Is it surprising he's never grown up?: Dilemmas

This week's problem: Cordelia, a single mother, lives with her charming , laid-back, 25-year-old son. She works, he doesn't. He only occasionally contributes from his giro, and she takes the phone to work so he can't make calls behind her back. Now she wants to get rid of him.
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At first glance it looks like horsewhip time. What's a fit young man doing, for God's sake, lounging around at home while his poor mother is working her fingers to the bone? On yer bike! Get out and stand on your own two feet! Quick march! But there's more to this dilemma than meets the eye. And my particular horsewhip strays more in the direction of Cordelia than her son. She's so busy complaining about his job - or lack of it - that she's forgotten all about her own job, of bringing the boy up to havea sense of personal responsibility, so that she can trust him enough not to rip her off behind her back.

She's produced a charmer - and a monster. It could be that when he was young, she selfishly encouraged his dependence on her. But now he's a young man and outgrown that role, she can't expect him to change overnight into a responsible male without ever having taught him how to become one. She's treating him no better than a puppy who, once an adult dog, outgrows its cuddly appeal. I'm surprised she doesn't drive him out to the motorway and fling him out on to the hard shoulder.

She should have already taught him how to survive on his own, but because she loves him, not because she suddenly feels resentful and wants the flat to herself. But it's not too late. She must hammer out an agreement with him that he won't use the phone behind her back, that he'll make regular financial contributions, that he'll do a certain number of chores while she's at work, like cooking and shopping. The more responsibility he's given, the more responsible he'll become. And she must make it clear that he only stays on condition that he earns something, even if it's New Age candle-making or printing T-shirts to sell at markets. If he's encouraged, flattered, threatened into becoming more self-sufficient while still living with her, it would be mucheasier for him to move out in the end.

Chucking the lad into the street, which she's probably legally entitled to do, would do nothing except shift the resentment she feels for him into resentment that he would feel for her.

Of course, Cordelia could wait till next year, when unemployment benefit will be replaced by something called the Job Seekers' Allowance, involving a much more stringent regime than exists at present and will mean her son has to look for work far more actively than it appears he's doing at present. Because yes, he should, of course, start looking for ways of supporting himself.

But Cordelia should also start, rather late in the day, the proper job of mothering that she's so long neglected.

The stop-at-home son: The stresses involved with getting on with your parents are enormous. How do you think I feel being a 32-year-old man living in my parents' house and being financially supported by them? In a word, vulnerable.

Essentially, I have to live as my parents want me to live. Doing full-time voluntary work and helping hundreds of people means very little to them. They would rather I did any paid job. The question of my happiness or my needs never enters the debate. All that matters is that I conform to their values. The choice is simple. Stay or go.

Yet the complexity of my problems means that they will take time to sort out: for example, suitable accommodation, suitable work, suitable friendships.

All these are difficult issues which need to be tackled in a confused environment which has done absolutely nothing to develop them. The onus is entirely on me.

Anonymous, Wiltshire The cruel-to-be-kind mother: Cordelia's dilemma almost exactly parallels mine, from which I have just extricated myself. The difference is that I am 75 and my son is 41. I hope my case will save her the years of grief and expense I have had. Quite simply, after giving my son lots of warning, I moved and left no forwarding address.

This is not easy and entails co-operation of family and friends but, believe me, it is worth it for us both. He knows he has my love and support. I visit him and write, and when he has become self-reliant, he will be able to visit me, as do his siblings,by first phoning to see if it is convenient.

I have done all I can for him. He is an adult and must have the satisfaction of being responsible for himself if he is to gain any sort of self-respect. I feel as if a great weight has been removed, to say nothing of a very great financial improvement, especially in phone and car charges.

I urge you to take the plunge and give him one final and irrevocable push towards growing up.

Joan Smith, Surrey The tough adviser: Good grief! Your 25-year-old son isn't a little boy any more. He is a fully grown man who should by now be taking full responsibility of his own life.

You should not feel ashamed of yourself, but ashamed of him, lovely, laid-back, charming and unmaterialistic as he may be. But you could also add unprincipled, lazy and selfish, too.

Give him a serious ultimatum - either he gets a job and starts paying, or you will begin eviction proceedings. Then you can watch him "chill out".

Michelle, Hampshire The cunning plotter: There is a way to have your son move out on his own volition.

Your solution lies, ironically, in having another tenant in your flat to live with you and your son.

What you should do is tell your son that you are going to advertise to let a single room because you need the money to cover expenses. (He will probably find this acceptable because it means you will have more money to spend on him, so he thinks.)

He will find, however, that the new tenant is not so appealing. Knowing your son better than I do, you need to find the type who would be guaranteed to drive him out of the flat.

You may consider renting to (I mean no intentional disrespect) a vegetarian Jehovah's Witness who works from home as an insurance salesman. After spending time with him day in and day out, your son will be leaving home in a matter of days.

Robert Ferrari, Bath NEXT WEEK'S DILEMMA: Dear Virginia,

Our son is three and a half and at nursery school. The only good primary school near us is run by the Church of England - all our friends' children attend it - so we have put him down for that. The problem is that one of the conditions for his getting a place is our attending church every Sunday. One or other of us has to be there - and as people with no religion whatsoever (we could hardly call ourselves atheists or even agnostics) we find ourselves in an extremely difficult position. Should we be going through this complete charade every Sunday for the sake of our son's education? Every other Sunday, when I go (my husband attends the other Sundays) I feel a complete hypocrite. But on the other hand, we can't afford private education and all the otherschools near us are unspeakable. Have any other readers been through a similar crisis of conscience?

Yours sincerely, Patrice

All comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate. Please send your comments and suggestions to me at the Features Department, the Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB; fax 0171-293 2182, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own that you would like to share with readers, let me know.

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