hard.

Even worse was his decision to make several scary threats and indications of plans on how he would deal (not deal) with what the next several weeks may hold for him.  And as responsible, caring parents, let’s just say his statements and actions didn’t leave us any wiggle room in the “he needs help” department – regardless of the fact that he has no health insurance. It took a day to get to the next step, and when we hooked up with him he was not a happy camper.

I love my firstborn fiercely; I always will, but I am not sure what happened to the notion of helping ourselves, and simply reserving a firm hand of support for backup – not as an automatic expectation. But don’t get me started on what people think they do and do not deserve. I will save the discussion of entitlement for another day.

So, we now have one pissed off adult son who isn’t speaking to us, and hope that others will surround him who can speak a different alternative into his mind and heart.

It is difficult, but necessary to hold the line. And the line must be black, it can’t be written in invisible ink.

Tough love is tough, but it is still love.  Blessed are the peacemakers, and when communicated firmly and in a technically neutral voice (not screaming, but incorporating reflective listening using the “victim’s” own words) it is still love.

Have you experienced this kind of tough love?


Kathy has four children, aged 9, 12, 24 and 26. Her second son was seduced by marijuana when he was 16. Kathy is now a published author of "Winning the Drug War at Home". She is also a childbirth educator and is writing a pregnancy and childbirth book. Kathy graduated from Brown University with a degree in Health and Society, and also has a BSN in Nursing.

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  1. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    To ‘LostinLA’: It’s so hard when you have an adult child living with you who refuses to help out around the home and isn’t doing as well in school as you know he can. It’s even harder when you know that child is really struggling and depressed, and won’t accept help. We would recommend looking for some support in your local area. Your son may not want any help but it could be helpful for you to find someone you can sit down and talk to, who can help you decide which of our tools here are going to be appropriate for an adult child with depression. A local support can also help you come up with a plan of action to use when your son says things about not having a reason to be around anymore. You can search for local supports by contacting 211, an information and referral service, at 1-273-6222 or by visiting You can also review the rest of our adult children articles by clicking here. We know this is hard and we wish you both luck as you work through this. Take care.

  2. LostinLA Report

    I sat down at my computer this morning emotionally beaten and alone. I now find myself filled with hope and arming myself with information and knowledge. Good feeling.

    Many of your stories of frustration and worry mirror mine. One difference is that my 23 yr old son does not have a drug addiction-though I know he occasionally smokes pot with friends.

    My son is living with us. He is smart, witty, handsome, athletic and major charmer. He is also a huge pain in the a*s. After four years of college out of town and numerous dropped classes, switched majors, cancelled semesters and mini crisis after crisis, he decided to move back home. He only has enough credits to be a starting sophomore.

    We supported him during college by paying rent, phone, insurance,and giving him a new car. He worked two years and paid for food & gas. He realized he was going no where fast and came home to community college. He did get a 4.0 last semester.

    Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Uh uh. My son has always felt entitled. Late to things, doesn’t really want to work-just get handed stuff. He’s ADD and he can DEBATE everything. Its all about him. He goes to college two days a week and otherwise does nothing. He works out and plays video games. His room is a disaster, he never picks up after himself, he says he can’t get a PT job because he doesn’t want to “risk” messing up success at school and really doesn’t “need” money. He cuts our grass for $20 a week.

    When I try to motivate him or fuss at him or tell him flat out that he needs a job-I get steam-rolled. He knows how to turn me into a crying pile of worthlessness. I don’t work outside the home-so he uses that gainst me like I am lazy. I take care of two parents with Alzheimers-one passed away. I have worked most of my life and raised three kids.

    When I try to talk to him, he shuts me down. He turns it on me and all my shortcomings and says I have no right to judge him. When I say we will stop financially supporting him if he doesn’t get a job, he laughs and says it isn’t “my” money-it’s dads. My hub does try to help, but he hates confrontation and my son’s mind games. So it’s either nothing or him blowing up and telling him to get the hell out of the house–which my son knows he doesn’t mean.

    My son recently broke up with a girlfriend of two years and is depressed on top of everything else. He can’t handle crisis well and has said he has no reason to be around anymore. We spend hours talking–but, anytime I tell him he has issues and needs to see a therapist-he goes nuts and refuses. He cries
    a lot. He is lonely and thinks he has no friends-but he does-they are just busy with life!

    As cruel as he can be to me, I know I am the one he depends on. My friends have always thought how great it was that my kids told me everything-included me in their lives. Whether it is girls/boys or sex or problems-they come to me. My son regularly gives me hugs or massages my shoulders when I’m sitting at the computer or just hangs out with me. He is a conundrum.

    I am just so tired. I know I am not doing this right. His mood colors the whole mood of the house-I soak up his depression or anger or attitude like a sponge-and I don’t know how not to…
    I will be reading every article I can on here–I need a plan of action.

  3. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    Hi Barbara. What a tough situation you are in. Your son has really gotten himself into a good deal of trouble. It’s so hard to see your son make poor choices like this and it’s very natural to want to help—most parents don’t want to see their kids struggling. And, what’s more, it hurts when you try to help and your attempts are rejected or even ignored. What you do now depends on what kind of message you want to send to your son. Do you want to send him the message that what he did was ok? That he can be rude and verbally abusive to you and you will still open your wallet for him? That the consequences aren’t really that bad because you will bail him out? Or, do you want your son to learn that his poor choices have heavy consequences and that those consequences are his and his alone? Ultimately, this $2500 is between your son and his friend. Let them work it out amongst themselves—your son is responsible for paying that back. My thoughts about bringing him home are that you really want to take some time to think about that and what that means for you—that puts you back in a limit-setting role with him, a role where you are holding him accountable for his choices. Is that something you really want? The more you carry the burden of this consequence for your son, the less discomfort he will feel. The less discomfort he feels, the less likely he is to make a better choice in the future. Calling your son and telling him you will give him some time to work through this and you are available to help him talk through it if he’d like is a great idea. Then, we would recommend that you focus on yourself while you wait to hear back from him. Anything you can do to relax or to help yourself cope with all of the difficult emotions this brings up for you will be very helpful. Here are a couple articles I think will be very helpful for you as you work through this: How Adult Children Work the “Parent System” & My Child Is Using Drugs or Drinking Alcohol—What Should I Do? We wish you luck, Barbara. Take care.

