Dear Margo: Just Say No

Have we spoiled our son rotten? Margo Howard’s advice

Just Say No

Dear Margo: I have no idea how it happened, but we’ve made a mess of raising our 18-year-old (although his older brother turned out fine). Up until a few years ago, we were very middle class people. My husband and I worked hard, paid our bills, got by with older cars, and saved for the kids’ college educations and our retirement. Fortunately, a few years ago, my husband’s career took off, and we could buy more luxuries, take nice family vacations, etc.

Suddenly, our younger son thinks we’re the Rockefellers. He’s become impossible, demanding money to go places, and when we say no, he becomes verbally abusive. Because he was too lazy during high school (despite having a high I.Q.), he couldn’t get into a decent college, so he goes to community college (where he is doing very well). Now he is furious because we were planning on giving him his father’s car rather than buying the $30,000 number he has his eye on. Oh, and his very part-time job does not even pay enough to cover gas, let alone insurance.

I know we could just turn off the cash, but at 18, I fear the damage has already been done. Will he ever have a clue, or will he be living with us, mooching off of us and demanding cash from us for the rest of our lives? –Hardly the Rockefellers

Dear Hard: He will not be living with you, mooching and demanding cash if you don’t permit it. You and your husband need to have a sit-down with young Rockefeller and point out that his being 18 means you are no longer legally obligated to offer him room and board, an education, transportation, etc. Explain that an attitude adjustment is not only in order, but mandatory. Tell him the verbal abuse will no longer be tolerated, and if he expects to have any kind of a good life, he will have to do some serious work on his thinking and behavior.

Some damage may have been done by your aversion to saying “no,” but it’s not too late to scare him into acceptable behavior by not rewarding his demands by caving in. You have the power — not he. –Margo, strictly

When the Stories Don’t Quite Match Up

Dear Margo: My significant other and I have been participating in the protests that are in the news. On the day he went to man the booth at noon, we planned that I would join him at 3:00. He was not there. I called his cell many times, but the calls went straight to voicemail. I went home. At 6:15, he finally called and said he was home. I went to his place and questioned him about the circumstances. He said the battery in his phone died and he was at the booth for six hours without leaving it. (That in itself is unusual because he constantly has to visit the bathroom; plus, he wasn’t there at 3:00.) I was very upset and left, telling him I needed to go for a walk to calm down.

A few days later, we were talking with friends of his who said they had been there the same day and visited the booth, but they didn’t see him, either. I think he is lying about something, and it bothers me. I don’t know how to handle this. Please help me cope, move beyond it, or whatever. –Stuck in a Bad Place

Dear Stuck: You are clearly at an impasse with your S.O. when it comes to clearing up the mystery. I think of the old joke, “That’s one…” If a mysterious disappearance happens again, or if you have any inkling that he’s not leveling with you, then you can start to think seriously about whether you wish to continue with a guy whose word doesn’t mean anything. See where things go moving forward, and put the relationship on probation — without announcing that, of course. Time is your friend. –Margo, pragmatically

* * *

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

Click here to follow Margo on Twitter

73 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Mary says:

    LW #1—Listen to Margo—-a little tough love is in order!

    • avatar Kathy Fisher says:

      LW#1: My gut tells me that, if he’s already exhibiting verbally abusive behavior, this could get extremely ugly without some outside help. It appears that you, unfortunately, missed the boat on setting healthy boundaries with your son when he was younger and more malleable, and I feel that unless new ones are set with the help of a neutral outsider, he will just continue to play the victim and lash out. I urge you to find a family counselor sooner than later and, if applicable, get your spiritual adviser involved asap.

      LW#2: The writing is on the wall. Liar, Liar, pants on fire….out ya’ go!

