How does one effectively “mother” a depressed adult child? Most Liked Hot Conversation

A fulfilled mother, I was making a positive transition to empty nest, when my oldest son left college 1 year shy of graduating to come home and redirect his life.

I have never resented my children for taking so much of my time and attention. I loved raising my sons, developing a strong marriage, building good relationships with family and friends, all while managing an active career. Now things are in a tailspin and I feel worse than ever! My life has had to be redirected because we unexpectedly have an unhappy adult living unhappily in our home. As much as I love my family, I am growing tired of the unhappy atmosphere that seems impervious to my efforts to maintain a loving, supportive environment. How does one effectively “mother” a depressed adult child?

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Posted in family & relationships.

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24 Responses

  1. jane jane says

    First, name the problem: Is it depression, dependence, substance abuse, etc? Then learn as much as you can about resourcesavailable in your area to treat, help or teach you about the problem and also to help your son.  Decide (with yur spouse) what resources you are willing to offer or share with your young adult, and make the offer (i.e., paying some of his rent in another living situation, continuing to pay for his education, etc) Finally, LET GO OF THE OUTCOME – you can’t force your help on him if he doesn’t want it.  But I would urge you to set some conditions for his continuing to live at home – i.e., rent, chores, time limit, attitude with other members of the household, etc.

    Problems with grown kids are a leading cause of stress in women over 45.  For more info, check out my website or get my book – When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us – or contact me for more information…I do private coaching with many other “postparents” like you who are confused and concerned when the empty nest re-fills, especially with an unhappy young adult.


    Jane Adams

    19 like

    • lizalunavita lizalunavita says

      Dear Jane,

        Thank you for your pertinent and timely response to my problem with my unhappy son. I enjoyed your informative website and hope that we can benefit by your wisdom and advice. The vast research through reading, professional consultation and direct observation has helped us try to understand and identify the problems: depression, most likely Bi-polar/Mood Disorder and substance abuse: both alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs contribute to the problem. He self-medicates and who knows which is the problem? Does he drink/drug because he is derpressed or is he depressed because he drinks/drugs? He was hospitalized and attended a follow-up month outpatient but does not attend any 12-step programs, post treatment.  Where he was once spiritual, now he discounts “higher powers”. He reads a great deal and tries to self-evaluate, usually just gets angrier and more synical. We went through several therapists and psychiatrists before we found a good fit. He has a good rapport with his psychologist and his psychiatrist, and so do we, his parents. Currently, our bright, handsome, capable son is employed (UNDER employed but working!), exercisng regularly (his passion), paying “rent”, and assisting in household chores. We take 20 percent of his rent and put it in savings so that when he moves out he’ll have a fund for deposits and living expenses. He does not have health insurance and we pay outright for services, which he avoids and resents.

      We had a close, loving, mutual relationship until college. That’s where things fell apart. He came home after bottoming out his junior year. Since then he acts like he hates me and is reluctant to share anything. He went from an exceptionally loving, open, respectful person to someone I don’t recognize – he makes disparing remarks about women and talks down to me. Once affectionate and compassionate, I have been instructed not to touch him or his things. It’s all one-sided. My husband has taken the role of communicator, since he won’t respond to me. I am frustrated but willing to work through this. His father is wonderfully loving, but reticent to deal…he walks on tip-toes and would prefer to act like everything is status-quo. He even seems to enjoy that he and our son have this “exclusive” relationship. Arghhhhh!!!! 

      I want to have a relationship with my son. He is present in our home, but turns down nearly every invitation to walk, talk, eat dinner, attend family functions, etc. He vacates whenever I enter a room. Occasionally he will talk to me, but EVERYTHING is on his terms and one-sided. I fear he projects his problems onto ‘Mother”, and I am in the dark here. No one, not my therapist, nor his, give me any insight into what the problem is.  

      I want to know what happened/happens to him to change our once mutual relationship. IUf I have a role in his misery, I need to understand it so I can work towards resolving conflict. No-one can tell me or show me what happened to create this alien that inhabits our son!

