Dear Margo: Tough Love and Less Money

Margo Howard’s advice

Tough Love and Less Money

Dear Margo: My wife and I have a 29-year-old daughter. For the past two and a half years, we have been paying her rent and utilities to help her get on her feet and find a job. Her son, our grandson, 7 years old, is in school the whole day. Our daughter lives in the city, has a car, is on the bus line, gets food assistance, and is intelligent, healthy and able to work. When we bring up the subject of getting a job, many excuses are offered as to why she won’t even look for one.

She has a certificate in dental hygiene and could use that to get a good job, but she doesn’t want to. Right now, her life is three-hour naps, Facebook and watching TV. She also complains about having few friends. With all that time on her hands, we’re wondering why no friends. Any advice as to how to motivate her to seek employment? — Unhappy Dad in N.M.

Dear Un: I do have some advice for you, as a matter of fact. Stop enabling her three-hour naps, Facebook surfing and TV watching. You can do this by reducing your financial help so that she will be “motivated” to utilize her dental hygienist degree. “Not wanting to” is not a sufficient reason for her aversion to getting a job. Remind her she has a child to support. If she were in a lab working on a cure for cancer, then I might say continue to support her, but since that is not the case, I would have no qualms about putting an end to three-hour naps, Facebook and television. As for having few friends, tell her that working women have a better chance of making friends in the workplace than they do in their homes. — Margo, firmly

Just Not Feeling It

Dear Margo: Do you think people can genuinely love and forgive a person but not want a relationship with them? The reason I’m asking stems from an incident between my cousin “Wanda” and me. A while back, she called my dad, pretending she wanted to talk to him, but the real reason was to find out specific information about me, which was really none of her business. My dad told me, and as a result, I decided to call her and politely tell her that if she wants to know anything about me, she should ask me directly. The next day, Wanda called my dad to tell him that I called her and was rude and disrespectful (which I was not).

So, some time went by, and during the 2011 holiday season, she called me hoping to make up for what she did. I slammed the phone down in anger. She then called my dad to tell him I hurt her feelings. My father told her I am an adult and have the right to respond any way I choose, and that he cannot make me talk to her.

A few months later, she and I made up, but I still do not feel I can trust her. What do you think about the question at the beginning of my letter? — Happy Living Without the Drama

Dear Hap: This back and forth sounds like you girls are 13, but I know that is not the case. I well understand why you would not trust her (not sure I would, either), but I question whether you really do, at this point, love and forgive her. Perhaps without trust, love and forgiveness are not unqualifiedly possible. The bottom line is that you don’t wish to have a relationship, so don’t. And don’t beat yourself up about it. — Margo, unfortunately

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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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22 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Kate Olsen says:

    LW1 – can you adopt me pretty please.  OMG – cut off the funds to this vampire she is sucking you dry.  If need be, take the grandchild to live with you.  I wish that I had been given the chance to get a certificate as a dental hygenist or any other field.  I have worked in kosher poultry processing plant among many other menial jobs to support my two sons.  I had no parents to pay my bills.  You are enabling her by paying.  Please stop or she will never get a job.  Why should she – you are paying her bills. 

    LW2 – First off, tell your Dad to stop taking Wanda;s calls.  Then call Wanda and tell her to stop calling your Dad. If she wasa grown woman she should come to you.  I agree with Margo – sounds like 13 year olds whining.  Grow up and act like adults.

    • avatar htimsr40 says:

      Wanda and Dad are related. The LW has no standing to tell Dad to stop taking Wanda’s calls or to tell Wanda to stop calling Dad. And she has no standing to tell Dad what he and Wanda will discuss … although she can request that they not talk about her. She DOES have the right to tell Dad she does not wish to discuss Wanda’s calls with him.

