My son is 35, lives in a house that I have bought him, drives a car (one of many) that I bought him and I pay all his bills. I even shop for food for him. I’m 55 and started to work part-time after redundancy. I have to dip into my pension pot to support him. He works almost full-time but spends all his money on alcohol and cannabis.

I know that I have been an enabler, but how can I realistically get out of it? I struggle when he pressures me for money. He turns it into it being about anxiety and depression, and that he can’t cope without it. It’s so hard. I’m quite a strong person so it isn’t that he is abusing me financially, but then in a way I suppose he is. His dad has been out of his life since he was 12 and he lives alone. What can I do?

Eleanor says: It’s so hard to be frustrated with a problem when we feel we’ve played a part in it. I’m sure there are friends or family who you no longer discuss this with, because they simply say “cut him off” and become more frustrated with you than they are with him. That’s not helpful. Don’t blame yourself for having an overpowering urge to make life better for your child.

I think one thing that could help is noticing that you and your son likely have totally different experiences of how powerful he is. It’s not unlikely that he feels totally powerless – to substances, to mental health, to financial circumstance. Yet you experience him as being one of the most powerful forces in your life. He is agenda-setting, attention-consuming and irresistible when he tells you what he needs.

This is one of the big problems with trying to help people who are in a slump; they experience themselves as unable to influence anything, and we experience them as hugely influential. It’s hard not to fall into a cycle of mutual resentment here – each of us loathing that the other can’t see what we experience as so obviously true.

That’s why, if he does not already have it, I think you could insist on professional help. If he is in a financial black hole because of alcohol and marijuana, if at 35 he tells his mother that he can’t cope without her money, these are problems that professionals should deal with and mothers should not (and often cannot).

An interim compromise might be for you to financially help out with therapy, and only therapy. That way the “I can’t cope without it” style of request gets met with “let’s both work really hard to make sure you do have ways of coping”. You should both be prepared for the possibility of having to try a few different styles of therapy – and if he already has a therapist, it might be time to try something new.

I know very well how deep the swamps of anxiety and depression can be, and how easy it is to decide that they’re warm and soft enough that you’d rather stay in them. He may hate you for doing something that temporarily increases his discomfort, which therapy will, and which taking away your financial support will.

But you can do these things in a way which feels loving instead of punitive. You can remind him that both of you should revolt at the thought of him being so sad. You can say that even if he has lost hope in an independent flourishing life, you haven’t. You can say you will do whatever you can to rekindle that hope in him.

But if he fights you on the money, you can speak to him with calm removal from the mother-son dynamic; you can ask him what he would think of a friend who wanted to spend his mother’s pension when he was 15 years older than his mother was when she first started caring for him.

You want your son to have a good life. This is laudable. But it’s time for him to know what you already do: that having a good life doesn’t mean you’re the one who should give it to him.


Ask us a question

Do you have a conflict, crossroads or dilemma you need help with? Eleanor Gordon-Smith will help you think through life’s questions and puzzles, big and small. Questions can be anonymous.

If you’re having trouble using the form, click here. Read terms of service here.