      How do I settle? What kind of coaching would you offer me? I am an educator and have vast experience in the field of Child Development/Family Relations and I am downright confounded. How do I get to a healthy place from here? For ALL of us! 

      13 like

      • Generic Image LauraK58 says

        Hi sorry for what you’re experiencing now. If your son is in a Bipolar/depressive state the whole family needs counseling. I would suggest joint couples counseling for you and your husband so you can present a united front to your son. It would be very beneficial for your husband to step up and insist that your son treat you respectfully at all times. Many times a stressful situation will instigate the Bipolar episode if indeed that is what your son has. A competent psychiatrist can help as well as therapy with a professional who can communicate effectively between your son’s doctor and your son. It needs to be a team approach for the whole family. Your son is an adult so the choices have to be his to make. It needs to be communicated plainly to him that he is benefitting from very good parenting and a hope that he gets well soon. You’re giving him as much support as you can and he needs to be more mature about dealing with his Mother and appreciating all the things he has to be grateful for. A good counselor can help him work through his anger issues. I’m sure it’s disappointing for him to have to move back home and give up college. Unfortunately he’s taking the anger out on you. Depression is anger turned inward and as he gets better he’s chosen to take the anger out on the person closest to him. I would back off as much as possible with him but insist he has to be respectful of you.

        14 like

      • jane jane says

        Whatever caused him to tune you out doesn’t matter now – if there’s an actual reason, real or not, it’s his story and he’s sticking to it. Often when our kids are on the couch as young adults, it’s parents (unfortunately, usually mothers) who come in for a share of the blame, which is almost always unwarranted….after all, most of us didnt neglect, beat or berate our kids. Don’t focus on whether you played a role in his misery – instead, be glad he has a relationship with his father, stay open to your son’s overtures without demanding that he connect with you, and allow him to maintain his boundaries. This is very difficult to accept, and I’d coach you in allowing his recovery to proceed without interjecting your feelings about it or projecting them onto him, his therapist, or your husband;  developing your own strengths, new interests and pursuits; accepting where he is now without feeling that he’s an alien;and letting go of the understandable need/urge to “work through” this – it’s his work, not yours. His healthy place will be different from yours …finding your own, regardless of where he is on his journey, must be a priority for you, for your sake as well as his and your family’s. Do contact me through my web site if I can be of further help.

        19 like

      • Generic Image tiredmom says

        I am writing this at 0500 because I can’t sleep. My 24yr old son is determined to screw up his life. I was awoken by a phone call from police at 0330 to inform me my son had caused an accident drinking and driving a friends car.(No one was hurt thank god). He doesn’t have a current licence because he never bothered to renew it and he was driving a friends car. He has run up his credit cards not payed his student loan and our home phone is a barage of calls re him not meeting his responsibilities. He has been working in a vacation town for the summer and our house is peaceful (until said phone call). When he is home he runs to his own schedule for sleeping, eating coming home etc and it can be very disturbing. I am so frustrated and so done with all of this. The police phoned me becuz he refused to give them any info other then his name and my phone no. I just can’t be that supportive parent anymore.

        13 like

      • Generic Image Jannette says

        I can I dentify with all of you. I am a single mother of two. My daughter has graduated as a speech pathologist and now has her own home. My son has not worked soncistently or comleted any educational efforts for the past 10 years. He has been arrested by the police for acosting me, he has kicked in walls, and doors. he has been verbally abusive. He now has a record of these arrests and has used ths has an excuse for noty fing a jobe, He has had three jobs which he could be successful at but he does not want to work. How do I get myson motivated to get a job, educated or do something constructive instead of being on the phone, sleep shower and eat. I am truly at my witts end. I try not to agravate him because I do not want him to be arrested again. I hope whn the five years is up he will move on.


        7 like

      • Generic Image Jannette says

        I can I dentify with all of you. I am a single mother of two. My daughter has graduated as a speech pathologist and now has her own home. My son has not worked soncistently or comleted any educational efforts for the past 10 years. He has been arrested by the police for acosting me, he has kicked in walls, and doors. he has been verbally abusive. He now has a record of these arrests and has used ths has an excuse for noty fing a jobe, He has had three jobs which he could be successful at but he does not want to work. How do I get myson motivated to get a job, educated or do something constructive instead of being on the phone, sleep shower and eat. I am truly at my witts end. I try not to agravate him because I do not want him to be arrested again. I hope whn the five years is up he will move on.


