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 Responses so far.

  1. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: Too vague about the real important issues here (type of mental illness, functional abilities of the sons, etc) to make any kind of real assessment. About the only thing I can say is it’s unlikely you’re ever going to be empty nesters—so perhaps you should build a guest house or buy a trailer to have some physical space for you and your sons.

    LW2: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to move and experience the world—especially when you are young. See places and meet different people. The world is a huge place and it goes quite further than your own back yard. I’ve done it and continue to do it every 3-5 years. In fact, I wish I’d done it more when I was your age. Take your scattered thoughts, come up with a workable plan, and put it into action. Just make this RULE #1: do not move because you’re on the run from a problem—fix any problems you have first, so they don’t follow you.

  2. avatar Dan Bingham says:

    LW2- 23 is EXACTLY the time you should be wander-lusting! When I was 23 I moved to Taiwan for a year to teach English, and have never regretted the experience. You don’t know where you want to go? Do some research! Learn a language! Or just put up a map and throw a dart at it! If you don’t go now, then when?
    Where would you get the money? You can get a job in your new country (the market for English teachers exists just about everywhere). Or you can do what I did/do: not spend it on other things. Traveling is my big thing (still). I don’t gamble, I don’t keep up with fashion, I haven’t seen a first-run movie in years, I don’t go out to eat or party or drink. I save. And then I travel. It’s all a matter of what you want most.

    • avatar Lisa Cornell says:

      LW#2 I echo the comments of the reader above. I suggest the 23 year old check out the opportunities of teaching abroad. My son who is 25 was in exactly the same position three years ago, a fresh graduate with no career ambitions. He found a job teaching ESL in Korea and has been there ever since. Next year he is off to Japan and then he thinks he may go to Spain.
      He travels on his vacations. He is going to Beijing next week and he is planning his next vacation in Thailand. He has met so many fabulous people and his ex-pat friends come from all walks of life and all across the globe.

      • avatar Amy says:

        Lisa, there’s something you should know about those ESL programs: boys get treated way better. Almost every guy I’ve known that went to Japan to teach English wound up in a good school, in an amazing city like Osaka or Tokyo. But the girls were always sent to places like Sapporo to teach low-income classes of horribly rowdy kids. My point is she shouldn’t just leap into something like that without understanding the consequences, both good and bad.

        • avatar wendykh says:

          I’m a girl and I taught in Osaka and I had an absolute blast. I taught adults via video conferencing, made ridiculous money, and partied like a demon. It was fantastic. I wish I had stayed.

    • avatar D C says:

      What he said!

    • avatar A R says:

      Oh, gosh. Please don’t suggest “English teaching” as a way of traveling cheaply. As an ESL teacher, I can tell you that unless you know what you are doing, you’ve got NO business claiming to be able to instruct in English or getting paid for it. Really, it’s tantamount to linguistic malpractice. 🙂 Mind, I’m not talking about you necessarily, Dan, as for all I know you may have been qualified; I’m speaking about those who think just because they can speak it, they can teach it.

      • avatar wendykh says:

        Oh hush. There’s plenty of work out there for college graduates to “teach” english by conversing with non-native speakers. They want this service and enjoy it.

        • avatar rachie205 says:

          Actually, I agree with AR. Had a friend who *tried* to teach English to kids in France, but was just not so good with children (or most people in general), made the kids cry, etc. Perhaps they should at least be given some training?

          • avatar Allison Grant says:

            Unfortunately, that’s par for the course in France. Probably not his fault. I taught in France for two years (still live here) with 5 year of elementary teaching under my belt. The kids were great, but in terms of teaching, not so much. No materials, no supplies, no training, no support, active sabotage from other teachers in the schools during my second year.

            A few thousand English teachers apply through TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France) and come to spend a year teaching. With elementary, you’re in charge, so it’s not the best for anyone who hasn’t had previous teaching experience. But you can also do middle and high school, where you do conversation groups and mini-lessons rather than full-blown classes. There are a few articles about the program on my blog, if anyone wants to check it out.

        • avatar A R says:

          Hush, yourself. The quality of your logic is proof that you haven’t a clue what you are talking about. “‘Teach'” by conversing with non-natives.” Geez. Go take a TESOL course.

