Dear Margo: Five’s a Crowd

My three grown sons won’t move out. Margo Howard’s advice

Five’s a Crowd

Dear Margo: I read the letter from the empty nesters who were happy on their own. My situation is exactly the opposite. I am not happy, and I am not alone. My three adult sons are all still living at home. The middle one is a college graduate and will be moving out in the near future, but the other two don’t seem able to fend for themselves. They both have mental health issues and do not work, and their constant need for money is draining our bank account. This situation is very frustrating for my husband and me. We would love to be empty nesters, but I don’t think it will happen anytime soon.

In addition, the letter I read mentioned the freedom he and his wife enjoy by having sex on the couch. That would never happen in my house because my husband and I haven’t had any physical contact for four years. When I try to talk to him, he shuts down the conversation. (He is early 60s, and I am late 50s.) I feel lonely, neglected and fearful about the future. How can I deal with all this? — Full Nest Mom

Dear Full: The three adult sons at home may be contributing to the lack of intimacy, but they are clearly two separate problems. Regarding the two young men with mental health issues, I would check around for group homes. I do believe that mentally challenged adults, at all levels, can work. I think this change would be therapeutic for them — and certainly for you. Until you get this worked out, I would tell them the bank is closed except for necessities.

As for your husband closing down the subject of the bedroom, you need to tell him you are in this difficult situation together, and that reclaiming your former intimacy would be tonic for you both. Do not accept his refusal to talk about it. Tell him whether it’s a physical problem or an emotional one, there is help, and you are insisting that he pursue the options. Tell him you are going to improve your life … one way or another. — Margo, definitively

Restless Girl Syndrome

Dear Margo: I am a 23-year-old female living in the Midwest. At first glance, it seems like everything is fine: great friends, wonderful boyfriend, a job that pays the bills and puts food on the table. But no matter how well it seems things are going, all I can think about is how much I want to jump on a bus and get out of here! It’s not my friends or my boyfriend; I am just so restless. I can’t afford to take multiple trips to satisfy my wanderlust, so if I left, it would have to be for good. I have family more than willing to help me leave, but I don’t really know where I would go. — Itchy for Change

Dear Itch: I would say you are an excitement junkie. This is usually something to be outgrown. If you had a city in mind where you’d always wanted to live, that would be one thing, but you say you don’t even know where you’d go. Perhaps you are dissatisfied with something about your life or the way things are going that you are unaware of. Because your family is willing to help you leave, I would instead ask for the get-away money and use it to see a therapist. If you don’t get a handle on this now, nothing will ever feel right. — Margo, reparatively

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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73 comments so far.

  1. avatar snowwhite4577 says:

    For Letter Writer 1; while I agree with everything that people have said….including the need to know more about the severity of the disabilities, and the need to seek assistance from mental health services, vocational services, psychiatric, pharmocological and other medical services, etc-  There has got to be a point at which the parents say NO MORE.  NO more money, etc. for stuff.  There seems to be an inability for the parents to set limits in the home. While I can understand the need to see the kids settled as a parent; but their home is suffering for it, and they are no longer really in a marriage.  You cannot care for others if you are not caring for yourself.

  2. avatar snowwhite4577 says:

    “Because your family is willing to help you leave, I would instead ask for the get-away money and use it to see a therapist. If you don’t get a handle on this now, nothing will ever feel right,”.  Wow…..that is really horrible. You know what going to therapy will do? Diagnosis a non-existing problem and prescribe drugs that are not needed. 

    • avatar Lila says:

      Snowwhite, I imagine you are right that therapy would result in a “diagnosis” and unneeded meds. We really do live in an over-medicated society where there’s a pill for everything, and not in a good way. I don’t think anything is wrong with Restless, I think she just wants more out of life.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        Actually, I think the therapist would probably tell her exactly what most of the posters on this board are saying: explore and investigate your options and take a proactive stance in making smart changes to your life.

  3. avatar Ann Hipson says:

    To LW 1–I don’t usually recommend drastic action, but I will here–Go rent a small apartment and move there for a time. This doesn’t need to be permanent. From your own space, help your sons apply for disability and find alternative living space. From your own space, let your husband know that you are willing to work on the marriage but you are not willing to live in a loveless roommate situation with someone who doesn’t seem to care about you. I wouldn’t be surprised if your husband wasn’t depressed about the situation and has withdrawn from you as well as the sons. No matter, he has to deal with it.

    To LW 2–I’m almost old enough for Medicare and I will tell you that the biggest regret I have in my life is that I didn’t go to Europe when I was your age. I wanted to go, but I didn’t have any money but I had a job and an apartment and on and on. The Credit Union representative in our office told me to just take out a loan, take a leave of absence for six months and go. I didn’t and I’ve regretted it ever since. Yes, I can go now and I have gone several times, but neither I nor Europe are the same as we were in 1972.