        3 like

    • Generic Image Jannette says

      Jane, I got to this site out of sheer despiration. I went to google and typed, how does one handle a depressed adult child. Your story is mine. I have been doing everything I can for the past 15 years. My son is now 28 years old and is getting worse. It is getting dngerous. I have called the cops. They have jailed him at least 7 tmes to no avail. I have beeen trying to get the authorities to see the psychological aspect of this but all they do is criminalize him and send back to me. At one point he was doing wellreally trying to work but somethng snapped and he has been lying in his room for a number os years. I refuse to call the cop when he throws and breaks things. I need help to get him out of my house peacefully into a program that can help him. I truly understand your pain. His ypunger sister is a speech pathologist, she has tried and now bought a house, moved on and refuse to have anything to do with him. I too feel depressed sometimes.



      9 like

  2. Generic Image mgreer69 says

    Has your adult child sought professional help?  There are counselors and medications that can help resolve a lot of these issues.  Depression is a medical issue that is not going to resolve itself over time, it is not just the “blues” that this child is going to one day wake up from and say “OK, I am better”.  There are chemicals in the brain that are effecting this child’s ability to function and get beyond this.  as a mother, you need to advise this child to seek help and seek it now!

    6 like

    • Pelikila Pelikila says

      I agree the child needs professional help.  However, as you know, there is always the “however.”  My child was married and had her own home, decided to divorce at a really bad time of the year because her finances were so bad, and moved in with another person.  She is on tons of medication.  One to offset the other.  Now they can’t get her off them.  Her moods are irratic and suicidal.  She is still very young and relies on me for advice.  I am, too, in a tail spin, and don’t know what to say.  She is responsible, but very in need of support constantly.  Sometimes I think I need to back off for a while and see what happens.  It is very hard because I know of the medications, and her suicidal tendencies.

      4 like

      • lizalunavita lizalunavita says

        Dear Pelikila,

          I feel so deeply for you, for when your child hurts there is pain directly to your heart, your mind, your soul and your womanhood. I lost to death this week a friend who tried to be everything to her needy adult children, grandchildren and all others that depended on her for everything that she felt was hers, and wasn’t. She was 49.

         I have watched my mother, 80,  suffer her entire life for a child (56) who does nothing but continue to make bad decisions and hold her hostage for his alcoholism and emotional fuck-up-ed-ness. I will not go down my mother’s path but here I am facing my own illogical unbelievable decisions. Heck, I was a GOOD mother. I KNOW better! Why do we punish ourselves so? We need to live, love, and be present to things that give us joy. What do you think?

        23 like

      • Generic Image momjsg says

        help me help me. I am a good mother too. I know I am. My young adult son is spiraling toward suicide and i’ve done everything I know how to help him..encouragement, doctors, love, prayer. I pray for a miracle. Why does he have to suffer so?

        16 like

      • lizalunavita lizalunavita says

        Momjsg, you sound desperate and it seems we are in a similar situation with our sons. I understand how painful this is. I encourage you to see a licensed certified counselor as soon as possible. You can also contact your local Mental Health department for availabe resources in your community. Some areas have a Suicide Prevention team, support groups for folks dealing with depression and mood disorders, etc. If he is a direct threat to himself, you may need to have him committed to a hospital or mental health facility. Your/his counselor may guide you in this process. You also might find a helpful resource on the internet. You will certainly be in my thoughts and prayers. It is so painful to watch your children suffer. For the past couple of weeks, I have attended several different meetings, including Al-anon and Narcotics Anonymous. While not a one-stop fix, it does point me in a direction and keep me from drowning. The only person you can control is yourself. Please get help right away.  

        0 like

  3. Generic Image Suzie1125 says

    You don’t! I realize you are only as happy as your happiest child but..don’t let hom take over your lives.

    My son also is in a depressed state but not living at home.  My three granddchildren are also affected by this.