  4. Barbara Report

    My son is 20 years old. I know he has been smoking pot since he’s 15. He is living away from home and attending community college. Last week he was stopped by police for speeding. In his car was muliple ounces of pot, 80 xanex pills, and thousands of dollars in cash. He was taken to jail, where he called a friend to bail him out, for $2500. He did not tell his father until a week later. His father then waited a week to tell me. I actually found out when I receive a letter from the court that was sent to our home address. He is not returning my calls or texts, the last conversation, which I did not show any emotion, I just asked him to tell me what happened, then all I said was, “do you really want to go down this road?” ( and this was before a I knew ALL the facts). He then started swearing at me and hung up. That was yesterday. He is not answering my calls. He owes his friend $2500, and must attend drug counseling. Do I pay his friend back or wait til my son calls me and asks me to. Do I continue to encourage him to register for the 4 year university that he attended for one semester before transferring to community school, or bring him home? Do I continue to try to call him and tell him I love him, or do I stop and wait for him to call me. He seems to think since he is 20 he does not need me. I am lost.

  5. thewifelife Report

    A heavy heart for holding the line on tough love.

    Three years ago, I was volunteering in the legal system and attending college, and a young lady was brought to me by a mutual academic colleague for help. However after several years of her attending counseling, being saved and me being there for her, she digressed completely. Or I woke up. She says she is a survivor of many horrible things from her family of origin, but she has made a choice to be like that family by using me and my family. She acts out and causes strife in all of the homes that have taken her in thus far. I had to let her go because I realized her oppositional defiance to further her main objective of trying to control me and my family was completely dysfunctional and unacceptable.
    I am grateful to have been able to let her go and my family and I have had an instant peace since she has been away from us. I have learned the importance of tough love and know it will serve me well as my birth toddler grows up.

  6. Devistated Report

    I was a single mother for 10 years of my 22 year old sons’ life. His father, a pathological liar, along with HIS mother, he was a ‘hidden drunk and drug addict’ meaning he would do it with no one around. I realized this AFTER I married him, he was quite good at the lies and stories. After we married, we found out I was pregnant. I had a great job, good pay, well he quit his job, me pregnant and he quit because he ‘felt like it’. Well after our son was born a stay at home dad he was not, drunk all the time, driving with our son drunk, went to counseling, that didn’t help, then came the verbal abuse, physical abuse, I had enough and moved out with my son. Custody battle began, judge saw through him, set up mediated visitations, he stopped showing up. To the courts, they awarded me full custody. He never paid child support, took him to court, said my mother was cashing his 30.00/wk checks, yeah right, my mother and father did not need his lousy 30/wk trust me. Hadn’t seen him in 3 years, I moved to FLA w/my folks, then after almost losing the house I bought due to economy, moved to CO for 3 years, loved it there, had fun and then moved back home, all of which we never heard from his father, and I wasn’t hiding. Long story short, he is 22 now, I’m remarried to my childhood sweetheart who is a wonderful hubby and so tried to be a loving stepdad, but my son never gave him the time of day. At 13 we bought a home, and it began, the drinking, the smoking cigarettes and at 16 he got into trouble drinking at school, took him out, took him nightly to night school, he got his diploma, not a GED and at age 17, went into the Navy, so that he could get a college education. It was a 2 year contract w/6 years reserve after. The most proudest I have been was the day of his boot camp graduation (PIR) in Chicago. He stayed in CHI town for a year, transferred to VA then off to deployment. While on deployment I found his birth father had been using his SSN since he was 14 years old, ran up a 985.00 Verizon Cell phone bill that he never paid, used it for references for apartments, it was so disgusting, I told my son what was going on. Called out to the in-laws and told them to tell him to stop or he would go to jail. I called our police, they said my son would need to press charges, which my son chose not to BIG MISTAKE. He got out at 19 1/2. And then it began. Again, long story short, he moved home, got into opiates and Heroin and this girlfriend, disgusting girlfriend, and I was horrified to find out from one of his friends what was going on. So naive I am, he moved out with the girlfriend. He has done jail time for possession and while he was in jail his birth father and grandmother got in touch with him telling him how they have been ‘searching all this time for him’…blah blah….my son got out, told him he had 4 weeks to find a job, any job. He had no license now, no money and no girlfriend (thank GOD). Anyhow, got a job, kept it a month, said he got laid off, and sat around until this past August. Signed up for college and was very excited. His GI bill paid for his dorm room/books/classes etc. Fast forward to today. He was due back to school tomorrow, but told me last tuesday that he was not going back as he failed 2 classes, this, after telling me he got all c’s and will batten down this coming term. Well, found a letter from school he had a GPA of .60…rEALLY? The daily pot smoking, and I found pills he was taking, he never showed up for Thanksgiving Dinner, was blowing his nose every three seconds at Christmas dinner, well, you see where I’m going. I had had enough and told him to pack his stuff and get the hell out. He told me how awful I was etc etc….he took off with a friend and the friends dad for a trip to NY, met the father and he was nice, but seemed to think my son was so awesome….that was the last I saw of him. Told him prior to call his father and grandmother and go stay with them. He didn’t take all his stuff, you KNOW he will be back only on the day my husband is working and guarantee it will be with the flea bitten no good dead beat ex to get his stuff. I have the Mommy guilt sure, but I have been having a nervous breakdown for 2 years now, I haven’t gone for help, I know I should, but the minute he left, I felt like me again, but the twinges of guilt are like waves, just trying to deal with it. Today I will pack up his stuff in green plastic bags, I refuse to pay for boxes. I have paid enough for his nonsense, attorneys,etc and NO I did NOT go to see him while he was in jail nor send him money. I will put them in the garage and he can call when he has ‘time’ to get them. Not for nothing, he couldn’t even flush the toilet after he was done. He had a girl stay over after he KNOWS this is unacceptable to us, he KNOWS the rules and broke everyone of them with a smile on his face…..well too bad, so sad. He has no money, nowhere to go. My biggest fear is the phone call that he has either committed suicide or overdosed. I had him in treatment 2 times, he had been in treatment with the Navy….it isn’t working. Where do you go from there? Drugs are THE BIGGEST PROBLEM in our country and it seems like there is no end to it. He says he is sober. Um, no, smoking pot every 3 hours like a cigarette and drinking and popping pills is NOT SOBRIETY. I hope I’m doing the right thing. I know that when he gets with ‘those’ people, they will lie, they will make him hate me and I will likely lose him forever, but really I lost him a long time ago. That sweet little boy who loved his Mommy so much was gone along time ago. He is a mess and I’ve bent over backwards to get him the help he needs, and what I learned from his birth father is you can NOT help anyone that doesn’t want the help.