  3. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  I agree with David that the letter is too vague about the mental health *issues* of the two non-working sons and is glaringly silent on what treatment those sons are recieving for same.  I wouldn’t give up on getting them out on their own until I had explored treatment for those issues and group home options and I certainly would  be limiting the money allotted to them for more than food, shelter, and medical care.  If they are truly unable to work because of mental illness, they may qualify for social security disability which would add some funds to your household income or enable them to live independently.  I have a cousin with mental health issues who has been on SS for years and manages to keep his own household afloat without needing money from family members.  Admittedly, he lives in a very small rural community where the cost of living is not high and his dwelling is very modest…but then so those of the rest of his family.  As for the lack of intimacy, I think you need to force your husband to deal with this.  Maybe take a weekend away from the *kids*…not with sex in mind but with re-establishing your communication in mind…and raise the subject and potential solutions like a good physical and exploring whether your family situation or other factors are depressing your husband to the point that he has lost interest in sex.  I don’t think there is a magic bullet to solve either problem.

    As for LW#2, I am with those who say you are young and now is the time to wander if that is what you want to do but you need a plan and the first step is deciding where you want to go.  Expect it to be a life changing experience as most likely your boyfriend will move on in your absence and your friendships may be stretched (but not necessarily lost forever).  I would hesitate to take significant funds from your family to finance this adventure but as others have pointed out there are ways to make your own way in foreign countries and certainly in a different US city.   If you don’t want to turn your whole life upside down (and there is nothing wrong with that if it is what you want), then do what one commenter suggested and focus on saving money to finance short trips to satisfy your wanderlust. 

  4. avatar CatA says:

    Sorry, Margo, I thoroughly disagree with your advice to the second letter.  Your first sentence is a phenomenally broad generalization about the writer.  She identifies herself as a SINGLE 23-year-old from the Midwest, who has a nice life but a case of WANDERLUST and you’re accusing her of being “an excitement junkie”?  Then you proceed to instruct her as to how she can cure herself of this?  Really?  Talk about overkill.  For Pete’s sake, it is NORMAL for a single 23-year-old to be a little restless.  Would you say this to a 23-year-old single male?  No, of course not.  You’d likely tell him to follow his heart and sow his wild oats.  If LW2 were a MARRIED 23-year-old (male OR female) with a child or two, your this-too-shall-pass advice might be applicable.  However, given that young Dorothy would like to get out Kansas and live a little — and is in the perfect position to do this — here’s my advice:  LW2, you should give some serious thought about what you want to do and places you want to see.  Plan financially for at least a temporary change (and take advantage of a generous relative’s offer, but pay him/her back later, okay?).  But remember that you ARE  23 and SINGLE and it is important that you do these things NOW before you marry and have children, as your chances to do so later will be dwindle.  Do you want to see Paris from atop the Eiffel Tower?  Do you want to hike across New Zealand’s mountain ranges?  Allow yourself  the chance to do at least one wild-crazy thing before you settle down in Topeka — or in New York, or in Berlin, Germany, for that matter.   And Margo, a 23-year-old single person with Wanderlust does NOT need a therapist, okay?   Geejus… 

    • avatar htimsr40 says:

      Could not agree more. A single 23-year old with no discernible responsibilities who wants to travel and see the world is not only NOT in need of a therapist, but this may be a sign of mental health strength. The desire to travel and grow is a POSITIVE sign … one that shows an active mind, an active imagination, an active engagement with the world. She will be a stronger, better person for following her heart. Go. Go now.

    • avatar Messy ONE says:

      Sorry, I disagree. Read the letter again. Travel is not what the kid wants. So she has no destination, no plan, no job, no plans to look for a job and then go, no plans to return (not a big thing if she has a JOB), and nothing but a vague bored feeling.

      She sounds like a toddler who wants to join the circus. If she left now, she’d be back in six months only to find that her friends and boyfriend have moved an. She’d also be unemployed. All she’s doing is setting up a pattern of creating a social setting for herself, then flaking when she gets bored.

      I knew a woman like this once. She dumped two husbands by just leaving when they went to work – leaving them with the children she chose to have with them. Why? “I was so bored!”

      • avatar Donna Sampson says:

        Read it again. She says she has “a job that pays the bills and puts food on the table”, so she DOES have a job.

