Dear Family Advisor

My mother is giving my adult son money behind my back, and I think he's using it to buy pot!

Last updated: Aug 02, 2011


My adult son has my mother wrapped around his finger. She adores him, even though he's quit every job he's ever had within six months, has completely ruined his credit, and mooches off his friends and sleeps on their couches. I kicked him out last year and told him I'd had enough, which is when he started going behind my back and kissing up to my mother.

My mother is disabled and lives with me. He only comes around when I'm at work. I found out she's been giving him close to $100 a week out of her disability checks. I'm livid! I'm pretty sure he's using it to buy pot. My mother is starved for attention, but I need to stop this.

I'm not sure I'd try to convince your son of anything -- and he isn't the only one to blame here. Your mom needs the attention he gives her, and that makes her vulnerable -- and, perhaps, in some ways culpable. Look deeper, past the money issue, to find out what both of them are gaining and losing from this situation.

If your mom is of sound mind, then it's time to confront both of them. Just say it like it is. "Do you realize that you're giving my son X dollars a month, and he's not working and probably not using that money in good ways? Why are you doing this?"

Then listen. She'll hem and haw, squirm and avoid -- and your son will do the same, along with denying and probably getting pretty darn mad. In the midst of all this noise will likely be a few grains of truth. They're both doing what they're doing because they're both getting something out of it. And because no one has said anything about it so far, it's continuing. So talk about it.

Your mom is lonely, and your son probably sweet-talks her. If she's starved for attention, are there healthier ways for her to get it? Can she go to an adult daycare a few days a week, for a few hours at a time? Most offer services on a sliding scale, and many offer transportation. Does your church or senior center offer gatherings where your mom can make friends and connections?

Another possibility is that your son intimidates her -- have you been able to observe their relationship to see what tactics he's using? Does she feel bullied? Is she afraid she'll lose him, that he won't come around unless she gives him money? Until you get at what is underneath the money, at what's driving them both, you won't have the insight you need to help either of them.

One thing you can do is to insist that if your son takes this money, then he has to earn it in some way. He could take your mom to her doctor's appointments, cut the grass or do home repairs, do her laundry. Give him the message that adults earn money; they don't just take it.

On the practical side, do all you can to keep him from accessing her accounts. Some people are takers, and no matter what you say or do, they'll find ways to manipulate others. So check with an elder law attorney to find out what you can do to make sure your mother's money is safe.

You may have to admit to yourself that you, too, play a role in all this. Maybe you've thought your mom could just sit at home all day and be content. Maybe your boundaries with your son have grown lax. Be honest with yourself about how you may have contributed to this situation. I'm not saying, "bad caregiver." I know you're exhausted, overworked, and stressed in multiple ways. I know you can't possibly imagine how to add one more thing to your plate. But if you don't address this in some way, it will only get worse.

Make a plan. Confront the situation. Decide on some clear-cut changes, and start with the most important ones first. Protect your mother's finances and your own. Employ a bit of tough love when it comes to your son, and be consistent. Even one or two changes can make a big difference.

And if your son is an addict (addicted to money or drugs), then know that his reasoning isn't sound and you'll have to be extra-vigilant to protect your home, your mom, and your finances from him.

You need to figure out how the three of you got where you are -- and how you can make some lasting and healthy changes for everyone's good.