    Spend some time thinking to think about where you might want to go first, then see if there is a way to go there employed. If there isn’t, then save every penny you can for the next year, borrow from your family who is willing to help, take a leave of absence from your job and just go. There is a big beautiful world out there and you need to experience it now, not in ten or twenty or thirty years. Even in Europe you can travel cheaply, using hostels (and I will stay in a hostel, even in my 60’s–they’re fine–although I prefer charming inns) and buy food and picnic rather than rely on restaurants. Go. Go. Go. GO!

  4. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1: Your problems didn’t pop up overnight, and your husband may be sick of a situation that you’ve helped create and elongate. Turn off the money stream and other enablement and get professional help for the sons who have mental issues … which you fail to describe. Are they truly impaired or just lazy with a hovering mom making excuses? Middle son, if he has any sense, will move out soon, so focus on the other two first. 

    LW2: Wanderlust can be a mood brightener. Indulge. Nothing says you can’t set aside one Saturday a month to hop a bus, subway, or drive yourself to check out attractions in your own town or general vinicity. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Museums. Libraries. The local historical society. The beach if you’re close enough. The cemetery (a definite hoot if you live in Key West). If it’s raining, spend the day at a multi-screen movie theater.  Have something aromatic going in the slow-cooker ready for when you get home. Or budget for a tasty treat while out. Do something offbeat just for the day and you may not feel so hemmed in. Get organized on the chores, and maybe you can do this two Saturdays a month.       

  5. avatar Lilibet says:

    For LW2 I recommend the book “Wishcraft–How to Get What You Really Want” by Barbara Sher. I used it almost 30 years ago when my husband and I wanted a change, and again in 2002. The book uses very visual techniques to help you figure out what you want and how to get it, step by step. It really works. We’ve had some great adventures! :-)

    Before our first adventure, friends gave us a plaque that read: “The sky’s the limit as long as you don’t always do things the way you’ve always done things.”

    LW2 needs to do something new and get out of her rut. It’s never too late, but now is the perfect time for her.

  6. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    The problem with not dealing with a child with mental health issues other than just keeping them “safe at home” is that at some point the parents may have to move to another nest so to speak and then the child is left with no options to speak of.   That happened to a friend of mine who along with her sister were finally confronted with their refusing to address the issue through the years when both parents required nursing care and had to be moved to a nursing home. The other sister, a schizophrenic, became a major problem. The nursing home initially agreed to allow her in. Then there was a problem. So their sister and their mother, who refused to be “separated” from her daughter, were moved to a psychiatric home. Despite the mother wanting to be with their father she chose to be with their daughter. To “protect” her.  It was and is a mess.  And of course lots of finger pointing blaming each other for the mess. Your advice about a “group home” is sage advice. Given to many parents. Who simply do not listen. And do not think about what may lay down the road. But other family members sometimes do not listen either. And what lays down the road is disaster. This woman is not clear what the mental health issues are. If they’re draining the bank account, it may not be a problem with a real mental illness but merely a problem with two children who saw a good thing and stuck with it. My “gut” feeling is that if they’re “well enough” to go spend money they’re “well enough” to go earn it.  Even if they’re just spoiled the same problem exists. Somewhere down the road there may not be anyone to provide for them. And they will find they have no skills by which to provide for themselves. 
    And of course there is the question of what they’re spending the money on. If it’s drugs, well, double-trouble. A friend’s parents decided to toss her and her drug problem out of the nest. They rented an apartment for her. With the agreement that they would pay the rent. But other than that, she was on her own.  And they gave her enough to live on for one month. She sat there without lights one night the second month and finally realized she better get a job. And she did. The next day as a matter of fact.  Realizing her parents meant business, she took a job as a waitress. So she could get enough cash to get the lights back on in a day or two. Which her parents made clear they would not. Tough love sometimes works.

  7. avatar wlaccma says:

    Girl from the Midwest–head to Manhattan and don’t look back. There is something for everyone there.

  8. avatar Lym BO says:

    There are many ways to travel. I haven’t explored it, but I would venture to guess that there are groups on the web for young adults like you. Youth hostels exist in Europe (used to be until age 24.) Six weeks will get you through most of Europe and the cost is low with hostels. If you go alone, you’ll likely hook up with another group or person along the way. Get moving. There are all sorts of ministry trips , peace corps, etc designed for the wanderlust. Do it now while you can. Once you have a spouse, kids, etc. the opportunity may not present itself again. Another great one is a travel agent or airline steward person. Whether there is a reason to run away or not, one can deal with that in a few years. At that time, you will also know where might suit you better.