  2. avatar Kate Olsen says:

    lw1 – you have done the damage so reap the reward – or get a backbone and tell the brat that you made that the rules have changed.  You are the one who did this so you must be the one to undo it – post haste – before this child wreaks havoc on society with his attitude of the world owes me

    lw2 – face it – he lied – his friends proved that by telling you right in front of him that he was not there – either tell him to fess up or live with his lies – your choice

    • avatar Anais P says:

      On LW1, one way to undo it is to have him get his own place. He will soon learn all the things you do for him and may beg to come back — under YOUR rules, including no verbal abuse.

      On LW2, there is a third choice besides the two Kate Olsen mentions, and that is to break up with him. So far he has not come up with a plausible explanation for his absence. The friends and your own visit to the booth have blown a hole in his contention that he was there for six hours.  To me, lying is a definite deal-breaker. If it were me, I would “move beyond it” and take that third option.

      • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

        But lying about what is just as important as lying.  Was he lying because he was cheating on her?  Or was he lying because he was setting up that surprise party/gift for her?  Context means alot.

        To suggest that any lie is a definite deal-breaker means that you are going to spend time alone or living in a delusion. 

        • avatar Lunita says:

          I won’t argue that any lie, at any time, is deal breaker, because that would be very black and white. But do you really think that he was lying for a “good” reason such as planning a party for her? If so, I doubt he’d let three hours go by before calling. Wouldn’t he have either not have agreed to meet her at that time or when he realized he couldn’t meet her, let her know that earlier on? I think we can reasonably assume something’s amiss. Either he wasn’t into manning the booth and was too chicken to admit it to her, or he was up to something sneaky, like cheating.

          • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

            Probably not.  But you are creating a straw man here.  I am responding to someone who says that any lie is a dealbreaker.

  3. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW #1:  Listen to Margo.  Regarding the verbal abuse…consider it the equivalent of a two year old saying *I hate you* when you tell him he cannot have candy for breakfast. If it escalates beyond decency, kick his ass out.  I doubt, once he knows he cannot manipulate you, it will come to that point. 

    LW#2:  Perhaps he isn’t as interested in the *cause* as you are and wanted to get away from your rally because it bored him to tears and he went home and took  a nap but doesn’t want to admit to you that protests that are in the news are not all that fun for him.  Lying is not good, however.  Tell him you know he lied, ask him why, and if you are not satisfied with the answer decide to stay or go.  I would wager the chances of him simply being sick of protesting a cause that is in the news and going home for peace and quiet are greater than him hooking up with another protester of a cause that has been in the news.  But, he lied and you are owed an explanation for the lie.   

    • avatar Chris Glass` says:

      The writer of Letter 2 seems to be the one in the driver seat of this relationship. It seems to me that she may need to look at her own behavior towards her SO. If she is calling too many of the shots assuming he will fall in place he might be trying to sneak time to find himself. He does not owe her a detailed explanation of his every waking moment. His job might hinge on staying out of the spotlight. She states that she is upset because he didn’t offer an explanation. It is time to grow up and realize that her friend may feel smothered.

      • avatar Anais P says:

        On LW2, there is nothing in the letter that indicates the LW is “in the driver’s seat” in the relationship. Of course he doesn’t owe the LW “a detailed explanation of his every waking moment,” but the two of them agreed to meet at a specified time. He most CERTAINLY owes her HONESTY instead of lies. She was at the booth to meet him as they both agreed and she saw he wasn’t there; yet he says he was there for six hours. He lied, and one wonders, why? The fact that he LIED is a huge red flag. IMHO, I think she should just break up with him. A liar is not worth the time or effort.

        • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

          Ridiculous.  She should break up with him for a lie when she does not know why he lied?  A liar would be worth the time if he was lying to cover his tracks for something good that he is not yet willing to reveal.   Such black/white positions are silly and naive. Further, if you have never lied before as an adult, then I think you need to reevaluate what you believe constitutes a lie because the definition is far too narrow.