        • avatar A R says:

          I think she meant that she has no job to move TO. Like, no job that she can relocate FOR, no job calling her away, etc. I don’t think Messy was saying that she is currently unemployed. Otherwise the statement that when she returned she’d be out of the loop and unemployed wouldn’t make sense. Just my take.

          • avatar Koka Miri says:

            To add to this – I doubt she’d pick up and move without applying for jobs first. I mean, come on, people.

            So that would be real advice to the letter writer – follow your heart, but have a plan first and a destination.

        • avatar Koka Miri says:

          Exactly. She does not sound like a toddler. She has a job, a boyfriend and a stable life.
          What part of that sounds irresponsible?

          I don’t know what’s made our culture so accepting of the status quo, but she could be a big fish in a tiny bowl where she’s at.

          You say you knew a woman “like that” – you should probably stop thinking they’re the same person.

          • avatar Messy ONE says:

            The childish part is that she DOES have a life/job/boyfriend/friends and all she can think about is jumping on a bus and running away. She DOES sound exactly like a spoiled toddler who wants to join the circus and if she acts the way she sounds, then she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer now, is she?

            Maybe she’ll grow up one day, but that day is not today.

          • avatar rachie205 says:

            You think wanderlust is being a spoiled toddler? I’m 23 as well, feeling a bit restless myself. My fiance and I moved to Texas from Missouri four years ago so I could go to school for a degree in marine science, and now we’re planning a move to Florida in August.

            We travel a lot…in the last six years, we’ve been to Steamboat & Breckenridge, Colorado; Whistler, Canada; Park City, Utah; Key Largo & Key West, Florida; Cozumel, the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, and many random trips closer to home (Texas wine country, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, and when we lived in Missouri: KC and STL were high on the list of places we went). We’re also getting married in June and heading off for a two-week European trip: London, the English countryside, Paris and Munich.

            What’s so wrong with wanting to see the world? Just because you may be content with staying home and watching TV doesn’t mean everyone is. She may not have a plan, but that restless wandering itch to get out and go somewhere different isn’t a bad thing. Give her a break, maybe she hasn’t traveled much and doesn’t know exactly where she wants to go.

  5. avatar Donna Sampson says:

    LW2…How about finding a job that includes travel? Peace Corp, military, civilian support job, traveling nursing, airline stewardess, etc…there are lots of jobs that include traveling that can help to satisfy your wanderlust.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      The flight attendant suggestion is spot on.

      • avatar Amy says:

        No, it isn’t. Flight attendants never get to leave their respective airports, it’s low-pay, high-stress work, with long hours and I reiterate, no real way to experience the joys of travel. What’s the point of going to France if you never even get to step off the damn airplane?

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          No it’s not. I know several and they love their jobs and get to travel all the time. Hello—travel benefit.

  6. avatar Davina Wolf says:

    LW2: This woman doesn’t need therapy–she needs to make a change. 

    It’s hard to know where you want to go when you’ve been in one place for a long time.  I wish I’d taken off for Alaska or Europe when I was her age instead of playing house. 

    This person is perfectly normal and does not need therapy. 

    Wake up, Margo.     

  7. avatar staili says:

    I thought “mentally challenged” usually refers to mental retardation, not mental illness.

    In any event, Margo may believe that “mentally challenged adults, at all levels, can work,” but believing something doesn’t make it so. There are many people for whom that is not true.

    Margo would have helped the LW more by suggesting that a determination of the sons’ functional status be made. If they are truly unable to work, as said previously, they may qualify for disability.

    • avatar Amy says:

      I think Margo just didn’t care about either of the letter writers. Mental health? Please. It’s probably ADD or Manic Depression or any of the myriad of things that are easily treatable yet are used as excuses by the current generation to never do anything with themselves. Time to kick their butts out; she’s done her job, time to be big boys and learn what the real world is like! The longer she enables them by handing over her wallet, the more damage she is doing to them in the long-run.

      • avatar fallinginplace says:

        Wow, Amy, that’s an awfully harsh assessment when you don’t know any more than the rest of us about the issues these kids are facing. Manic depression is easily treatable and an excuse not to do anything? Seriously? Sounds like someone needs a little life experience and a whole lotta compassion.