  2. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  I suspect you have enabled your daughter her entire life so it will be difficult for you to pull the financial plug on her but it must be done.  I’m with Kate…take the granchild to live with you if necessary but get this woman off of her rear end and out to work.  I’m not sure, but I suspect that the one area of the economy that has not been decimated is the health care field as people still get cavities and still get sick.  Give her a time limit…say three months…to get a job after which no money from you.  And whatever you do, don’t let her move back home.   I assume the grandchild has a father.  If he is not paying support, he should be. 

    LW#2:  What Margo and Kate said. 

  3. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #2 – This letter writer is just as immature as she is implying her cousing Wanda is.

    The question begs to be answered. “Why does Wanda want to know what is going on in your life?”  That is the big issue. Think about it. When was the last time you went out of your way to find out what is going on in the life of someone you don’t care about? Exactly. My guess is Wanda spoke with her father to discuss a plethora of matters and yes….this cousin was included in those conversations. So what? That happens every day all over the world.  If I speak with relatives, I too ask how this person is or what that person is up to?

    It seems ridiculous to assume that any and all conversations must involve only those on the phone call. Any reference about a person not on that phone call must be followed up with phone calls to people mentioned in the phone call. Grow up!  Dad isn’t to blame for mentioning that cousin Wanda asked about this letter writer, this is called normal human behavior people.

    Letter #1 – I disagree with Margo’s answer, although I can appreciate where it is coming from.

    The United States streets are filled with homeless men, women and children that loss there homes because they were/are irresponsible. Those that couch surf from home to home because they didn’t or wouldn’t become motivated to work. Let me be clear, I am not saying ALL homeless people are homeless by choice, but many are homeless because they mismanaged their lives.

    Parents that supported their grown children like this writer assume that if they simply cut off the money that it will surely result in their child stepping up and taking responsibility for their lives by sheer nature of not having a choice. And to their horror the next thing they hear is their son or daughter is homeless, and still aimlessly floating through life not being responsible.

    IMO this happens because SOME not all, but SOME people have issues that appear on the surface to be lazy or unmotivated, when at the core there are deeper issues. This daughter could be depressed. She could be unmotivated to get a job and care for herself because of insecurities and fear. 3 hour naps could be because of laziness but it could also be severe emotional distress.

    I think what this dad needs to do is have a sit down with her and have a frank, direct and serious conversation with her. Explain what life has in store for her in terms of independence, work, friends, dating, travel, social activities… 🙂  Ask her pointed questions to get a feel for any hint of depression or personaility disorders that may require therapy.

    The knee jerk reaction in these situations is to take the “sink or swim” approach and I would argue for far too many people when we assume they will choose to swim, many sink.                   

    • avatar jadez says:

      Of course the REAL answer is not having all the information it is not possible to be definitive in answering.

      but..with the little we do know….the parents should take the daughter out to diner and explain to her what they are feeling as related here and create a deadline for their support.(custody of the child should be secured no matter the outcome)

      3 months should be more than enough .

      as far as the sink or swim argument…there is no point in generalizing(no matter how many times you say A FEW) about all homeless people.
      this woman is totally capable of working and supporting herself.

      if she sinks thats her problem.

    • avatar butterfly55 says:

      Having gone through depression, one of the best ways of fighting it is to get busy and do something.  It may be hard at first but it gets easier as you go on and it gets your mind thinking of things other than the depression.  Exercise and working did more to relieve me than counselors and meds. 

      • avatar Belinda Joy says:

        Butterfly55, you bring up a valid point. If this woman is in the depths of depression, the last thing that should be done is to abandon her with the mindset you’re on your own now. Mental illness is nothing to play with. She just needs someone to show her how great life can be and gently help her embrace all it has to offer.

        • avatar Briana Baran says:

          “Mental illness is nothing to play with”

          Absolutely true. Nor is it a lay person’s job to try to fix it, or to be dragged down into the well by the mentally ill person. If the daughter is suspected of having a mental illness, then she should be encouraged to seek professional help (for those who say this is impossible for the indigent, it is not. If the parents are able to use a computer, then they are able to seek local resources and aid…though they cannot easily intervene on their daughter’s behalf).