          • avatar Anais P says:

            Well if he agreed to meet her at 3 and did not show up, that scenario how does that square with “covering his tracks for something good that he is not yet willing to reveal?” Why in the world did he agree to meet her, then not show up? There’s one – being inconsiderate — right there. Then he said he was there for six hours, when she knows it was a blatant lie — that’s two. Then the friends said they did not see him at the booth either. That’s three. He had his cell phone turned off and could not receive her calls. That’s four. He didn’t call to let her know he wouldn’t be there after all. That’s five. Honey, most umpires only give you THREE strikes. The “good thing” has yet to show itself, as the LW did not mention her birthday was coming up, she was expecting a ring and got it, etc. Sorry, but  you have not persuaded me. I still think she needs to get rid of an inconsiderate, lying boyfriend.

          • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

            I am not trying to persuade you, honey.  I am responding to your comment that lying is a dealbreaker regardless of circumstances.  He could very well be cheating on her.  Although your counting of lies/lack of consideration leaves much to be desired, he clearly has some things to answer for to her.

            You need to read a response a bit more closely next time.  I am not defending this guy.  I am telling you that YOUR position that was stated in YOUR words is silly and naive.

          • avatar Diagoras says:

            Why is it ridiculous? They aren’t married. If she wants a relationship based on trust, and she doesn’t trust him, then it’s perfectly reasonable to dump him. It’s not like he’s the last man in the world.

      • avatar Lunita says:

        I don’t understand these negative assumptions you are making about LW2 either. Where does the letter imply that she is “calling too many of the shots?” When you agree to meet someone at a specific place and time, don’t you offer them an explanation if you are then unable to make it? Whenever anyone–friend, significant other, husband/wife–makes a date with someone and then doesn’t show up, common courtesy and manners call for an explanation. And really, how hard is it these days with text messaging, phones with email access, etc., to let someone know you can’t be where you said you’d be at the appointed time? She has a right to be pissed.

  4. avatar crystalclear says:

    Margo’s advice to Letter One is right on the mark.   Seems young son has developed an “entitlement mentality.”   As Barney Fife always said, “Nip it Nip it Nip it!!!”   

    Letter Two disturbs me a bit because this couple seems to have a trust issue developing.   This falls under the heading of they may not be right for each other.   There may be a plausible explanation for his disappearance but until he fesses up it remains unfinished business.   The seed of doubt has been planted. 

  5. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    On Letter 1 – A friend in a similar situation told her daughter she could move out and pay her own way if she wasn’t happy. If she wanted to stay at home she would be expected to be part of the family with specific chores and accept what her parents felt they could afford to give her. They pointed out that retirement was looming ahead for them and this was their time to prepare for that reality. They also enrolled her in a financial management class. She is a well adjusted adult at this time.

  6. avatar Lila says:

    I don’t know that it’s too late for a wake-up call for the 18-year-old Rockefeller. I agree with Margo that a discussion on reality is needed, but not to “scare” him, just to INFORM him of the reality. Bottom line, you want to spend money, spend your own. Oh, right. You don’t earn any. But parents owe their kids more explanation than that… it’s called teaching… so here’s my checklist:

    1. Your Dad earned that money as an established adult. You need to go earn your own. We decide how to spend our money, you can decide how to spend yours.

    2. At 18, we have no obligation to support you but we will help you achieve important life goals like finishing college. You do not get to dictate the terms of our assistance to you.

    3. We recognize that despite your legal majority, you are still growing up. Because you have not yet shown sufficient self-reliance or understanding of finances, we are putting your inheritance into a trust to be managed by a lawyer. The expenses for managing the trust will come out of that trust, so this will reduce your total inheritance. That’s the price you pay for your immaturity if we pass away before you have a handle on things. The estate is currently worth $x, of which your portion would be $x/2. That amounts to y years of your Dad’s current salary, or z years of our current expenses. The trust is necessary to ensure you don’t blow everything your father has earned and saved, on an ill-considered car purchase.

    [This last bit is generally a wake-up call to the young and entitled. They often have no clue how much it costs to run a household… much less the car and insurance expenses… and have very over-inflated ideas of just what their parents have, and how far it will go. Or not.]

