Dear Family Advisor

My adult son, who's supposed to be helping me with his dad's care, is a mooch!

Last updated:

September 26, 2009

Our adult son lives with us and is supposed to help me care for his dad, who's wheelchair bound. I hate to say it, but our son is mooching off of us. His two sisters pay him to help care for their dad, and he lives with us for free -- room and board. He drinks so much that some nights he just passes out on the floor. When I try to get him to help me get his dad bathed and dressed, he won't get up.

He says I do too much for his dad, but it's not his place to decide that. Whenever his sisters come over, he's all of a sudden helpful, and so they insist that the little he does is still useful. I'd rather he move out. It's one more thing for me to worry about. Shouldn't I be the one to decide if we need help?

Yes, you have the right to choose what kind of help you and your husband need. While I highly advocate family care and participation, sometimes our families just don't "hear" us. They love us, but they try to "fix" our situations with the easiest and quickest solutions -- which aren't always the best.

Your son doesn't sound like he's at a place in his life where he can be there for you; in fact, letting him live there may not be good for him, since it allows him to avoid facing realities, like rent. And his well-intentioned sisters don't yet "get" this.

If it makes you feel any better, you're not alone. A lot of families "throw" another relative (a son, a niece, a grandchild) into the caregiving pot, thinking that will be helpful. The relative gets free room and board, you supposedly get some assistance -- and everyone else gets to not worry any more. Sadly, this seldom works unless the relative is genuinely committed to caregiving.

Sounds like you're too frustrated and emotionally exhausted to try to make this work. And if your son has a problem with alcohol, then you really do have more of an issue on your hands than you can manage right now. Talk with your daughters. Be honest. Tell them that you feel they're pushing off yet another problem onto you -- and that it's not working for you.

Although many young people overindulge in alcohol occasionally, passing out is a bad sign. He could be an alcoholic. Show his sisters the beer or liquor bottles and describe his behavior. If they make excuses for him, tell them that they can move him into their homes and try to "fix" him there. Tell them that the best way they could help you and their dad is to help get their brother headed in a healthy direction. Al-anon has many great resources to help you help a loved one deal with an addiction.

Getting him out of your house may be a challenge. Give him a 30- or 60-day notice, and set a firm date. Dates say you mean business. Try to get at least one of your daughters to help convince her brother to "move on down the road."

At the same time, I urge you to think about what kind of help from sources other than your son would actually help you. It's not being brave or self-sufficient to try to do it all alone. While I respect the fact that you don't want your privacy invaded, men are typically larger and heavier than women and far too many of us strain our backs and knees trying to care for them.

Make a "dream list" of the help you'd dearly love -- bathing your husband or getting him to and from the doctor's, for instance, or home chores and repairs. Then start making calls. Good places to start: your local elder-affairs office, senior centers, hospice organizations, and local disabilities organizations. There are amazing services families often aren't aware of -- many free, subsidized, or low-cost. Your insurance or other agencies may be able to help with a hospital bed and other medical aids that can make caring for a person with a disability easier and safer.

In many ways, it's better that you stay in charge of your own life as long as you can. You know intimately what you and your husband need and how someone can best assist you without taking over or disturbing the peace of your home. The more you can set in motion now, the easier it will be later down the road.

Finally, don't write off your children. They might not fully understand what you need, and they might be too wrapped up in their own lives to work with you to solve the situation. Nonetheless, try to appreciate them even if they aren't the world's best caregivers. Families are complicated, to say the least. All we can do is try to find ways to love our children and accept the good in them, even if we have to love them from a distance.