  8. avatar Karin Smith says:

    @LW2: as others have suggested, there are many jobs that give the opportunity for travel.
    However, if you don’t want to switch jobs, (and since you don’t have sufficient funds for multiple trips) there are many charitable organizations that do “service projects” in different places around the country and the world; these projects help people in the area by building schools/hospitals/houses, distributing aid, donating medical services, etc. These trips can vary in length from one to several weeks, thus making it easier to fit into your schedule than a long-term trip. Also, friends and family are often willing to donate money to help offset travel expenses for a trip that will help others.

    If this is something you’d be interested in, I’d suggest contacting different organizations like Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, and other places that specialize in medical, educational, or other community services and see what kind of travel opportunities are available with them.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Karin, my aunt is a nurse who goes on several of these medical charity trips every year, to different countries. Some things our Restless Girl should ask about, and know before signing up for one of these: My aunt does get some time to see some sights in some places, BUT she has to pay her own airfare and board, and for a visa if the country has a visa fee; often, the accommodations and food are far below western standards, so one must be prepared to put up with that or pack your own food; AND some of the places she goes have security problems and the medical team is pretty much locked down for the week or two that they are working, then it’s right back to the airport. Still interesting and satisfying if you are there to learn something and do some good, but it’s certainly not for “tourists!”

  9. avatar May Voirrey says:

    LW#2, When I was your age, I felt the same way and I was also living a “good” life. Part of the problem was that although I had a job that paid my rent and kept me fed, it was simply boring. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew I wasn’t emotionally satisfied by the life I had.

    I made a long list of things that appealed to me, from lifestyle to geography, and then prioritized to create a picture of what would be my “realistic ideal” at that time. I narrowed down a couple of places I thought might work for me, and did as much research about them as I could. I even subscribed to the Sunday newspaper (which you can now do online). After a few months, I was ready to go to a new place, sight unseen, and see what life had in store for me. I was already applying for jobs from a distance.

    As fate would have it, I got a job offer in New York, seemingly out of the blue, and I ended up moving there and having a completely different kind of adventure. I was fortunate in that my job also required me to travel quite a bit, and I was able to tack weekends onto my trips to new places.

    Around the same time, my cousin, who was about the same age, had just enough money to move to Hawaii. She stayed for three years and lived a somewhat Bohemian life during that time, but she never regretted taking that leap.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with you for feeling restless. You need to find the situation that feeds your soul and your curiosity. Be it moving abroad, joining the Peace Corps, or setting yourself up in a new place, just do your research first, make that list of things that you might not even realize you crave, and go for it. It only becomes a less likely possibility as you get older and more settled.

    • avatar Lila says:


      Peace Corps is an excellent suggestion. They usually require a 2-year commitment, which may seem a long time, but 2 years is NOTHING especially when you are off on an adventure, having fun, learning things and helping people. AND, when your tour is done, it is great experience to be able to list on a resume or school application. Not only that, it might help Restless Girl come to her own conclusions about what she wants to be and do in her life.

  10. avatar D C says:

    LW-1 — I don’t know what your life is like because I’m not there, but could be one day on a lesser level.  I have 1 out of college (23) who is living on her own, but I’d kind of like her to come home and get a REAL job now that she has her degree — but she wants to stay in her college town.  I think she might come home at some point and that WILL get old fast.  But I don’t think it would last for long.  The boy in college may never come home again — he’s having too much fun.  The youngest is our one who may never fly the nest (autism – fairly mild) — I don’t see him ever being able to hold a job. 

    As for the intimacy problems… if hubby won’t go to counseling, won’t see a doctor, and won’t talk to you, then it may be time write him a letter and spell out exactly what you want.  If he won’t read it, or ignores it once read, then I’m of the opinion (and I’m sure more than a few people would slap me in the face at the idea), that it’s time to get what you need elsewhere.  If divorce is not an option, there’s a long history around the world of discreet lovers on the side.  But if your marriage vows are sacred to you, and he has obviously decided they are not important, then a divorce is in order. 

