I have two sons who are eighteen and twenty years old…. Their father died nine months ago from a brain tumor…. [During that time,] I had to leave home to work in order to make ends meet, and I lost control of them…. Both refuse to help with any housework, and my health is not good enough to do everything by myself.

My older son already has a job, but he gives me very little to cover his living arrangement. I have to pay for everything. My younger son is a very good student, but he is following his brother’s example, behaving very badly…. I’m tired of fighting with him….

It occurs to me that I could take off and leave them alone in the house so they have to handle things themselves and I keep from getting sick. What do you suggest?

Dear Friend,

We are so very sorry to hear about your husband’s death only nine short months ago! You have not had adequate time to grieve, and that may be negatively affecting your health. Certainly the constant arguments with your sons is not helping you to grieve in a healthy way nor to care for yourself as you need to.

Unfortunately, as in almost every case, the inappropriate behavior of the children began long before they became adults. In your case, your husband’s illness and death probably made it difficult for you to take the time to enforce any rules or discipline. And because their father was so sick, you probably excused your sons’ bad behavior because they were grieving too. We imagine that even though your sons do not currently cooperate in the household, you continue to cook for them and possibly even launder their clothing. By taking care of their needs, you are allowing them to treat you any way that they want.

As mothers, we have the tendency to feel guilty when we don’t meet all of our children’s needs. We put their care before our own, and we often sacrifice time, finances, and even our health to get them to adulthood. But once they are adults, if they want the privileges of adulthood without the responsibilities, their parents are forced to find ways to make them grow up.

As we have said to other parents, the ultimate control you have is financial. Are you paying for your sons’ school, clothes and food? It would be wise for you to set up a system so that you only contribute financially when they have cooperated in the household. If they forget to do their part, then you have every reason and right to withhold finances. But do not say that you are going to do it unless you are willing to follow through. Not doing what you say or threaten will only make your problem worse.

We recommend that you find the way to take advantage of any opportunity to be in a peaceful environment. On your days off, go wherever you can, and let your sons fend for themselves. However, don’t tell them when you will be back. It’s best for them to expect you to return at any moment.

We wish you well,