Writer and broadcaster

I want my son to leave home. The Guardian

Dear Annalisa

I am a working single mother and I want my son to leave home so that I can have a house to myself. He has been employed, working at nights, for the past eight years. He has been on the minimum wage for most of that period and does not earn enough to rent a place of his own, pay the bills etc and is unwilling to share accommodation, which seems to be the only way he could manage it.

I request rent of £200 per month which he pays regularly, and although I recognise that this is a nominal sum that might be encouraging him to stay put, he does say that he would like to have a place of his own.

Recently, he has indicated that he is very fed up with his job and would like to resign. I understand this, given the nights and aggressive customers, and I try to instil confidence that he is capable of looking for alternative work. He has eight GCSEs, so not entirely unqualified and I am prepared to house him while he finds an alternative. However, when I encourage him to talk about what his ideal job would be, he shrugs. More worryingly, he recently said he had worked out that he could live on his savings for a year or two and just give up on work.

I am frustrated at the lack of his initiative and by the likelihood of never having a house to myself. I don’t want to be living with my son when he is in his 30s but I fear that I don’t have the parenting skills to get him out of the nest and into a good job. My greatest anxiety is that if I come down too hard, he will get depressed. I feel stuck and don’t know who to turn to for effective advice.

One line in particular struck me: “I don’t have the parenting skills to get him out of the nest and into a good job.” I think this – leaving home and getting a job – is essentially his job, not yours.

Although some people have very clear ideas of what they want to do, jobwise, others don’t. It comes to them either through a process of elimination: by doing (often crappy) jobs they discover they don’t like. Or they work it out as they get to know themselves. And this is a key phrase – the counsellor I consulted this week, Caz Binstead (bacp.co.uk), thinks this is largely an issue of your son’s (and perhaps your own) self-esteem. “Self-esteem,” she explains, “is largely about our own ability to trust ourselves. What struck me was your real worry about your son’s ability to cope.”

Part of parenting is learning to trust your own parenting skills, that you have, in turn, taught your child to stand on their own two feet. You need to trust yourself and your child. I wonder why you feel you don’t have the parenting skills? I also wondered when you became a single parent? Sometimes children don’t leave home because they don’t like leaving the parent behind. It’s been the two of you for so long, I wonder if your son worries, perhaps subconsciously, about what will happen to you if he leaves home? You may need to show him that you, too, will be OK

Binstead thought there may have been something “co-created”.

“Moving out of the family home is about finding your identity,” she explains. “If you’re a bit scared about it, and your parent(s) are scared, then you tend to avoid it.” Binstead wondered if you could show your son, in some way, that you believe he can do this.

Also although he is unwilling to share, I’m afraid he may have to. Sharing accommodation can also be a great motivator to finding a better job/earning more/moving on. Sharing with others may be a positive step, too. He may meet inspirational people. It’s largely how you look at things: it doesn’t all have to be negative.

Without a real idea of the world beyond his family front door, in terms of renting, he probably does feel he can give up work and live on his savings. But £200 a month won’t keep him going for long outside your house.

Binstead suggests saying something like: “It’s not good for you to keep living here – it’s holding you back. Let’s set a time scale for you to move out.”

She said you can’t both then not talk about it again until the day he is due to go, but you both need to check in with one another along the way. And that you can help him, with practical advice and emotional support. You do need to encourage him along the way, remind him what he’s good at.

Is there a third person your son can talk to? A counsellor at the GP or helpful family member?

You might take solace from this letter I got four years ago and what happened next, different in some ways, similar in others, but it all came right in the end.


This column first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 18 July 2014.