    • avatar Lila says:

      Oh, and PS on the verbal abuse: ask young Rockefeller how many people in the world he thinks are going to hand him free money for acting like a juvenile ass. Inform him you won’t tolerate it and such abuse is a sure-fire way to get the money spigot turned off completely.

  7. avatar Jrz Wrld says:

    I suggest requiring counseling for the young would-be Rockefeller. He’s 18, but he’s in your house and so should be playing by your rules – otherwise he can just go fend for himself (and I don’t think this would be a bad thing at all). It could be that he’s just spoiled, but irrational demands like that could indicate something more insidious. My friend’s brother has an undiagnosed mental illness and exhibits similar behaviors. He is verbally abusive when he does not get his way and frequently has grandiose or irrational expectations as to what he “deserves.” His parents are well-off but have been overly indulgent and just acceded to his whims – at this point he’s headed towards 35 never having held a real job, still having his every need met by his parents. And he is BRILLIANT – we’re talking genius-level IQ. Yet he has outrageous temper tantrums when he doesn’t get to open his Christmas present at the time he wants to do it. When his parents die, he will have no one. His sister certainly doesn’t want to take care of him, and he doesn’t know how to fend for himself. It’s really been a tragic and frustrating thing to watch from the sidelines – so many missteps and missed opportunities over the years in this guy’s life. So, if you want to do your kid any favors, learn to say no and set boundaries. And use what leverage you have now to get him evaluated. He could be a brat, or he could need some help with his wiring.

    • avatar Pdr de says:

      Thank you for suggesting that this young man may have some emotional/mental problems and needs to be evaluated. Over the years tragedies have been reported in the news whereby a son kills his parents after years of living off them and fighting with them while expecting them to cave in to his increasingly unreasonable, incessant demands.

      That this young man is verbally abusive is not okay! It is possible it’s a harbinger of more serious and dangerous behaviors to come. There are many good suggestions from readers today and Margo’s advice is right on! Hope the parents are willing to “bite the bullet” before things get worse.

  8. avatar ADunn524 says:

    For LW 1 – I realize that this is not the point of your letter, but I feel compelled to comment on the distinction you make between community college and a “decent” college. I earned an associate’s degree at a community college, and went on to earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at well-respected private schools. I am now in the process of applying to PhD programs, and have spent the last several years teaching at the college level. I teach at both a “decent” four-year college and at a community college, and you know what? I greatly prefer the student body at the community college!

    Your son might be–whether he knows it or not–learning quite a bit about life by being a part of the community college environment. Had he gone off to a four-year private school, his entitlement would not have waned. (Trust me.) But at community college, he is hopefully making friends with people of varied ages who are working their way through school, have family and professional obligations, and know a lot about being responsible and independent. Take advantage of this and use the opportunity to start weaning him off of your wallet. He’s only 18; he’s hardly beyond redemption at this point. Be a parent and set some boundaries. You managed to do it with your first son, so you obviously know how.

  9. avatar Lisa Bonnice says:

    Am I the only one who doesn’t know the old joke to which Margo refers?

    • avatar crystalclear says:

      Lisa, please share….I’m one who doesn’t know the old joke!

      • avatar Lisa Bonnice says:

        LOL! I’ll let you know as soon as I find out!

      • avatar Margo Howard says:

        Lisa Bonnice & crystalclear — here’s the joke. An old farmer with a dog and a bad temper tells the dog if he keeps up his bad behavior he’s not long for this world. He tells the dog he has only three chances. After the third “bad dog,” he shoots the dog. Then, his wife does something he doesn’t like and he says, “That’s one.” There are, of course, different versions of this joke, but the punchline is always: “That’s one…”

        • avatar Lisa Bonnice says:

          LOL! Thanks, Margo! It’s good to know you actually read the comments your posts gather. 😀

        • avatar crystalclear says:

          OKAY MARGO!    THAT’S TWO…..  hahaha    Thanks for sharing!

