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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 20-year-old son “Jake” recently moved in with me while he finishes college. Prior to living with me, he was living with his dad, and he also shared an apartment for about a year with three roommates. Times are tough out there, and I’m more than happy to have him living here while he’s working on his degree. He doesn’t pay rent or anything.
My husband and I have a blended family, so we have a lot of younger kids still living at home, six to be exact. We moved our two youngest (both 9-year-old boys) out of their shared bedroom so that Jake could have his own space. They are now sleeping in our upstairs loft with no door, no closet or storage for clothes and toys, and no privacy. It’s not the worst situation in the world, but not ideal for kids who already go back and forth between two homes. We want them to feel like they have a place here and that this is their home too, and not like they’re displaced and shoved in the corner.
The problem is, Jake never sets foot in this house. He initially moved in to the room, set up his TV, his queen-sized bed, unloaded all his belongings, and has slept here a total of four nights in the past two months. He will disappear for weeks at a time, without answering his phone or responding to repeated text messages from anyone, and then he’ll show up randomly to grab some food, play his PlayStation for a few hours, and then disappear again. I’m 100 percent sure that he’s staying at his girlfriend’s house. She also lives with her parents, and the humiliating part is that they live literally three minutes away. So it’s hurtful to me that he never responds when I invite him for dinner, or shows up when we’re celebrating someone’s birthday, or having any special family event.
On the rare occasion that he does come around, he’s delightful. He’s super fun, all the kids adore him, he’s nice to everyone and helpful around the house, he’ll sit and talk to me for hours, play board games with the kids, and just when you think all is right with the world, poof, he vanishes and his room sits empty for weeks again. It’s extra hard on my youngest who already has abandonment issues from the divorce and doesn’t understand why his brother won’t stick around and hang out with him.
I get that Jake is an adult and just living his life, but it’s the fact that he technically lives here and we bent over backwards to give him space in an already overcrowded home that I’m struggling with. I love him so much and I don’t ever want him to feel unwelcome, but his behavior shows me that he doesn’t care either way. Do I kick him out? Demand he move his stuff out so I can put the kids that actually DO sleep here in a bedroom? Help!
— Should He Stay or Go?
Dear Should He Stay,
I don’t think you need to give Jake the boot entirely, but if he’s not actually going to be staying in the house regularly, there’s no need for him to have a dedicated room—especially considering how the 9-year-olds had to sacrifice for him to have one. Find a corner—perhaps that loft—where Jake can sleep on the rare occasion that he’s there and give the room back to the boys. You, your partner, and Jake need to come to an agreement about what his place in the home will be, and he should have to honor that in order to stay there, even if only on occasion.
You need to have a discussion with Jake about your expectations of him under this arrangement. Work with him to determine a reasonable amount of time for him to come visit with his siblings so they don’t feel abandoned by him and he doesn’t feel suffocated either. Explain to him that it is important to be consistent with the children, especially considering that they’ve all had to navigate a lot with regard to household changes (including his presence) and that he can hurt them tremendously by not upholding his end of the bargain. Be clear with him that you’re happy to provide a place for him to rest his head, but that a great sacrifice was made to give him a room and he’s taken that for granted; he should take some responsibility for how you and the children have been left to feel by his extended absences.
It’s not unfair to expect Jake to regularly attend family functions; he may not need to be present for every Pizza Night, but he shouldn’t be missing birthdays or holidays either. Hopefully, he’ll be understanding—and it sounds like he’s a generally nice guy—and will adjust. If not, then you’ll need to reconsider allowing him to make your home his part-time residence. He hasn’t needed to stay with you at this point, but that could change if he breaks up with his girlfriend or faces some other sort of life event. He should be mindful of how he impacts the operation and morale of the household and do his best to contribute positively if he wants to continue having your home to call his own, period.
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