    Sorry it was so long, but I don’t have anyone to talk to about this and I’m putting it out to the universe. Thanks for reading.

  7. Lorna Report

    Wow, I just saw Debbie’s post. She’s living my life, too. Back in April we had our 19 year old (now 20) son involuntarily hospitalized due to very scary threats he had made. He was better for awhile after that, but then started using drugs. He’s lost three jobs and walked off another one. He’s currently not using, but is unemployed and not trying real hard to find another one. He lies ALL the time and I believe he has stolen some of his younger brother’s things and pawned them for cigarette money since he has no money of his own. During his period of using drugs, he also got himself in debt to the tune of $3000. We made him sell everything of value that he had to pay off some of it, but he still owes about $2000. Hard to pay it off when you can’t keep a job and don’t look hard for one. He’s in therapy, but I’m not sure if it’s helping yet. He is mostly compliant about doing what he’s asked, but lies about where he’s been and what he’s done. We shouldn’t have to worry about our stuff getting stolen all the time. We really want him to leave! In September we made him leave after his sister found him on our front porch smoking pot. He was gone for a week with disastrous results. We just want him to move on with his life!

  8. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    Hi Debbie. I can tell how incredibly worried you are about your daughter and the impact her recent choices will have on her life. I think perhaps the hardest part of this situation is realizing and remembering that you can’t control your daughter and the choices she makes as an independent adult. You have done all that you can already to make her uncomfortable and to show her that you disapprove of her choices—you have had her move out of your town home, return the vehicle, and turn in her cell phone. You have made her as uncomfortable as you can and she has still decided not to change. Now all you can do is focus on taking care of yourself. One of our authors on this site, Debbie Pincus, talks about how we tend to over focus on another member of the family in response to anxiety. Over focusing on another person often consists of trying to get another member of the family to behave the way you need them to in order to feel better emotionally. Debbie suggests that it’s far more effective to focus on yourself. In fact, James Lehman also states, in his article about the silent treatment, “Going to your child and pleading with him to talk gives him too much power— and lets him know very clearly that his withholding of communication is getting to you.” Our recommendation at this point would be for you to reach out once more to your daughter, tell her you understand she is not ready to speak to you but you will be there when she is, and then focus no taking care of yourself and coping with the hurt you are experiencing from this. Here is an article by Debbie Pincus that will be very helpful for you: Throwing It All Away: When Good Kids Make Bad Choices. We know this is extremely difficult for you, and we wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.

  9. debbie Report

    Hi, Our 24 year old daughter has completely changed in the last year. She is finishing her masters and has a very good paying job starting this June. She joined a faith based group at her college and things have went down hill since. She attended a Christian school and our family is very faithful to our Baptist Church. She met a guy there 3 years younger and it has went all down hill since then. We bought her a townhouse to live in and a new jeep and paid for everything since high school. Because she is very smart and has 2 degrees in Math and CHemistry and now a masters in Petroleum Engineering. Her entire schooling has been on a scharlorship. That is why we have paid for eveything because she has never given us any trouble ever. She has been the model child never disrespecting us in anyway. Until now and it is unbelievable. We didn’t like her boyfriend because he doesn’t work and she paid for everything and has a no nothing degree. But when we told her to watch out she got very defensive. Then the pastor and his wife told her that we were parasites and to get away from us as soon as possible. In the 6 years of her college we have only been separated for 2 weeks. She called us 5 times a day we are a very close family. She has a brother that is now a freshman and the both were living in the townhouse. Until she told us that she got engaged to this guy without our approval. Normally she would never had done that but we think this group is a cult. They have been telling all the kid to turn away from their families that they don’t need them because we are only their biological families and they only need their spiritual families. This is very against how she has been raised. We told her the night she got engaged she had to move out give up her jeep and cell phone. She could only take her clothes because there is nothing else she paid for. She is working part time for $24 an hour and she can make it with no trouble. Everyone has supported our decesion to kick her out because these things were preveiledges not rights. That was 3 months ago and she has cut all ties with us. We don’t know where she is living, or her number. Only where she is working. SHe refuses to reply to emails. She even did not talk to us at Christmas, Thanksgiving and her birthday. It has been 3 months. This is not her and we don’t know what to do. We feel that she has been brainwashed by this cult and by this guy. We thought since she was so intelligent she would see that he only wants her money. He has 3 mores years of school and she start full time with a big salary in June and thats when they are planning to get married. Very convienent for him he now will not have to work and get a free ride for 3 year while in school along with the fact he will be out from under his parents rule. They are also very against this engagement. They say he is very immature. But she refuses to talk to us. We don’t know what to do we have sent flowers card presents anything to her work address and no response. Emailed her morning and night to say that WE LOVE YOU and lets work this out. But no responses. We don’t know what to do we feel she is mentally unhealthy and sine she is 24 there is nothing legal we can do. As close as we have been we were hopeing he would break but if she didn’t after all the holidays then she is really a mess. Our Pastor has no idea what to do except we pray everyday and night and show her love. We have never asked her to break up with him just to wait till they know each other. We own a large business and we know he is after that but we will take her out of the will if she ends up marrying him. But we don’t want her to ruin he life ended up divorced with a baby maybe. No one can believe this is her she has been so close to us forever. PLEASE HELP WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO. THANK YOU DEBBIE

  10. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    Hi Scelest: It can be so disappointing and discouraging when you see your child succeeding and doing well, and then suddenly it all falls apart. Whether you take the car or not is ultimately your choice. It certainly doesn’t sound like he is making safe decisions with the car. However, whose name the title is in and who it was registered to last might impact your decision. It could be helpful to contact your city hall or city clerk, or even the non-emergency number for your local police department, to discuss the possible ramifications of either taking the car or letting him keep the car. That way you can make an informed decision. We wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.

