My Teen Son Moved in With His 35-Year-Old Girlfriend—What Should I Do?

Dear Newsweek, About a year and a half ago, my son got involved with a girl he met at his job. He was only 18 and had four credits left to get in his senior year of high school before graduation. About a month before school was due to start back, he came to me and told me that his girlfriend had to move out of her sister's house, and if she couldn't find a place around us, he would move to another town about 45 minutes away.

So, it came down to me letting her move into our home or letting him move out. I knew he wouldn't end up finishing school and I wasn't willing to let his education suffer, so I said yes to her moving in, with my husband and his dad's rejection. The only understanding was that he would finish his senior year and she was to pay $100 a week in rent.

I still had not even met this girl but was told she was 27, which I wasn't happy about at all. He was only 18 years old.

Mom argues with son's girlfriend
A stock image of a mom arguing with her son's girlfriend while he sits in the foreground, head in hands. A mother seeks advice after her 18-year-old son's girlfriend, who is over 30 years old, moved in. JackF/Getty Images

Now to today—27 turns into 30 years old and he never returned to school. A week after moving in, she quits her job and lives rent-free, and gets all other daily expenses paid for by us, all while alienating my son from the rest of the family, and not helping around the house. They don't even clean their own bathroom, even after being told multiple times that it needs to be done.

So has no relationships with anyone—not one friend, not one family member—which raised red flags and then red flag after red flag. Needless to say, she didn't even have an ID, so when they finally did get jobs she couldn't even cash her paychecks we have to cash them for her. I finally just found out the reason she didn't want to get her ID is because she didn't want her real age known which is 35 years old.

When that came out because of some digging I did, I lost it, and I told her she has 30 days to find a place to live. I told her I was disgusted and how dare she latch on to my 18-year-old son when she was 34 years old and she had a free ride for a year and a half too long.

He and I have always had a very special and tight bond, but I realize that I have to let him go.

But am I the a****** knowing that if I put her out, he is going to leave with her? Or do I let him make his own mistakes, even when there is probably going to be a lifelong cost to those mistakes?

Nickie

Newsweek's "What Should I Do?" offers expert advice to readers. If you have a personal dilemma, let us know via life@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice on relationships, family, friends, money and work and your story could be featured on WSID at Newsweek.

The Behavior of Your Son and His Girlfriend Was Beyond Abusive

Evie Shafner is a licensed marriage and family therapist with over 40 years of experience.

Dear Reader,

It was difficult to read your letter; I so get the intention you had to make sure your son finished high school, and how that comes from your longing for your son to have a good life. And, yet, I'm thinking that a part of your inability to have a boundary is the fear that your son would be mad at you, or threaten to cut you off?

Setting boundaries with our children can be so difficult. We want them to love us, and can't tolerate them being upset with us, so we can't hold the boundary. Unfortunately, the end result of this can be that kids who don't have boundaries can become entitled and without empathy.

My guess is you have not been setting boundaries and have been over giving with your son for a very long time. The fact that he could threaten you by saying "either we do this or I'm leaving" sadly says who he has turned out to be. That should have been the moment you said, "Ok, you need to move, this is not ok." Which, if I understand correctly, was what his dad and your husband wanted.

The behavior of your son and his girlfriend in the house was beyond abusive. Tolerating it for one day was too much. And you blamed the woman, which I understand, but your son is the one who is dominating and manipulating you. It doesn't matter how often you talked to them, they knew your words didn't mean anything.

I so understand how gut-wrenching it is to have to set these boundaries now after so much has happened and to fear the disconnect. But no matter how he treats you, threatens you, and doesn't speak to you, you cannot waver. You have to stay firm in your request for them to leave your house and do not let him come back. He is an adult now, however that ends up turning out. There is nothing more for you to do, except set boundaries. I don't know if it will help him at this stage, but if there is anything that might make him respect you and not abuse you, it is knowing that he can't manipulate you anymore. That is your only chance at a relationship that could be workable in the future. The best thing you could do for your son to help him grow up, if he can, is to not let him control you anymore by threatening to disconnect.

You're going to need support and there is so much help to be found out there. The Al-Anon 12-step program helps parents to "let go with love," and there are many parenting coaches, books, or a therapist who specializes in co-dependency issues. Your gut is right on so keep trusting what you know to be true and stay the course. In the end, it is what is best for you and him.

Establish Boundaries That Are Realistic and Enforceable

Katherine M. Hertlein, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy.

Dear Reader,

It can always be a really difficult situation when people, especially our children may not do what we might expect them to do or think is in their best interest. In fact, it sounds like that living arrangement currently might be difficult for everyone involved given the level of conflict you have described. It is clear that you care about your son and his well-being and are trying to do the best to support him, and he is doing the best he can to make decisions for himself.

There are a few steps you can take to work toward improving the relationship with your son and his girlfriend. First, healthy relationships are characterized by boundaries. You mentioned that you had some contingencies about him finishing school and paying $100 a week in rent. It seemed like that boundary was violated early on, and a lot of resentment has built up in its place. Moving forward, consider the boundaries you wish to put in place now. Establish boundaries that are realistic, enforceable, and appropriate. Once those are established, identify consequences if those boundaries are not met. For example, if you set a boundary that they must pay rent now or face eviction, are you willing to hold them to that?

Second, communicate those boundaries to your son: not your son and his girlfriend, just your son. He can be the bearer of the information to her as a way to avoid any misinterpretation on both of your parts. You can certainly fold her in later into the picture if things improve, but for right now, deal directly with him. In addition, he may have some boundaries for the shared space that he wishes to communicate with you. This would be an optimal time for him to share those.

Finally, generate ideas for you and your son to connect that may not involve conflict. What are the ways that you can recapture that special bond you mentioned earlier? There may be opportunities where you extend yourself/make invitations to the two of them for connection. Keep those moments small, short, and sweet until a more positive and favorable history is built up between you.