    Please just let him know you love him and support him and go on with your life.

    7 like

    • lizalunavita lizalunavita says

      This is my daily prayer, which we, my husband and two sons have prayed since they were very , very, young. We call it the PINK BLESSING because it was printed and laminated it on pink paper.

        Eternal God, We give thanks for the gift of life which is a wonder without words;For the awareness of soul that is our light within;For the world around us, so filled with beauty; For the richness of the earth which day by day sustains us; And for love, which makes life worth living.For all these gifts and more, we thank you – the source of all goodness.

      13 like

    • lizalunavita lizalunavita says

      Suzie, how do you go on with your life? What is your role in the depressed states of your son and his children? Is love enough? If it were, my son would be overflowing with wellness. He’s not healthy and I have an abundance of love and concern. What works? What doesn’t? I am interested in how you really cope.

      5 like

    • Generic Image Onestrangeday says

      My son has taken to calling me and saying You are no help you never do anything right I ask you to help me and you just screw it up!
      I have paid his back child support for him twice and I send him money for job hunting and then he wants more.
      I just started getting the child support I have been owed for 22 yrs and he thinks I should just send it to him.
      The calls are getting more and more threatning He says he is gonna cut me out of his life and Fuck you. Hangs up and calls back. I live in Va my son lives in Fl he is 26 yrs old I am lost we have always been close and could talk to me about anything.
      What do I do? How do I keep a relationship and Not let him say I am the reason for anything that goes on in his life.
      I have no rights he is a Grown man. I really Can not stand being cursed at. Not from my child.  IM LOST.

      2 like

  4. wmiller1733 wmiller1733 says

    I, too, am dealing with a depressed adult son in my home (since April, 2009). Depression is a normal response to significant changes in life. In my situation, I’m not only dealing with my son’s depression, but, also his degradation of self-esteem. I’m finding that it helps to talk to him on a daily basis and address the issues, as opposed to sweeping them under the carpet and hope they will take care of themselves. I’m careful to begin discussions with positive input first, and then following up with addressing the negative situations with a positive resolution suggestion. Since he is an adult, I realize that he must make his own decisions for his life. Trying to force him to do what I would like for him to do will only make matters worse. Providing him with, fully developed, same-scenerio examples also helps.

    10 like

  5. Generic Image cinders602 says

    I read these posts and each one contains things that hit so close to my heart.  I’ve spent my entire life working hard to take care of everyone else.  At one point I was supporting my self, my husband, grown daughter, granddaughter, grown son, daughter-in-law, mother, and brother.  Additionally, I provide periodic support and shelter in my home to a young woman and her two children and a young man trying to get through college whose parents would rather drink than pay tuition.

    Since then my beautiful mother (whose example I follow in helping those in need and investing in the future of the world by helping students get through school) has died, my brother has become self sufficient.  My daughter-in-law will graduate with her masters in May 2010 and begin supporting herself and my son (who is partially disabled).

    But then there is my daughter.  She is another example of the unhappy adult creating an unhappy atmosphere that impacts the whole household.  This beautiful child that I loved and cherished from conception now hates me and believes that I am somehow responsible for everything bad that has ever happened to her and for every bad decision that she has ever made.

    I am grateful that drugs and/or alchohol are not involved, but she refuses to accept that she possibly has a medical problem and refuses to even try any medications.  She does see a counselor once a month, but she portrays herself as the victim and me as the perpetrator so they advise her based on that information.  This just reinforces her conviction that I’m the source of her unhappiness. 

    When I ask her what it is that I have done to cause her such harm, she is unable to provide any specifics – just long rants saying that I never provide emotional support, never encouraged her, loved her brother more than I love her, was never there for her, on and on and on – but no specific instance.  Not only are her accusations not true, because I worked so many hours, I went out of my way to make sure I provided all those things; and I love my children equally.

    If it weren’t for my granddaughter, I’d provide other living arrangements for my daughter and give her six months to become self-supporting.  I just can’t subject my granddaughter to the resulting turmoil.

    As I’m sure there is with all of us, there is a lot more to the story, but this isn’t the place to write a book.