  9. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Re: L#1: The LW states her sons have “mental health issues”. Margo translates this to “mentally challenged”. The LW does no specify what sort of mental health issues her sons might have, but here is a list of problems that could fall under that heading:

    Axis I disorders: Schizophrenia, bi-polar disease (manic-depression is no longer the correct term, people), clinical depression, schizo-affective disorder, anxiety disorders, OCD and many more. These can be treated with medication, with therapy, with any combination of the two. Left alone, they can be completely debilitating to such a degree that a given individual may need to be institutionalized for their own safety, and that of others. They are NOT easily treated. In the past fourteen years I have gone through 27 combinations of different psychotropic drugs, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and thyroid medication (I have zero natural function) and varying dosages of the same to achieve mental health and ***relative freedom*** from symptoms of bi-polar I, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, clinical depression and OCD. That and quarterly psychiatric and weekly psychologist/therapist visits. It is not easy.

    Axis II disorders are personality disorders; narcissistic, borderline, schizo-affective, oppositional…and they cannot be treated or helped by medication (these are not caused by chemical imbalances or abnormal brain function or structure), nor does therapy usually have much affect. However, most people with Axis II disorders with no attending MR or Axis I issues can live on their own.

    Then there are autism spectrum disorder, which is so widely varying that each case presents as absolutely unique, and requires specific, individual handling, ADHD and ADD, Tourette’s, and hundreds of other syndromes and disorders that sit on the border between psychiatric and neurological problems. And while we’re at it, many people count drug and alcohol addiction as mental health issues, as well as other forms of non-substance related addiction (by related these to OCD and anxiety disorders).

    How specious to say this is easy to deal with. How glib to state, “Just find a half-way house”. Some half-way houses are very, very bad…and the good ones usually have enormously long waiting lists. You cannot just force a mentally ill adult to get treatment unless they are in the act of threatening to hurt, or hurting, themselves or someone else. Then you might succeed in getting them involuntarily committed on a 72-hour hold…but most of those get kicked loose with a prescription they throw in the nearest trash can. Why? Poor mental health care in this country, not enough beds, lousy mental health care insurance and a terrible understanding of mental health issues (as evidenced on this thread).

    Margo’s answer on L#1 was rather whimsical, at best. Mental Health Issues does NOT mean “mentally challenged”. With all of my illnesses, I maintained between a 4.0 and 3.75 in college while taking 18 hours of classes (I was an English major in Honors) and working a 45 hour per week job. I’ve never been on the street, I’ve supported myself and my son as a single mother without getting behind on bills and my tested IQ is 186. There are a lot of people who have mental illnesses who are brilliant.

    Which is why LW1 needs to encourage, by whatever means possible, her sons to get a grip on their “issues” and learn to live with them…not be them. Being mentally ill does not excuse you from accountability, responsibility and taking care of yourself. We don’t know what sort of diagnosis they have…but they need to seek help for themselves, and get off their backsides and get a life if at all possible. I worked full time when I was hallucinating continuously and unpleasantly, and made no mistakes, got three excellent reviews and raises, and never missed a day…even though I was walking right on the edge of a major meltdown. It can be done. If they have addiction issues, staging an intervention, with an absolute bottom-line of no more enabling, no more free place to live, no more support for their habits may be the only way to reach them.

    The term “mentally challenged” usually refers to mental retardation (and please don’t puff up with righteous indignation: the term “mental retardation” is used officially in government and disability matters, doesn’t just refer to Downe Syndrome, and I know and have known a lot of people who use the term to describe family members and children in a non-pejorative sense)…and there are a lot of people who have various forms of arrested development who work and live on their own. It is not a life sentence.

    However, sadly, there are individuals for whom unsupervised life is impossible. LW1 doesn’t give us nearly enough information…but her desperation does speak volumes. I hope that she can determine whether or not her sons can function without their parents’ home and support, and if so, give them a solid reason to leave. If not, perhaps she can find help in finding a place for them. I wish her all of the best.

  10. avatar Briana Baran says:

    And once more, to all of those instructing LW1 to find mental health resources for her ADULT sons (making appointments, seeking diagnoses, looking for halfway houses, etc.). She can’t do it. They are adults. She can suggest, She can research. She can prompt or even stage interventions…but she cannot force them to do anything unless they are an immediate danger to themselves or others. She cannot apply for disability in their names, or even make many inquiries in their names, or without their permission. I have an adult son with bi-polar II disorder. I know. Mental health care/assistance for adults in the USA is a nightmare. Remember the shootings in Arizona? Perfect example of what goes wrong.

    If they are simply entitled and lazy, toss them out on their ears and let them fend. If they are truly mentally ill, that can be much harder…but in the end, her sanity counts too. The system will not help her. Her best bet is convincing them to see a psychiatrist, and getting a firm diagnosis of an Axis I disorder, which would possibly (not always) qualify them for disability and allow them to move out. But she cannot do it for them. It’s illegal. Period. End of story.

  11. avatar LandofLove says:

    Re LW2: I’m not as quick to diss Margo’s suggestion as most of you are. The LW says that she has family, friends, and a boyfriend in her area. If all she can think about is leaving town, is there some issue with any of those people that she hasn’t mentioned, which is causing her to want to leave? A therapist, or even a sympathetic friend, could help the LW determine whether she really has wanderlust or if there’s an unspoken problem that she wants to run away from.