  11. avatar TheRooster says:

    I generally like Margo’s advice and find her entertaining, but her reply to lw2 is laughably bad. Therapy is for people who are confused about what they want or need. This person is obviously desperate to learn about themselves and have an adventure. I was this person once. Stuck in my hometown with a good life and vague feeling I should be doing something more. Well, I packed up one day moved to a big city and had great and interesting experiences there. From there I travelled around the world several times, met tons of awesome people, and saw extraordinary things. From there I explored the great outdoors and became an accomplished mountain climber. Now I am married, live in a different country, have a house and a job, and big plans for the next adventure. It wasn’t always easy, in fact it rarely was, but it was worth it in every way. Don’t listen to the scared people who tell you not to go – there are many ways to explore the feelings you have – the duration and the intensity of your wanderings is up to you. Just go. You will not “outgrow” this feeling. You will just end up a bored older person filled with regret.

    • avatar wendykh says:

      me too! I go back home now and shiver seeing people who still live there! When the Dixie Chicks came out with Taking the Long Way I was moving to Japan and I listened to that album on repeat over and over and over…. WHEW I could so relate… “my friends from high school… lived in the same zip codes as their parents did….” NOTHING wrong with that but NOT for me, and not for LW2 either it seems!

  12. avatar Daniele says:

    Lw2: Join the Navy. You’ll go all over the world and get paid for it. You’ll still have a job, still have bills paid, still have security, but you’ll wander everywhere. I say the Navy because most naval personnel travel the world regularly, there’s a new port always on the horizon. No, you won’t pick the destination, but you will travel and you’ll see places (good and bad) that tourists never see.

    The military is not a panacea, but in the case of someone who wants to travel, doesn’t know where, and can’t afford to just do it? It’s an option.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      Between “Just go. You will not “outgrow” this feeling. You will just end up a bored older person filled with regret.” and Daniele’s suggestion about the Navy—if I were this young woman I would consider both statements very seriously.

      And as far as the job thing—lots of employers consider well-rounded and desirable applicants to be those who take risks, have traveled extensively, are familiar with other cultures and people, can think on their feet in an unfamiliar situation, and are able to develop—rather than depend—on a support system.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Daniele, the military is a thought, but Restless Girl should be aware that they are going through a very large drawdown right now. Of course they will still be bringing in new people, but fewer than in recent years, which means that quotas will be filled quickly and it may actually be hard to get in. Another thing – one must give a bit of thought to what, specifically, the military is recruiting you for, since you will be “stuck” with that for the term of your enlistment in most cases. And not all military people get assigned overseas – not even in the Navy. It is quite possible to end up assigned to a Stateside base or port driving a truck, or cooking, or requisitioning supplies for three years. On the plus side, you would still get GI Bill benefits for an education, and you would still have skills and experience for a resume or college application.

      • avatar Lila says:

        Although – let me amend this a bit – I have to say, the military was great for my wanderlust. I have been trained on a number of different weapons (fun!), have jumped out of airplanes (fun!), learned to rappel (fun!), was trained in one specialty and did that for about ten years, then switched to another specialty and got a grad degree and a new foreign language (yes!); and have been to over three dozen countries, either on assignment or having taken opportunities to go touring around the region.

        But it’s NOT all fun and travel. If you are going military, be very aware that the hours are long, it is a physically demanding job, there are frequent separations from your family and your residence, you can’t take leave whenever you want, you often go to the field and live in crowded conditions with few comforts and little choice even of the food you eat; you DON’T get much (if any) choice of assignments, and you may very well be sent into harm’s way. I did have a lot of fun but never once was I able to choose my post, nor did I choose the foreign language that the Army had me learn. And I have been in two combat zones and into two other “hazardous fire” zones where the US was not at war, but someone else was.

        Bottom line, the military isn’t for everyone. If it is your kind of thing, it is GREAT. If not – well, you will still have the GI Bill, experience and a resume at the end of your term.

  13. avatar A R says:

    LW1: There are a lot of mental health issues that still allow folks to work. I’d wonder if the young adults were actually diagnosed, or if this is a diagnosis the letter writer has assumed based on her statement that they “seem to be unable to fend for themselves”. In other words, has a specialist told you they can’t fend, or are you tired, defeated, and assuming so? If they’ve been diagnosed, then you may want to go back to said specialist and find out (as Margo suggested) what options are available for these fellows (meds, programs, group homes, etc.).

