The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Should I toss my useless adult son out of my house?

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner: Here’s a question from Bertram. “Hi Dr. Kenner. Kevin, my 27-year-old son, lost his job and moved back home with us. My wife and my 18-year-old. He’d been living with a friend Tom, but Tom was sick of Kevin sponging off of him and told him to leave. Kevin, with just a high school diploma, acts like a know it all. He’s had three different jobs but he lost them all and he makes up excuses as to why others won’t hire him. He is in denial and he won’t help himself. And he won’t take any fatherly advice on how possibly to get a job. He may be depressed. Should I throw him out? He would have to live on the streets. The rest of the family has had enough! Bertram.” 


You can see there, Bertram, that you’re at wits end. The fact that you’re considering it means that you are judging Kevin, your 27-year-old grown son, as someone who could do much more for himself than he’s doing. As a parent, you want to have empathy for yourself. It’s absolutely maddening and it’s saddening to watch a grown child self-destruct. Now, assuming you didn’t play a major role in it, you weren’t an abusive parent and whatnot, you can reach out to him. But if he bites your hand when you offer him your advice, you are properly entitled to withdraw your hand. And he can suffer the consequences. He would have to live on the streets? Or put his life back together? That’s his choice. He’s 27-years-old and he has found three jobs before. He does need to search again. If he won’t work with you to help him help himself, or work on his own, then you could give him a heads up, that your doors are open provisionally. Only if he makes better choices. And there’s a wonderful book, basically geared toward kids who are younger than that, but it helps parents see how it’s important to hold kids accountable. It’s the book Before It’s Too Late, by Stanton Samenow. It’s at my website,


One question that tortures most parents in your situation, how much of 27-year-old Kevin’s situation is in his control? For example, let’s say he couldn’t work because he was a quadriplegic. Then you may warmly welcome him into your home, provided he’s properly appreciative of your help. But even in that situation, some quadriplegics choose to be gainfully employed. Can he get off on the charge, “I’m depressed. It’s a biological situation. It’s a disease that I can’t help. I can’t change it.” No. The emotion of depression or sadness is due to loss. Now, what’s the deepest loss that any of us can suffer? We’ve all felt moments of this. Loss of self-respect. If Kevin is not doing for himself what he knows he can do and ought to do, he will feel on some level self-contempt. And he will feel envious toward anyone who is making healthier choices. He’s not going to be a happy camper and he’s not going to be happy camper to live around either. He may make it even worse by blaming others for what he knows to be his own failures. On some level, he’ll know that he’s blaming others unfairly. 


So observe your son’s choice making. Is he focused or evasive? You’ve already answered that. He won’t take advice. He makes excuses. He won’t help himself. And he’s refusing to face his problems. Well, then the question is, why should you, as his dad, work harder for his life and happiness than he does? You could have what’s called a learning conversation with him. First, listen to him very carefully if he’s willing to open up, rather than berating him. What do you know about him? Are there any facts that would change your evaluation of your son, for better or for worse? For example, maybe he served in the military and he’s under a lot of combat stress, although you don’t mention that. Maybe he’s got guilt from something he did. Maybe he’s had a history of self sexual abuse that he’s never told you about. Maybe he’s been involved with drugs or he’s been a drug dealer. I mean, all of this would change your evaluation for better or for worse. Are his troubles, in essence, earned or unearned? It matters a lot. It’s a justice issue. You can also ask yourself, is there anyone in the family that connects with him a bit and is a healthier family member or maybe a friend, that could go up to Kevin and say, “Hey bud. Why are you screwing up your life? Why don’t you get a hold of yourself? I remember as a kid how energetic you were. I would love to see you move a bit in that direction.” There may be somebody who can just connect and make a difference. It may be a long shot.


One really important point in considering what to do about your son, do you throw him on the streets, you matter! It is not fair to the more productive and reasonable members of your family to saddle them with you son’s negativity on a daily basis. You’re under the same roof, and what kind of a role model is Kevin for your younger son, your 18-year-old? There are circumstances under which you help someone. Number one, when they have a problem through no fault of their own or when they honestly admit fault and they genuinely work to improve themselves. Number two, when it’s short-lived. You’re helping them get back on their feet, maybe after a house fire. Number three, they’re genuinely appreciative of you, not entitled. They don’t have that entitlement attitude. Number four, when it’s not a sacrifice on your part. When you’re not denying your own child something, the better child something. Number five, when they want to pay you back. Not to just get something for nothing. Again, that entitlement issue.


I’m Dr. Ellen Kenner and the show is The Rational Basis of Happiness. That means you want to learn how to use your mind better. How to improve your thinking so that you don’t suffer with needless pain, needless emotional pain, depression, guilt, anxiety. Of course it doesn't get rid of those feelings, it just helps you not intensify them, not catastrophize a bad situation and pretend in your mind that it’s a horrific and hopeless one. It also helps you understand where those emotions come from when you learn the thinking skills. For example, anxiety comes from uncertainty or self-doubt. Sadness comes from loss. Anger comes from the feeling “it’s not fair.” And get clarity on what’s causing the emotions and then you can come up with some solutions to solve those problems. Use some other thinking skills.