THE BLOG
01/03/2007 11:56 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Ill Equipped: Who Isn't?i

Jennifer Lehr answers your questions about sex, love, and relationships every week on Fearless Voices. To send her a question, email jennifer@jenniferlehr.com.

Dear Jennifer,

I'm in my sixties. My son is in his late thirties. Over the years I've
tried to give him his space and not be so opinionated about his life
while trying to be supportive. Part of this support is financial. He's
a smart kid with some definite talents but he has yet to excel and
can't seem to make ends meet.

A number of years ago I made the down payment for an inexpensive
2-bedroom condo. Unfortunately in the past couple of years, he hasn't
been able to keep a roommate and can't make the payments. Because the
property is in my name and I don't want to default on the loan, I help
him out every month. But it is definitely putting a strain on my life.
I have to work part-time to help him out. I'm on my feet all day even
though I have a bad ankle and knee and I'm just getting to old for it.
One doctor has even recommended surgery. Another said it isn't
necessary. I'm sure my son isn't totally aware of my situation as I do
live in a nice house, though it has long since been paid off. I love
living there and don't want to have to sell it. At the same time, he
know that I'm working to help him and I wish that that was enough to
make him want to get it together.

He does have job right now, however hasn't really settled into a
career. It just seems that he doesn't have a stick-to-it personality.
But I don't want my son to feel abandoned. His father, my ex-husband,
really isn't there for him at all. He has very little family and no
other consistent emotional support and I just can't bare for him to
feel left alone. What to do?

Thank you in advance for reading my letter. I hope you can be of some
help.

Cynthia,

Cynthia,

You have been treating your adult-child like a child-child for way too
long. It makes me wonder if you are suffering from some guilt over
something and feel you "owe" your son. While it is obviously very hard
for you to cut him off for fear that he'll feel unloved, you are really
just MAKING MATTERS WORSE. You are. You want to help. You're working
your ass off. And what are you really doing? I'll say it again. MAKING
MATTERS WORSE. You are. My god this has been going on way, way too
long.

While your son might feel badly that you're working to help him, that
guilt clearly isn't enough to get him off of his caboose. If he didn't
have you to help with the mortgage, he would be forced to figure out a
way to pay for it himself. Or lose the condo. That's what happens in
the world, if you can't pay for it, you don't get it. If you cut him
off, he just might build some of qualities that he is apparently
lacking: chutzpah, resourcefulness, and drive which result in
confidence and self-esteem. YOU ARE DEPRIVING HIM OF THESE.

You have to let your child experience life. You need a plan.
You have to make the transition as impersonal as possible. Do NOT talk
about this on the phone. At least at first. A letter will work best
because the info will be in black and white and he won't be able to
make you feel bad or you won't have to hear his initial shock or pain.
I am going to go ahead and write a sample to show you what I mean. Of
course amend as you see fit, but DO WRITE IT AND SEND IT.

Honey,

As I'm nearing 70, I've been taking a look at my health and my
finances. Unfortunately neither are where I'd like them to be. As you
know I've been working part time and my orthopedic doctor has said this
is putting undue pressure on my knee. I've been in a lot of pain and
don't want to have to resort to surgery. As I have been committed to
helping you out a bit each month, I have sat down to assess my finances
to see where I'd be without this additional income.

While I certainly live in a nice home that has increased in value, I am
not ready to sell it yet. I love living here very much and struggle
each year to pay the high property taxes. Unfortunately, I can only
continue to help you for another five or six months. So I wanted to
give you as much advanced warning as possible.

So starting next July, I will no longer be able to help out with the
mortgage on the condo. Unfortunately, if you are unable to make the
mortgage payments on your own, I will have to sell the condominium. But
I feel confident you'll be able to do it honey.

Call if you have any questions.

Lots of love,

Mom

Send it AS SOON AS POSSIBLY POSSIBLE. Stop being a martyr. Quit your
job. Enjoy your life!