  11. Christy Report

    It has been helpful for me to read these posts. I have a 25 year old son that has had a drug problem since the age of 13. He will get clean for periods of time and then fall back into it. We have bailed him out of so many situations that I could write a novel. I know we should have been tougher but we believed he could change. He has never actually worked for anything himself. He has a very old truck that we bought for him that was old at the time. We pay his insurance which is $50 per month. Several months ago, we let him add a cell phone to our account, providing that he make the payments. He was working at the time so we agreed. Well, now it’s the same old song and dance we have been dealing with for years. All of his friend’s are toxic but what can I do? He’s toxic to them too. Today I’m letting go. I’m going to shut off his phone and shut him out of my life. It’s the hardest thing for a mother to do but I know it’s the best thing to do. I’m tired and my heart is heavy.

  12. Scelest Report

    My almost 19 yr old son has had struggles since graduation about what he wants/ who he is. Moved out shortly after grad. because he wouldnt get a job, I told him he had to work or go…if he went he would lose his car. He went, for two months living with friend to friend with no car. Called me to come home admitting he cant do it on his own, and wanted to better himself. He moved home got a job, we gave him his car back, he was doing so good. He opened a bank acct. gym membership, girlfriend the whole 9 yards, I was so proud of him and he was so proud of himself! two months into that, he decided with all of that he was ready to move out with roommates. I wished him well all though knew it was a mistake, but fig. they have to learn on their own. As time passed, he quit his job to get another he was, didnt get the other, but blames the person who told him he did, not himself for quiting one job before the other. All the roommates got evicted due to non payment, in the meantime he lost his girlfriend, got evicted, car ins. cancelled, both tags on car expired, driving around everywhere, letting his friends drive the car, his aunt bought him a car his senior yr. to make his struggle with future college and work easier, a beautiful 06 toyota corolla. Its now illegal as it could be, and looks like a crash up derby car. He came to me saying he feels like a zero, and has done some bad things he wasnt proud of and really wanted to come home because he was doing better here on the right track, and felt so much happier and better about himself. He was here for a week, a gave him 5 dollars here and there, enough to make it to find a job in this big plaza we have down the road, yet everytime i talked to him during day, he was hanging with friends playing call of duty and smoking pot. I cut him off telling him i wont give you money to hang out with your friends, he then says to me “Oh, your giving me some damn gas money”..I laugh and say”really” and its down hill from there, I told him get your things and go back to your friends, you won’t talk to me like this in my house, He also tells me I have been a loser my whole life (emotional buttons) for the (PATM) then takes my dog with him to hurt me. That night he wants to come home and is the day i started reading your website, I tell him only after we sit and talk and agree on some changes. That was mon. he doesnt come home till wed. only he isn’t here, my dog is here and he is bleeding and cut up scared and traumatized….we have a pitbull, who is my baby, and so super sweet, where he was staying they have two. Im horrified, did he need money and fight him or am i to beleive it was an accident? either way he just left him here scared and hurt, this dog was a gift to him two yrs ago, but he forfitted that by never caring for him. Thanksgiving is big for us and he promised to be here, but I get a text at 5am that morn. explaining he decided to go with friends to La. to someone elses thanksgiving and he hopes i can understand, he will be home fri. so today is fri. and Im going to give him tough love more than ever now, its going to be ugly and i dread it, my question is….Do i take his car?, I want to because I know he drives it messed up, Iv heard him talking…also its illegal, no tags no ins., and he has three tickets now, which may have turned to warrant since he isnt responsible enough to take care of them. My best friend who we call his aunt, bought him that car, and I feel awful, because the way he treats it is like a slap in her face! He is going to hit rock bottom soon, and I beleive its necessary before he can start again! Its going to be the hardest thing now especially to take his only possession from him, and im hurting so bad, but don’t know what to do to help him. He says he doesnt know already if things will be ok with us because I want things my way, so im guessing it will be really harsh since im stripping him. I worry so much, and love my only child so much, I don’t know what to do to make him responsible for his own actions, like my dog or his car, Please help! Thank you, Scelest

  13. Onesopinion Report

    I don’t know what to say except I did the 2nd hardest thing I think I have ever done. I signed papers to file charges on whom I am 99.9 percent sure took money out with my debit card. I am totally at my wits end with him and he has left me no choice. I, like others have tried to help him time and time again and I only see his addiction getting worse. When you must steal to feed your addiction and not having any remorse is not acceptable. I should have done something soner. I thought when I left him in jail begging and crying that would help, but apparently not. This is killing me as I know he will be put in jail but to me at least I will know where he is and hopefully will not be doing all those pills that could kill him. I dont feel like I should have to watch it. A big part of me is dying as I have to do this but I have to stay strong for my other children…He is sucking the life out me. It breaks my heart knowing he was raised the same as the other children and choose such a different path. Lord please forgive me and please tell me I am doing the right thing!! I feel like this would help get him clean, gove him a HARD lesson and hope to choose a better road in life. Even if I lose him now…In years I hope he comes back, a healthier, happier grown man!

  14. Jan Report

    I understand your angst Kay, it is hard. My son has left and we don’t know where he is living, it has only been 3 days!..why do I feel like the bad guy?..tough love is hard on the parent.more than adult chldren will ever know. Hang in there, you have plenty of company.