          Not all depression can be “gotten through”. Clinical depression, depression as part of schizo-affective or bi-polar disorders, or due to abnormal brain chemistry are considered permanent conditions and very different than situational depression. Different things work for different people, but one of the most successful coping tools is cognitive therapy, which is very different than talk therapy and analysis.

          The key thing though is the desire to help one’s self. Some people will refuse to even acknowledge that they potentially have a mental illness, that they need help, much less take responsibility for themselves. When such a person’s lack of accountability descends to a certain level, even their loved ones who love them the hardest may be forced to make a choice between their own survival and sanity and the individual who simply refuses to help herself.

          There is no showing her “…how great life can be and gently help her embrace all it has to offer.” unless she will accept that she must get help, and that her mental health is dependent on her. Yes, I have mental illnesses. NO, I am not “afflicted”. I am a fully functioning adult with a healthy, happy life, a wonderful 18 year marriage, a job and a brilliant, well-loved, delightful 15 year old son. I see a psychiatrist quarterly and a therapist weekly. It was a huge step to be able to trust psychiatry; when I was young, severe shock treatments, committing women for PMS, Thorazine, ice cold wrapping and even lobotomies were still in use. My disorders are severe and challenging, and if I can be responsible for my treatment and behavior considering my diagnoses, I have expectations that all but those who completely lack introspection and are totally psychotic can as well. If they won’t, no, at a certain point no one can do anything for them unless they decide to take out a written statement that they are a danger to themselves and in need of treatment. Even if involuntarily committed, at some point they will be released, probably with medication and appointments for continuing treatment. If they refuse to continue taking their meds because they “make them feel bad”, or they’re “cured”, or they don’t feel inclined to meet expectations, how much suffering should those who love them endure? How much care and sympathy do you give, and enabling do you do while that person sucks you dry, steals from you, leeches money, time and life out of you before you say, “Enough?”.

          If my discussing my life offends anyone, that is not my problem…it would be yours, and you’re welcome to your thoughts and opinions. I am not projecting because I’ve had someone do this to me…but I do know that you don’t destroy other people because you have a mental illness. Or two. Or half a dozen. You don’t do it because you have diabetes, lupus, RA, CP or any other disease…and mental illness is no different. Treatable in the majority of cases, but only if the person allows it.

  4. avatar reeledge says:

    Could LW! be depressed?

    • avatar carol grzonka says:

      probably not, but she will be when her parents pull back on the money. a really good manipulater works their audience so well that the people being used also use the pop psychology we all pick up to have their victims make all the excuses for them.  btw, not so much bitter as having worked environments where manipulative people rule.

  5. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    I completely agree with Margo’s advice on both letters. As for the 2nd one, I think love and forgiveness have to be separated from each other — at least in some cases. I never loved (nor hated) a woman who recently wronged me, but I forgive her (mental illness may have been a factor in her behaviors; prior to meeting, she was a total stranger). However, we have no further contact (for many reasons, and I’m not unhappy). You can forgive someone without loving them (past/present/future). As to whether or not it must include continued contact, I think it depends on the situation and severity of the injury. *The* complication comes when there’s a feeling of obligation; she’s your cousin (blood kin) so there’s a sense of obligation. You’ve already confronted her. If you have to reiterate to her your hurt/anger at her, do so. I’m not close with any of my cousins, so can’t relate. I do think it’d bug me a lot more if it were a sibling than a cousin. You need to move on from this.

  6. avatar martina says:

    LW1 – The three hour naps and no motivation makes me think that she’s suffering from depression.  This needs to be brought to her attention and she needs to be told to take care of it because the gravy train is ending.  She has no reason to take care of it if you continue to enable her. 