    LW2: Wanderlust can be very normal, but like David said, make sure you aren’t running from an internal problem that you must fix first. Truthfully, you sound to me like someone who is just bored with her orderly life. Nice job, nice area, nice boyfriend—where’s the excitement? Where is the vitality? Perhaps you’ve settled for something that you thought you should have, and now you are bored. Change is not bad, but you may want to start by reaching out to family members for advice, looking for a job transfer to a different city, or even visiting friends in other areas to see what interests you.

  14. avatar FireyLady says:

    LW2: Margo, why on earth didn’t you suggest she find a career that will LET her travel and experience all the things that she’s longing for?! There’s nothing wrong with wanting to taste the sweeter things in life, and to chide her for wanting to do so was simply mean! She has every right to want to see if the grass is, in fact, greener on the other side of the fence, and I was really disappointed in your answer of finding a therapist. Mean, really mean.

    • avatar Amy says:

      I think in Margo’s case, bad advice runs in the family.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        Wow, Amy—I’ve been called mean and callous on this board, but that was simply uncalled for.

        Let me be as blunt as you here—if you don’t like Margo’s brand of advice, why don’t you just go away?

        • avatar Katharine Gray says:

          Yay David!  I don’t agree with Margo’s advice on this particular letter but really…Amy is out of line with that comment.  WTH?  Insulting Margo’s family?  Thats just being a biotch! 

  15. avatar April says:

    L2, please talk to a therapist or counselor and figure out the source of your wanderlust. I have a friend who is almost in her 50s who has been like you her whole life. No matter where she goes or what she does, she’s never content. She’s also not open to seeing that perhaps there is something going on with her, as opposed to something wrong with wherever she happens to be at the moment. Don’t end up like this.

  16. avatar Amy says:

    Margo, regarding LW#2: for pete’s sake, she lives in the midwest! Honey, get OUT of there, find a place you fall in love with and lever leave. Never, EVER just settle and force yourself to stay tied down in a place you can’t stand. There’s so much out there and if your family is willing to help, take it! I did the same thing at the age of 25, I scooted off to Seattle and I have been in love with my new home ever since.

  17. avatar j d says:

    LW2: I concur with the others that the girl does not need therapy. Heck, I’ve had a doctor advise therapy and I haven’t managed to get there – I doubt a young girl merely seeking a change in location/pace without a plan yet really needs or wants to head to therapy. At least she is thinking about a plan… it’d be more cause for concern if she just left without thinking about it like this and seeking advice. That’d be a bit more indicative of excitement junkie.

    FWIW, I felt that way around age 20 – felt sheltered and needed to shake things up a little (I transferred to an out of state college after finding a program I was interested in switching to, and worked PT to pay for my room and board). I honestly feel this is normal, and it was out of my system a few years later! I’m certainly no excitement junkie!

    My advice would be to research online, find something you might be passionate about, and go do it! Oftentimes an opportunity will present itself through research, or just read some of the other suggestions here. Simply have a a basis of a plan so you can still take care of yourself and have some direction — and then let chance take care of the rest.

  18. avatar lisakitty says:

    LW1:  As Margo says, you have 2 (actually 3) separate problems.

    The first thing you need to do is look at each son individually.  Every person is different and what works for one kid isn’t going to work for another.  The two sons with “mental issues” (different than being mentally challenged as others have said) need to be assessed separately to see what type of plan to implement.  Are these “kids” seeing therapists?  If so, it would be worth a trip to the therapist to loop them into how to proceed. Types of questions to ask:  what type of living environment would be best for Son 1?  Can he hold a job?  What type of job?  How about meds?  etc.  Do this for each son INDIVIDUALLY.  Once you come up with a plan for both sons, a family meeting to discuss schedules (Son 1: out in 6 months?  Son 2 in a year?) and how to implement the plans.  Then (big one here) stay on schedule.  Meet once a month to go over how things are going and be flexible but dedicated to getting these young men out of the house.  You aren’t doing them or you any favors having them stay there.

    As far as your husband is concerned: he’s a different kettle of fish.  My first suggestion would be to get him to a doctor.  He may be shutting you out because he’s unable to perform.  Stress is love-killing: he may be fully stressed and it may be affecting more than his libido.  I’m not sure how you can do that: does he have an annual exam?  It may be something to address then.  Your next appointment?  Probably a marriage counselor to help to teach you to communicate.