  15. Jan Report

    I just found this website. This has been the worst week of my husbands’ and my life. Our 23 year old has been hiding his drinking and pot smoking from us for 6 yrs. On trash day, I was cleaning his trash out in his room and smelled a horrible little bag, got to thinking, talked with my husband and he confronted our son. He has been doing this since his college days!! Now I know why he lost his wonderful ride in college, (free scholarship,etc). He didn’t finish, moved in with us.
    Now, 14 /12 months later we find this out. What an actor my son is, and our life feels like a sham. Dad and I feel like we were emotionally raped by our son. My husband confronted him and we found this all out, we are devastated. Dad gave our son a choice, move out, or stay and get clean. Our son was out of this house in an hour!.
    We don’t drink, smoke and have always walked the Christian life to the best of our abilities, and Dad and I are so stunned we have had a horrible week.
    I appreciate so much reading all the comments here, as we don’t feel so alone anymore, but sre in shock, I can’t tell our friends, for breaking down like a bubbling mess. We changed our locks immediately, and Dad doens’t want to see him right now. He has no idea how much he has hurt us. He is an only child and he didn’t get everything, he just takes and takes in life. No Thanksgiving here.
    So sad, and we are trying to hold up the tough love which isn’t too hard. He lied to us. Kept this ‘addiction’ from us and has no remorse! How can this be my son? We are in agony,but are praying and holding each other up in prayer.
    thank you all so MUCH for your stories. It helps us cope a bit better, we aren’t alone.

  16. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    Hi Erika: It sounds like your daughter’s behavior is really taking a toll on you, both emotionally and physically. The answer here lies in your hands—she can only continue to live in your home, verbally abuse you, sleep all day and zone out in front of the TV screen as long as you let her. ADHD is no excuse for her behavior. I agree that your daughter probably does not want to leave but it’s time for you to set some limits, whether that means setting up a living agreement or calling the business line for your local police department and seeing what you need to do to get her out of your home. It might even help for you to get some support in your area, either by visiting your doctor and talking about the stress you are under, going to a local counselor or therapist for help in your decision, or consulting with a religious leader to name a few examples. Whatever you decide to do, be sure to “Say what you mean and mean what you say,” as James Lehman says. Stand by your decision or you will find yourself in the same place still. We wish you the best as you work through this. Take care, Erika.

  17. Erika Report

    Is there anyone who can throw me a raft because I feel like Im sinking in quicksand. I have an 18 yr old daughter who left school at start of senior year, finally just got her GED a year later. Had one job year and half ago for a month.She did great surprisingly. She was always late for school when she even got up to go. The job seemed to be good for her, I think being on a schedule, not so much free time. Shes a pot smoker and will be 19 in April and is doing Nothing. Applies for jobs online but follows up on none. Says she wants to take classes but expects me to send her to FLA school where her friends are when she couldnt even finish HS. Stays out all nite all the time. Verbally abusive, have to walk on egg shells. I did tell her I was going to lock her out because Im not living with abuse no more. My 20yr son is upset by her mouth all the time. Its turning my house into a house of horrors instead of a home. Yelling, cursing, I try to walk away and not engage but sometimes she is EXTREMELY hurtful. Its ripped my heart up. Im a single mom with NO help from their cop dad who I seem to be the target for with her anger. She refuses to go to counseling. Ive been a great mom, always been there. Ive offered to take her to look for jobs. She sleeps all day when she even comes home. I see Im going on and on here. My life has been turned upside down. Ive got no idea what to do anymore. Ive made myself sick trying to live in this. I dont think she wants to leave here becasue when i tell her to pack her bags and live elsewhere she stays. I think she has ADHD based on symptoms, talking to a friend with similar problems with her daughter. But she refuses counseling so my hands are tied. I miss my daughter. How long do you let this continue? Im alone in this with no support from family or the ex. Me and my son, thats it.Someone please help, any advice is appreciated.

  18. KAY Report

    Today is the first day I am handing our tough love. My husband has been wanting to do it for 1 year, but my mothers heart would not let me. I lost a son to cancer when he was 8: I do not want to bury another son. My son is a heroin addict. He does well, then relaspes, he does well, the relaspes. He has relasped once again. This time we offered him help with a local doctor, but he did not show for his appt,so as we told him, we will have no more contact with him. We are changing our locks and will not accept calls from him. It is going to kill me at night – when we are the lonliest. Please keep us in your prayers. This is going to be so hard.

  19. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    To Jeni: It can be so hard to watch our children making poor choices and giving up amazing opportunities that they worked hard for. Since your daughter is 18, you unfortunately cannot stop her from moving out and going to a community college if that is what she chooses to do. You are not required to provide her with any financial assistance to do this. In fact if you help her move out it could be seen as a reward—the message it sends is that you can act defiant and rude and your parents will pay for you to have your own apartment or give you their car. While your daughter will make her own choices about where she lives and where she goes to school that does not mean that she should not be held accountable to follow your rules if she is living at home. I am including some articles on setting limits with adult children for more information. It might be helpful for you and your husband to talk more about this and figure out what choices you are willing to support and what choices you won’t support, and what will this look like? Come up with a plan for how you will hold your daughter responsible for following your house rules while she is still at home and present it to your daughter. If she refuses to follow your rules, it is not unreasonable to ask her to find another place to stay for a few days while she thinks it over more. We wish you and your family luck as you continue to work through this.
    Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part I
    Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part II
    Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part III

  20. jeni Report

    My husband just found this website and it has been so insightful reading the articles and blogs. We have an 18yr old daughter who just graduated with honors from high school and got a very generous college scholarship last month. She got a good job for the summer and recently started hanging out with a friend who quit high school and has been through drug rehab already at 18. Things were fine a month ago. We were talking about stuff for her dorm, etc and now she has decided that she wants to move out and maybe go to local community college. Plus her behaviour here at home is disrespectful, uncaring, won’t pitch in, etc. I feel so torn on how to handle this. She, like others mentioned on this site, has so much potential and if she stays here in our little town she will be giving up so many opportunities. AND if she stays, how much help do we give her? She is a very smart girl and thinks she is already to go it on her own but she has a history of letting her friends influence her decisions and make some pretty bad choices. She is my first born and I just feel sick about what to do but my husband is right, her behaviour is not a good example for our other 3 kids. Please, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks and God bless.

  21. Patty Report

    I also have a 37 year old son who had an excellent job. He was addicted to Adderall among other things. I am divorced from an alcoholic who is living in Mexico because he has a bench warrant out for his arrest. My son just went through a dual diagnosis center but does not think he is addicted. He is now on his way to Mexico to live with his non-recovered alcoholic father.