    I thank each of you who reads this for your time and for sharing your own experiences.

    16 like

    • lizalunavita lizalunavita says

      Dear Cinders602, I can see that you are a wonderfully caring person who is taking the brunt of an angry young adult’s pounding. I can relate to the long accusatory rants that bear no basis. You and I both know that each person is responsible for his/her own happiness. We also know that we have given a healthy, loving childhood to each of our children along with helping numerous others who have benefitted from our empathetic and generous nature.  

        LauraK59 offered great advice. I would like to add a couple of things I have recently explored.


      4 like

      • lizalunavita lizalunavita says

        Even though I am pretty bogged down taking care of home and my aging mom, I found a new avenue for my affection and humanity. I started volunteering at a group home for adolescent & young adult unwed mothers and their children. It has been wonderful for me, because I am able to work a few hours per week and unlike my son, they totally respect and appreciate my efforts. I am building meaningful relationships with teens who ironically have problematic relationships with their mothers. While it doesn’t replace or repair my own difficult relationship with my son, it gives me positive feelings of purpose and an outlet for nurturing. My son has even started asking me questions about how my day was. I know deep down he loves and cares for me and in time, hopefully, we will resume or develop a mutual satisfying relationship. I would like to see him get out on his own and would welcome advice on how to get him (us) to take that next step.


        8 like

  6. Generic Image Anonymous says

    I am saddened at how common this problem is with adult males but also strengthen by reading posts of woman reaching out and helping each other. I grew up with a physically abusive father, left the home at 18 became a responsible adult forgave him after my son’s birth. Married a verbally abusive alcoholic …lead him to sobriety forgave him restructured a peaceful loving life with and our two children. Now I have to deal with my abusive 24 year old son. We gave him every opportunity to succeed. He graduated after 5.5 years and is living at home without a job causing me suffering daily. He’s an insomniac with alcoholic personality traits, My 16 year old daughter is caught in the middle our our constant arguments. I am sick of this fucked up male energy …I’m so over it.

    2 like

  7. lizalunavita lizalunavita says

    Dear sister…we are sisters, because we share so much similar pain. It is so hard to parent adult children sometimes. Addictions are pure hell.  Mental health challenges can wreck our existence and bring us to our knees. Please find one thing today that brings YOU joy, you and nobody else. It might be going through your jewelry box, calling an old friend and not talking about THE PROBLEM, taking yourself out to movie ALONE or with someone removed from your situation. Whatever it is, drop everything and DO IT! It won’t solve anything but it can give you a reprieve.

    Sometimes our lives hinge on the very edge and solutions just aren’t in sight. Sometimes, we have to turn it all over and admit we are completely powerless. Maybe you can go to an AlAnon meeting? Call a mental health hotline? Visit a counselor? Often tiimes we are so sick and tired we don’t want to deal with it another second. Until you get your bearing you are not going to be able to address the problem with your fucked-up son. I know. I have one too, I love him so much more, now that he is out of the house.

    I care about you. There is hope. Can we talk later? Must run but will carry you in my heart today. Hang in there. You CAN get your life back. You CAN find peace and restore love in your home and family.

    8 like

  8. Generic Image Anna says

    Reading throught all other mother’s post, a lot of them actually happened to me.

    Iam 53 years old, my son graduated uni and working now.
    He told me he had depression for over 8 years, as he been tried to tell me many times in the pass, I just ignored & told him life have ups & downs, just don’t worry about it. So he don’t want to talk to me any more, he still respect me but hates me inside as he said our thinking and living pattern are different, he don’t want to follow my path, as he was so unhappy.

    When my son was 7 years old, I lived seperately with my ex-husband, after 6-7 years, we both agreed to finish our marriage, since then he did not want to pay child support, only pay some money when he wants to.

    I work very hard to support & provide all I can afford to my son, today, I am lost because I’d only focus on making money to support us. Too tired to listen to my son in those years, now he hate me, I blame myself for not care about his depression in those years, as I never encounter “depression” term in those years. It seems so common now.

    I blame myself for causing him step away from me. Is there anyone can help me to re-build our relationship? Please help

    4 like

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