I have two sons, ages eighteen and sixteen, from my first marriage…. Both their father and their stepfather see only their shortcomings…. As a result, I have wanted to give them all the things that I never had—love, friendship, respect, and material possessions—, but I believe that I made a mistake with my oldest son. I’m afraid that I’ve created a monster: someone who doesn’t want to help, stays angry, and likes to throw money away. And I don’t think I can discipline him.

He has a good attitude most of the time, but I have the suspicion that he has been taking money without permission (I don’t want to accuse him of stealing). I don’t know how to bring up that subject. I don’t know how to confront him with love and wisdom. Please help me!… At times I’m afraid he might kill himself, and that scares me…

Dear Friend,

Believe it or not, I know exactly how you feel. The children that we adopted in their pre-adolescent years gave us many problems, and eventually our son stole from us, stole from others, and once even stole our car to run away with his girlfriend. (The police caught them several days later.) In addition, he tried to kill himself three times, so I was constantly afraid to accuse him of things, just in case he hadn’t really done those things. Even though he complied with our discipline in the home most of the time, and he was always respectful, we now know that he was involved in drugs and gangs as well.

We took him for counseling, and he was hospitalized after one of his suicide attempts. But the abuse and neglect that he suffered in his early childhood left its mark on him, and even a loving home and consistent discipline were not enough to make up for his past.

Before our son was eighteen, we did everything in our power to help him. However, at eighteen years old it was his choice to decide to follow our rules or to leave our home and make it on his own. When he continued to break our rules, we asked him to move out. At that point we knew that there was a risk that he would kill himself or embark upon a life of crime. But as an adult, we knew that he had to begin to take the consequences for his own actions. (Parents who continue to “protect” their adult children are doing more harm than good.)

As for your son, I suggest that you write a list of house rules and put them on the wall or the refrigerator. Include the consequences that will apply when the rules are broken. And include the consequence of moving out of the house for multiple infractions of the rules. Ask your son to sign the rules, indicating that he will follow them, and when he doesn’t obey them, make sure that the respective consequence always follows.

To prevent the robberies in our home, we had to put a lock on our bedroom door with a key. We suggest that you do the same. When asked why, you can say that you have discovered that things are missing, and you are preventing it from happening again. Make sure you keep all money and valuables locked up. I agree that you should not have to live like that; but in this case, it is your best option.

Our son did go through some bad years after we asked him to move out, but eventually he learned his lesson and started making good decisions. Today he is a very successful professional, and we are very proud of him.

Only God can give you the wisdom you need to deal with this situation. Ask Him every day to open your eyes and help you see how to act and react. He will be your help and strength if you depend upon Him.

I wish you well,