    I have been through 30 years of my ex-husband’s addiction and 10 years of my son’s addiction. I will not spend one more minute (except the one I’m experiencing now for sanity’s sake) in thinking about their problems. I am tired. There is very little caring left in me. My choice is to keep the rest of my family and grandchildren and not let this splinter my remaining family. I love them deeply and a choice has to be made. I’m glad they’re in Mexico. The farther away the better. I have just retired. I can do nothing more for my son. I gave it my best. The only thing left, is love, if he needs that. It’s refreshing to get him out of my life as he has caused so much turmoil. There, I feel better. Life can be very good if you think about the things you are grateful for and take steps to reboot and start fresh.

  22. Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    Marcia: Thank you for your question. Helping your daughter set some goals is not considered enabling. In fact, you are more likely enabling her if you don’t help her set some goals and hold her accountable for meeting those goals. It’s best to work on one goal at a time though, especially with ADHD children. James wrote a great series of articles on how to set rules and limits with adult children living at home. I am including them here for your reference. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this.
    Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part I
    Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part II: In Response to Questions about Older Children Living at Home
    Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part III: Is It Ever Too Late to Set up a Living Agreement?

  23. Marcia Report

    I have an almost 21 year old daughter who I describe as “failure to launch”. She has ADHD and also has a slight learning disability and because of this, much enabling has occurred, but I also know that kids such as she are several years behind their peers in maturity. For instance, she is just now learning to drive. She doesn’t seem motivated to get a job, go back to school, or really to just grow up. We still give her an allowance if you can believe that, although she does earn it by keeping the house somewhat clean. I’d like to help her set some goals and then set a deadline, but am I once again playing the “enabling” game? She has two older sisters who made this transition quite easily, although they didn’t have the same roadblocks as she. Any advice?

  24. Kate Report

    Recently asked my 20 year son to leave. He had two years of college and not returned to school or working for nearly a year. I have enabled him and kept hoping he would pull himself up by the bootstraps and get a job or a direction in life other than chasing the music and concerts all summer long. Let his girlfriend life in our home for a short bit. Final straw too was coming home from my second job to find kitchen piled high with dishes and smoking pot on the front steps for a “night cap”. Not a good role model to his younger sisters. His great personality had me letting him coast for a long time. I am praying and repeating over and over, ” Let go and Let God” Peace

  25. Pat Report

    Today I finally got some back bone. My 22 year old unemployed son is moving out today. The last straw was when I went to bed early a few nights ago and he and his friend and girlfriend once again decided to disrespect me and smoke pot in my basement. I have told them over and over not to smoke pot in my basement. I am sick of coming home from work to a house that reeks like pot. He is verbally abusive towards me and I can’t take it anymore. I have a 17 year old daughter who is an honor student and she does not need to be around this either. I feel bad but I have to stay strong. Reading others letters on this website make me feel better and I know that I am not alone. I just hope he figures it out as I really worry.

  26. beth Report

    Decided to kick out my 20 yr old son after many battles and his not following rules.
    Kept bringing his girlfriend to the house and having her stay over night when I told him she was not allowed at the house, would not do his dishes,or help with chores around house, and then two of his friends came over and killed / attacked some of my pets. Now my son will not talk to the investigators because he does not want his friends to get in trouble. That was my breaking pt – working with the humane society and I hope they all end up with felony convictions. Took away his car, his gym membership, he’s out of the house – and I should have done this long ago.I should have kicked him sooner out when he would not help out around the house and was disrespectful. I am so sorry I waited so long to kick him out.

  27. Kim Report

    I too have a adult son whose poor decisions and daily pot use still manage to cause no end of problems. He has been intermittently dysfunctional for the past 10 years and unfortunately his father has enabled some of this behaviour by bailing him out. Finally though I think I have taken an emotional step back(call it self preservation)so that I can have some degree of peace. It is as they say impossible to change others behaviour; only the way in which we react to it! Health and happiness to all the battling parents out there just remember all deserve some peace in our lives and must endeavour to find it!

  28. Kathy Pride Report


    First, I will lift you guys up.

    Carole, thanks for filling in with the Al Anon resource. Love with detachment is so important… We so desperately want to believe…

    Our older son has been working, applied to finish his two college courses, has been living at home and helping, but we are all ready for him to leave when he returns to school…he filed his FAFSA form and will pay for all his expenses with his loan that we will not cosign for.

    We visited with his younger brother in OR last month, and for the moment he is clean. A relief. But a friend from home who uses and is a brewmaster just moved in with him, which concerns me. But I didn’t cause it and can’t control it, so I pray, keep the lines of communication open and hold firm and love him.

    Be well, and let us know how it goes.


  29. Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor Report

    This is a very difficult situation to endure alone. There is a resource for you that could give you tremendous support. It’s Al-Anon. Al-Anon is the best resource for techniques to use for family members of an active alcoholic or substance user. Alcoholism and drug use is a family disease and those who care most about the user, such as yourself, are affected the most. Al-Anon members learn an alternative way of interacting with the user in the family: detachment with love. This happens when family members admit that they did not cause their loved one’s substance use, nor can they control it or cure it, and they focus on taking care of themselves instead by changing the things that they can and letting go of the rest. The substance user is no longer shielded from the consequences of their own behavior and this, more than anything else, can help the user face the facts about their addiction and admit their need for help.