    I firmly believe that the best thing to do when you are scared is to take action.  I hope some of these suggestions help bring you some sort of control back into your life. 


  19. avatar impska says:

    LW2: I concur with most of the posters. This LW doesn’t need therapy, she just needs a change. Wanting a change of scenary at a time when you are starting out in your career path, unmarried and have no kids or responsibilities isn’t strange. It’s the exact RIGHT time to try out some new things, new cities. Yes, her boyfriend might move on while she’s gone – or maybe he’d like some adventure too.

    LW1; If the sons have disabilities that are debilitating enough to keep them from working then help them get on disability and help them arrange for another living situation, then kick them out. You may need to have some involvement in their lives to help them keep their finances together and budget properly, but there’s no reason they can’t live independently (and if they truly can’t live independently, either, there are places they can go – like the group homes Margo suggested).

    If they don’t qualify for disability because their mental issues are undefined, or don’t actually qualify as being debilitating (laziness and entitlement are not true mental disorders) then kick them out. They’ll land on their feet. Or they won’t. Their choice – they’re adults.

    But I have a feeling that you and your husband use your sons as an excuse not to address the problems in your marriage or the true causes of your unhappiness. If they were gone, you’d have to really face why you are so unhappy and so it’s easier to keep them around and lay the blame on their presence and the stress they cause you.

    And maybe it’s a leap, but I have the sneaking suspicion that the “mental health issues” are in fact not actually diagnosed and just another distraction from reality. It’s easier to excuse your sons behavior with some kind of vague, undefined mental issue than to admit that you may have erred as a parent and raised a couple of lazy, spoiled brats. Real mental health problems have a diagnosis, a treating physician, perhaps a psychologist, support groups, coping mechanisms, medication or dietary changes.

  20. avatar D L says:

    LW#2 – since you’re unsure of what the actual issue is, why not take a road trip across the US? It can be done relatively inexpensive (well, rising gas prices may throw a wrench in the works). It can help relieve some of the boredom and allow you see what other cities are like. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find a city/town you absolutely love? Here’s an idea: is there a concert/show/function you would like to attend? Maybe on in NY or LA? Perhaps buy tickets for it and plan a road trip to it. It could be alot of fun. I disagree with many posters on here saying to find a job in another country. If after you explore the US a bit and you’re still not satisified, then look at other countries, as that is rather expensive for a “I might like this” jaunt.

    One other thing to think about: when did this feeling start? Have you always had it or did it just come about recently? I only ask b/c it could be just boredom of your daily routine. Are you always doing the same things day in, day out? Week after week? I too would want to run off to another state. I suggest exploring the root of this issue (no, not with a therapist) before making any plans to pack up and move. Maybe take a class, job a book club, learn to cook exotic meals, etc. Then see if you’re still craving travel…

  21. avatar Lila says:

    On LW1, like the other commentators here, I also question what “mental health issues” really means. WHY “can’t” these young men work? And since they are living at home and don’t pay for food, rent, or utilities, WHAT, exactly, is their “need” for money? If it’s therapy or medical co-pays that’s one thing. But if it’s gas for their cars, movie tickets, booze and restaurants – well, then, turn that dang money spigot OFF and tell them if they want the good life, they need to get jobs and pay for it.

    Like impska said, laziness and entitlement are not disabilities. Maybe I am prejudiced to assume this may be the case, because I have seen this sort of unfounded helplessness more and more in our young people lately. When I lived in California, my neighbor’s 20-something daughter was “depressed” or something similar, and in CA that meant she got state “disability” benefits and did not work. Well – I had an opportunity to observe this young adult at length, and she was not too disabled to drive a car and stay out all night partying. I don’t call that “disabled,” I call it “stealing taxpayer dollars and contributing nothing to society.”

    Maybe I read Aesop’s “The Grasshopper and the Ant” one time too many as a child. Or maybe these kids should have read it more.

    • avatar Katharine Gray says:

      Like you and Impska, I also wondered if the son’s *mental issues* involved laziness more than genuine mental illness.  I see friends of mine with perfectly healthy adult children, whose education has been paid for by their parents, who are living in their parent’s basements unemployed and really making no effort at all to be employed…and rejecting some job offers as *beneath their education*.  I tried not to read too much into this LW#1’s letter…I wish she had been more specific so that Margo (and all of us of course) could give our excellent advice! 

