Relationship Connection: My adult children don’t want my homeless ex-con son to live in my home

Stock image, St. George News

Question

My 38 year-old son has been homeless for 7-8 years, off and on drugs, spent some time in prison for domestic violence. He has been in touch with our family for the past year or so and seems to be trying to talk “nice”. He needs a place to live. I think he needs a place to live where a strong person can insist on daily showers, counseling, medical/mental evaluation, exercise, and healthy meals.

As his mother, I could be that person. My other children say NO and would very careful about contact with me if it gave him access to them. It would end family dinners, grandkids spending the night at my house, and visits from my other kids. And, I might not be able to go to their houses either. That right there should answer my question and make my decision for me, right? But how do I reconcile my desire to be a Good Samaritan to my own son? How can I turn my back on my son’s pleas for help?

Answer

It’s a struggle to balance justice and mercy when dealing with others. Your children are looking to you to somehow reconcile these seemingly contradicting needs. Your heart aches for the son who has fallen on hard times and, yet, you can hear the concerns of your other children who are worried about their own families.

This situation requires hearts to be both soft and wise. Even though it’s impossible for you to be responsible for all of your children’s relationships with each other, you are in an important position of influence. You have a son who has clearly crossed some serious lines that threaten the safety and stability of the family. He’s burned some bridges, and, despite his efforts to be nice to his family, he hasn’t earned back their trust.

I worry that out of your concern for your son, you’re overestimating how helpful you can really be to him. I don’t believe it’s a good idea to have him live in your home right now. Having adult children move home with their parents is often a challenge even when there aren’t legal or addiction issues.

You have a big heart and want to help him get back on his feet. However, recognize that extending mercy to your son can take many forms beyond offering a roof over his head. Before you can even entertain the possibility of having him live with you, there are some important questions to consider. For example, is he willing to accept responsibility for the ways he’s affected his siblings and their children? Does he understand why they’re unwilling to have him in their lives right now? Is he willing to do whatever it takes to restore trust?

At a minimum, if he’s not accountable to his family for the damage he’s done, then he’s not ready to be in your home. Your other children are counting on you to create stable conditions for their families. If you aren’t willing to provide those conditions in your home, then they will create stability for their families by keeping their distance.

If you don’t invite your son to live with you, recognize that you can still help support him outside of your home by coordinating care and providing other types of support. Your son can change, but it won’t happen until he’s understood and accounted for the impact he’s had on the lives of his family members.

If your son is humble and works to repair the damage from his past behaviors, then he will be more likely to understand the hesitancy of his siblings to engage with him at this time. This is an opportunity for him to get professional help so he can begin developing insight and, ultimately, a plan for how he can repair his sibling and family relationships. His willingness to protect these other families will be one of the fastest ways he can restore trust with his estranged siblings.

You can still care for his extensive mental, emotional, and physical needs while at the same time honoring the wounds he has created in his family. Once some stability and order has been established, it will be easier for his family to build relationships that could potentially be a benefit to him and everyone.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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3 Comments

  • Brian June 28, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Is there a way to help the adult homeless son, without compromising the safety of your home? Something like a casita or RV may work, giving him a safe place with some oversight, while still maintaining the safety and privacy of your home and family that come there.

  • Hataalii June 28, 2017 at 8:45 am

    I couldn’t agree more with Geoff’s answer! Let me add that people in your son’s situation, are often very manipulative. Keep this in mind when thinking about how he reacts to you, and toward his siblings.

  • comments June 28, 2017 at 10:18 am

    The son sounds like an absolute trainwreck. Prison, drugs, homelessness? Maybe he’s mentally ill or something. I wouldn’t let him anywhere near unless he’s fully medicated and stable. If prison didn’t rehab him he might be beyond hope. What can you really do for people that just flat-out refuse to help themselves or better themselves in any way? Sometimes prison is the best place for addicts to get clean, and that’s a worst case scenario. I’d just say no in this case. I think he needs a parole/probation officer to supervise him rather than mom.

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