    To learn more about Al-Anon, call 1-888-425-2666 or go online to

  30. PAULA Report

    I didnt think my 36 year old drug addict daughter could fool me again but she just took more of my money pretending to be serious about rehab to save her relationship with her 8 yr old daughter from a destructive step father drug addict life style. She stayed less than one week and had him come get her, hasnt seen her daughter since. I was so mad & hurt I said no more dont call dont come around I am done! Now I just want to know she is alive & OK but I dont know whether to call or leave things alone. of course no money or help but one seems to lead to another. any advice? thanks

  31. Mary Jane S. Report

    I want to thank you again for helping me to be stronger with the tough love approach. You must have gone through so much with your son since he is 28 now. I hope I can be strong for as long as you have although I know you are probably worn out from it. Since my son is an only child it is hard not to worry sooooo much. He looks at me sometimes like I am an alien. He was diagnosed with ADD as an elementary school child and I think he has low self esteem because of it. I had to be very strict with him and school and now he is rebelling against this. How nice of you to listen and respond. Take care.
    Mary Jane

  32. Mary Jane S. Report

    Thanks Kathy. It is so hard to watch the self defeating behaviors of my son. The people up the street are the parents of my son’t “best” friend and they want to be friends to the kids. I despise them for not respecting my rules and for helping to ebable my son’s behaviors.
    Now that he is home I see that his behaviors have not changed. He goes from staying up all night, sleeping all day and playing warcraft with most of his free time. He does have a job waiting tables but is mostly late getting there, which doesn’t seem to matter to the restaurant so far. He lost his full scholarship and has wasted an entire year of college. When I ask him to stop going to school he says that he still wants to go there. It is like dealing with an insane person. I also know that to get money this past semester Jordan wrote papers for others and even did something shady to get about $40. He thinks “fun” is all there is and yet won’t listen to good advice from me. What makes a person so stubborn and foolish? Thanks.

  33. Kathy Pride Report

    Hi Mary Jane,

    I see so much of myself in your response; the wanting desperately to believe that somehow it will be different next time…but statistics are not in our favor when we continue to make insane decisions. Remember, the definition of insanity is repeating the same decisions over and over yet expecting different results. I hate to say this, but experience backs me up on this one: There is no real reason based on your son’s track record to indicate that this time will yield better results. If I were you, I would make him prove being able to be responsible for a car. Who is paying the insurance? Does he have a job? Why not just focus on working for awhile, forget school. He isn’t ready. We yanked our son out of school when he had had an abysmal semester and made him work for awhile. He just turned 28 and still is just shy of his degree.

    Why are the folks down the street putting him up? Are they friends of yours, or his peers? I doubt his ability to get up that early, work and manage school. Gambling is a nightmare; I know. And it is addictive behavior.

    Our son had a job interview yesterday, has been working one other very part time job and is making plans to take his last two courses. He has started to make wiser decisions, but all our household rules are being mediated by a counselor.

    Hold the line and be strong. Demand some positive performance first, otherwise you are simply rewarding his poor choices. It is the hardest thing you will do, but will pay off in the long run.

  34. Mary Jane S. Report

    Showing tough love to an adult child is so difficult but I guess necessary to really help them in the long run. I am at a sort of crossroads with this and am so stressed knowing that my son is incurring tremendous debt while having neighbors up the street who are willing to house him while he continues down a rocky path. He won;t listen to good advice and I have promised to release some of his savings from earlier childhood to buy him a car for his job. The problem is that he has blown this past semester at college. He is losing his scholarships and always repeating classes because he either drops them and never attends very many. He has been spiraling downward ever since he started gambling and uses so much time to play online poker. He is 19 and this has been going on for a few years now. I have tried to help him and now feel afraid to get him a car. I think that is the only reason he is moving home this summer. My fear is that he now has a lease on an apt. for a year starting in the fall, no scholarships, and has a bill at college for a summer class he probably won’t even get to because he is late for everything and will have to leave at 6am to get there while holding down a full time job near home. School is about a 45 minute drive through rush hour traffic. He has agreed to move home for the summer and I previously was so happy about this but since he withdrew from 3 out of 4 classes this past semester and is retaking the fourth I am not happy about the car thing. He says it is his money but that would only buy a clunker and what about car insurance costs? Any advice and thanks.

  35. Kathy Pride Report


    Thanks for your support and kind words. We continue to hold the line and allow for the counselor to advocate and mediate. We had another appointment yesterday, and our son’s summation of the visit was that it was basically worthless. I remarked that when we don’t like listening to the hard truth it is pretty easy to lash out. His brother, who has made more than his fair share of bonehead decisions actually said, “well, that’s good; it’s striking a raw nerve close to home, so I would actually take it as a good sign.” The pot calling the kettle black…

    We continued to discuss options, work, school, debt payoff, and general conditions for staying in our home. He will learn tomorrow if his old job will take him back, and in the meantime got a response from a job he applied to to go and interview. It would be house painting but guarantees forty hours a week as opposed to 25-32 or so and at a rate $2 more per hour… Time will tell.

    And will also reveal what he decides to do about finishing up school.

    Yes, it is hard, but becomes a bit easier every day as we stick to our guns and get a pretty clear picture of where enabling excuses would lead.

    OK, now I am going to bed; I am exhausted. Peace.

  36. GAP Report

    I can so relate. My kids are hooked on the online gambling and my teen son overdrew on his debit card to play and incurred hefty overdraft charges consequently. He also owes his cell phone provider overdue payments. I am trying to help sort out his finances and took away his debit card. He has been ok with this but continues to make poor decisions. That being said, I don’t think young adults reach a stage of good judgement until close to the mid-20s (according to scientific studies). God help us all!

  37. Susan Engel Report

    P.S. I just re-read my post and wanted to add that I am in NO WAY implying that you are enabling your child. Quite the contrary, my dear! Quite the contrary.