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Lila: I have a sister who is on the English equivalent of disability. She claims she cannot work because of a physical illness. Her “disorder” may be painful and debilitating…but when she ***wants*** to travel, she is capable of making arrangements that she deems impossible for normal, day-to-day work. She can and does sit at a computer all day on her Facebook page…but claims that sitting this way in an outside work environment would not be feasible. Last year, she suddenly added anxiety disorder and depression to her roster of disabilities…but only after I let it slip that mental illnesses can qualify a person for such benefits. She has no dependents, no responsibilities, and whines endlessly about her suffering and helplessness.

      My 20 year old son, who is high-functioning on the autism spectrum and diagnosed as bi-polar II, slow cycling, lives with his biological father. The ex has allowed him to sit at home, playing video games, listening to death metal bands and watching moves for the past 4 years. This despite my constantly encouraging my son to get a job (he is capable), take some actually helpful classes at the community college (he has average intelligence and no learning disabilities except unwillingness), and even offering to help with these endeavors. I guess it finally dawned on him that he had a 2o-year-old unwashed, unshaven lump sitting around the house acting out with violent rages (throwing things and screaming…which he CAN control) when he couldn’t conquer a new level in his latest game, eating, grousing, begging for cash and demanding attention like a five-year-old, because he’s finally decided to make him take a useful class or two. Of course, our son has now resorted to sulking, snide comments, rude and entitled behavior and obnoxious commentary whenever he comes to our house…because we’ve always stressed the “reality” side of things.

      I could claim disability at any time. The only thing I’ve ever had to excuse myself from is jury duty, and that was at the suggestion of my psychiatrist, who is neither touchy-feely or warm and fuzzy…or simply a pill-pusher…but a very practical and down-to-earth man who was rightfully concerned that there were certain sorts of cases that I would have serious issues with, given my history. A past filled with abuse and victimization by sexual predation is not a guarantee that you’ll be excused from a trial involving such issues. Causing a mistrial because I had a full-blown panic attack (they are very ugly) or severe hallucinatory episode would be ugly.

      Other than that I take care of my home, have a wonderful 18 year old marriage to a beautiful man, did yard work for the first time in years (and paid for it with allergic reactions to…everything, but it was still a lot of fun), volunteer by caring for rescue cats, have lunch with my best friend, fight my own battles, attend my younger son’s s theater performances and am looking forward to embarking on a new college course soon. And I AM by family’s true bull goose looney. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s worth it.

  22. avatar Mary Morgan says:

    When I 23, I left for Europe for what I thought would be 6 months of travel…3 years later, I returned home…it was the best thing I could have done for myself…I grew up, learned a lot, had wonderful and bad experiences both…and never have regretted for a minute those 3 years.  One of my best friends there came back and went to work for the State Department for her life carreer and traveled around the world many times.  Just do it!

  23. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #2: The grass is *always* greener on the other side of the fence. You sound a lot like me “back then,” and one thing I’ve learned in life is contentment and that sometimes you ARE better off right where you are. If it’s a problem/issue within you yourself (been there/done that), you cannot run away from your problems (been there/tried that). That’s cold hard reality — which will always come back to you and me, until it’s dealt with. If you’re thinking “I’m an exception, it can’t be that bad” — no, you’re not an exception and it can get bad. Best of wishes to you (be smart and stay put).

  24. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – I’m sure you love your husband and your boys but I just have this lovely vision of you meeting some scamp, packing an overnight bag, walking out the door and starting all over. Actually…. you should think about that.  Watch the movie “Shirley Valentine”. Then give it some thought.

  25. avatar R Scott says:

    LW2 – I don’t agree with Margo on this one. I think she’s being too conservative. Know what you should do? Hop on a bus and go somewhere different. It may suck, it may be a big nothing it may be very difficult and life changing but you’ll never know until you try. You’re only 23. You’ve got a lot of years ahead to fix things if you make a big mistake…which you won’t.  The grass is always greener on the ohter but it’s still grass, but, it’s different grass. Take a chance and get on a bus. Give Solvang, CA a shot. No reason. It’s as good as anyplace else I guess.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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!

  29. 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.       

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. avatar wlaccma says:

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

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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.