        • avatar Pdr de says:

          I heard a version where it involves a husband and his new wife riding in a carriage to their home the day of their wedding. The horse stumbles and the husband says, “That’s once!” The wife looks at him but doesn’t say anything. The horse stumbles again and the husband says, “That’s twice !” By now the wife is puzzled but says nothing. The horse stumbles a third time and the husband says, “That’s three times!” and gets out of the carriage goes up to the horse and shoots him.

          Horrified the wife says, “Why did you kill the horse? What’s wrong with you?” The husband looks her in the eye and says, “That’s once!”

          I would hardly call it funny but clearly remember when I heard it.

  10. avatar Paula M says:

    Speaking from experience (my husband had a major upward swing in terms of income about three years ago) I can totally relate to LW1. The kids notice that there is more $ floating around and automatically feel an entitlement to their ‘share’. We had to make it very clear to our children that while there was more to go around, it was our money and our choice as to which pot the $ went into. For example larger portions went into retirement savings, college savings, a third vehicle of OUR choice, etc. I simply communicated that it was OUR money, and when they make THEIR money and are self-supporting, they can spend it as they please. It sounds selfish, but it really isn’t. We are still helping them pay for college, car expenses etc.
    Your son’s laziness in HS is telling, but the fact that he is doing well at community college shows that he is not a lost cause. I would stress to him that unless he wants to flounder as an adult he needs to understand that life is about hard work, managing money, and maintaining healthy relationships with other people. What it is not about is part-time jobs where you get to spend all your money on yourself, and throwing tantrums and spouting verbal abuse when your don’t get your own way. In real life that will get you exactly nowhere. He will need an attitude adjustment, but at 18 I believe this is still possible.
    If this happened ‘suddenly’ as LW says, it could just be a phase and he is testing to see what will happen. I would not turn off the cash completely, but let it be known in very explicit language that you expect him to be a RESPECTFUL partner who contributes a reasonable amount of his time and money towards his own future. This will benefit both him and you. Speak positively and plainly. Parents do their children no favors by letting them ‘demand’ anything. I agree letting him mooch is the first step toward the rest of your lives.

    • avatar crystalclear says:

      Our job as parents is to produce a good citizen to go out into the world and make it on their own.   We do our children no favors by making life too easy while they are living at home.

  11. avatar P S says:

    LW1 – My oldest has been like your son. Expected handouts and a free ride, then became verbally abusive and put out when told no. She used to say she was going to refuse to go to college and just let Dad do everything for her… until he reminded her he’s not immortal so no, he can’t support her forever, and like it or not, as her guardian (she has autism) she will do what he tells her, including attend college.

    I finally had to tell her last summer I would not put up with her verbal abuse anymore. Her response was to scream and yell at me. I hung up and refused to call back. She did apologize but continues to have behavior problems.

    For those who might argue that her disability should get her leniency, she is high functioning and intelligent enough to grasp right from wrong. She also has no problem playing moral judge and jury toward others, can be nice when she wants, and has admitted resorting to the nasty behavior because she simply wants to win, so in my book she doesn’t get a free pass.

    She’s almost 20 now, still lives with her father because she’s still learning to be self-sufficient, but she’s slowly getting on her way. She’s kicking butt with her college courses and (at least I hope) learning to respect others more. I’m hoping she’ll gain the confidence down the road to say you know what, I really don’t need Dad to stand on my own two feet, and I really won’t die if I do this whole adult thing on my own.

    I guess my point is if my autistic daughter can learn to get along with others and control herself emotionally and socially, then there’s definitely no excuse for your son to act like a spoiled @$$. As others have said, sit him down and inform him he’s of legal age, that means you owe him NOTHING, that everything you do for him is out of generosity and love at this point. However, if he doesn’t knock it off and start living by the law of the land, you’ll pu