    Just wanted to make that point. 😉

    ~ Susan

  38. Susan Engel Report

    Oh … my … goodness. *heavy sigh* My heart is SO heavy for you, Kathy, as well as all of the parents who have posted about this challenging … no, let’s not sugar-coat it … this PAINFUL decision. My kids are still young yet (almost 7 and 10), but the tweenage years are right around the corner …
    The scary thing for me is to recall what I was like as a teen and young adult. I was one of those kids who managed to get through high school and college, but struggled with chemical dependency (although I didn’t acknowledge it at the time). I KNOW that I put my poor parents through heck when I engaged in some less-that-stellar choices. And today, I cringe when I think that I may be the one on the receiving end of my own behavior in the form of my kids. Who knows? It’s possible. They’ve got the genes for it, unfortunately.
    Okay, enough about me (blush). While I don’t have any sage advice, I can totally support your decision to hold the line, as tough (<- understatement!) as it is. And it sounds like you’re doing that so … good for you!!! *high fives!* Folks who don’t have kids or who haven’t faced this situation with a loved one cannot possibly understand the whirlwind of emotions that assault you when it comes to this issue. So I say: Keep up the good work, Kathy!!!! And here are a few extra {{{{ hugs }}}}, too. 😉
    BTW, for what it’s worth, it’s important to emphasize that, as painful as it is, enabling the behavior of an addict/alcoholic/ragaholic is only furthering the behavior. Enabling frequently masks as “love” and can be difficult to distinguish. However, barring immediate death, allowing the person to experience the consequences of his/her own behavior just may be the “bottom” that they need to hit in order to turn their life around (as one who speaketh from experience). As a caring, loving parent, it’s one of THE most difficult choices to make. Ever.
    Again, my heart goes out to all of you experiencing this painful situation! Bless your hearts.
    I would love to hear how this all turns out in the end …

  39. Rhonda Report

    I understand where you are coming from & know this is hard. My problem is a bit harder. My daughter is on a downward spiral & has for the last 10 years. We have not bailed her out but have taken her children so they can have a safe stable life. We have raised her 3 boys (now all teenagers) with no help from her or her ex husband emotionally or financially. She stays at our home when the mood strikes her to be near her children. She has a daughter who is younger but no idea who the father is, a whole different story. She disappears for days with no contact but will not let us have custody of her daughter. We have temporary custody of the boys. When we confront her she acts like we are the ones to blame for her life being bad. We have never done anything to help her. She threatens to take our granddaughter which scares me. She has left her with anyone who would allow her to since the child was born. At the present we have all the grandchildren living here where we know where they are. As grandparents we have no rights & if she chose she could remove her daughter & we would never see her. I know she is into drugs & drinks a lot but can’t find any help for her or us. She is also stealing from us or just gives our stuff away. When we ask about it she acts like she has no clue what we are talking about.
    I have enjoyed the articles here & they have helped a lot with the grandchildren. Sure wish I had something like this when my children were younger.

  40. Brenda Fox Report

    Keep strong with your Husband and family that is still with you.
    You have to stand up for what you believe. We as parents have to make such hurtful decisions. The kids will never know like we didn’t until they are parents.
    God Bless You.

  41. Nigel Lane Report

    Your children will always be your babies no matter how big they get, which is why it can sometimes be so difficult for parents to give tough love to children even when that is the best strategy. To learn more effective child-rearing tips, you should definitely pay a visit to this website:

  42. Tammy Report

    My daughter is traveling down the same road. She was kicked out of school for verbally assaulting her teachers. She will not graduate with her friends, she has lost her job, her car insurance and her license. She will be 18 in a few months and the line has been drawn as to what will be acceptable now and when she becomes “an adult”. It is the hardest thing I have ever had to do – but she is tearing our family apart. I pray each and every day that today is the day that my daughter breaks free and returns to us.

  43. Veronica Report

    We are going through a similar experience with our 18 year old son, only in our case the courts and possible jail time are involved. It’s very hard to watch him continue to make poor decisions. Telling him he couldn’t live here rent free if he chose to continue to drink and use was one of the hardest things my husband and I have had to do.

    Hang in there. No matter what he says, I believe he knows how much you love him. God willing, he’ll find his way soon.

  44. Kathy Pride Report

    Greetings friends and fellow sojourners on this parenting journey…

    First, I thankfully can say I don’t feel guilty. That just doesn’t get us anywhere except back into the muck of murky grey waters.

    Our decision did get our son’s attention, and although he did not speak to us, it was only for a couple of days. He followed through on recommendations to set up follow up appointments with the counselor he has had a relationship with and invited me to participate in the session.

    We will return this next Wednesday.

    We are holding the line and will determine with the assistance and guidance of the counselor what we will and will not support. The counselor recommended thirty days of inpatient treatment, which also got our son’s attention. That night he made a decision to talk to the people in charge of his old job and is awaiting their decision about whether or not he can go back, and if he is invited back it will be with mandatory counseling and drug testing. Which will be a good thing.

    We are proceeding cautiously and making sure our yes is yes, and no is no, and is spoken in unison. SOOOOO important.

    We have not contributed towards his bills and will work out, again, through the counselor, acceptable terms for him to live at home, a modest amount of rent which will be affordable as long as they take him back. If they don’t take him back, he will have more figuring out to do, but we are not getting too far ahead of ourselves.

    His brother, who spent a bit of time living in his car has started going to D&A counseling, mandated by the courts as a result of a DUI, and is going to AA. And has a job that will start shortly.

    I have learned to also accept the small things as tremendous gifts, and simply not get too excited one way or the other; blown away by the successes, or devastated by the slides…

    We are learning much that will change the course of parenting we take with our daughters as a result of these experiences. Oh my, how they will not, but should, thank their older brothers!

    Cindy, can you point us in the direction of any of those peer run programs?

    Blessings, Kathy

  45. Singlemom Report

    Do not back up now, keep your chin high and you will win it, just take the responsibility to make it right from the day today, And do not let your self blame you or trape you in guilt, insted feel the pride that you can do it as a life project and it will get better because i know parent knows hhow to put their hreat in the projects related to their children sometimes they need only skills and this link to empowering parents is all about us.
    So chin up and do it as a guardian proyector and warriors do it.

  46. cswartz40 Report

    Good for you and your husband. I work as a family crisis counselor and while I know your decision did not come easy, it was a good decision.

    Don’t feel guilty. Stick to your guns and don’t bail him out. Give him love and support. But, allow him to work out his problems. There are some great programs out there for recovery that provides individuals a place to live, support for recovery, training, and employment. They are usually peer own and operated and self-sustaining.

    As parents we don’t want our children to struggle and suffer, but we have to learn to “let go”. (and do a lot of praying.)


  47. Philip Report

    This doesn’t sound fun. Showing love, even tough love is better for your son then enabling his spiral. We have not experienced this with our kids but we have friends who have. Often time things have to get a lot worse before they get better, but they can get better, and usually do.

    Don’t back down, you are doing the right thing!



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