    My brother, the one who bankrupted my father’s business, came knocking on my parents’ door with his two boys shortly after he was kicked out of his girlfriend’s house.  My parents took him in only because of the boys.  He contributed money until my mother had her stroke.  It took my father a year after he stopped contributing money to finally tell my brother he had to leave because of the guilt my father felt throwing the kids out in the street.  My brother found a place and the boys are doing fine.

  7. avatar Lila says:

    LW1: Zero income is a pretty good motivator for seeking employment.

    You say you are helping her “get on her feet and find a job.” Obviously, paying her expenses has not been a very good strategy so far. So stop.

    If the rent’s paid up, she has several weeks to go find a job. If you feel honor-bound to help her, do so ONLY AFTER she has started actually working and until her first paycheck. No job – no help. Period.

    If she totally fails, I guess an alternative would be to tell her she doesn’t get any more money, but she can move in to her old bedroom in your house, the one with the little single bed with the frilly sheets, and you will provide a bedroom for your grandson too. I mean, after all, she IS still a kid. A kid with a kid, but no sense of responsibility. Hey, maybe you can go back to work yourselves and save a whole lot of money for a trust. Live long and prosper, leave her the trust and your house, and you might just be able to swing it that she never has to work a day in her life. [sarcasm]

  8. avatar Teri Brown says:

    I remember when people used to write to Ann Landers and Dear Abby with real problems, and each gave real and sound advice.  Now the writers have first world mini-dramas that I can’t believe they really feel the need to write to a columnist, and Margo gives the worst advice in the world. 

    • avatar Hellster says:

      Teri, you have hit the nail on the head.

      Where I live, we call these “Cadillac Problems.” I agree, the old”agony aunts” columns , from the quality of the problems to that of the advice, were superior.

  9. avatar Susan G says:

    LW#1. I’d have the daughter checked for medical conditions including thyroid imbalance.

  10. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – She has no friends because she’s a slug and people don’t like slugs. Buy a big box of salt and go to her apartment and threaten her with it.  Do what Margo says. You created this Slacker Beast now un-creat it.

    LW2 ” My father told her I am an adult and have the right to respond any way I choose…” What? You’re an adult? Really? No…..he didn’t mean that. Really? 

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      But no beer. Slugs love beer, and it’s lethal. Human slugs might love beer too, but I think it might only exacerbate the problems. Also, if she likes her chips, she might not react to the salt.

      Do leeches shrivel up and get all gnarly from salt? “Cause I think this is more like a leech situation. Nobody likes a leech, they anesthetize you so you don’t feel it when they get all bloated from sucking you dry, and then you discover this gross, fat, slimy black booger hanging from your flesh…feeding.

      Of course if you’re volunteer leech fodder….

  11. avatar CanGal says:

    LW2 – Blood makes you related, Trust makes you family.

    Actually this could apply to both letters.

  12. avatar jezoebel says:

    LW1: it’s such a no-brainer answer. Cut her off financially, take your grandson since she can’t be bothered at this stage, and that will be more than enough of a motivator to get her tush looking for a job. She’s pushing thirty, not eighteen. Time for her to be an adult for once. Also, does your grandson have a father around? Either way, stop letting your daughter be a mooch or as another person wrote, a “slacker beast”.

  13. avatar Eve Dallas says:

    LW1: This behavior sounds like textbook depression (or addiction to something). You could make your financial support contingent upon her seeking diagnosis and treatment, if recommended. In order for you to be able to follow up, she would have to allow the doctor to share information with you. If you have the ability to do so, you could also make her support contingent upon her moving closer to you so you can more easily monitor and be there for your grandson, or maybe (again, if possible) offer to take in your grandson while she seeks treatment. I wish you all the best.

  14. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW1: Cut her off-with explanation. She will swim. I didn’t read the other responses, but I sense she may be suffering from heavy depression. Nevertheless, she should be able to be productive and support herself. If it were me, I’d pay for therapy until her insurance kicks in at her new job. That would be her only financial support she’d get from me.
    LW2: Based on the letter, it sounds to me that YOU blew things out of proportion. She called to find out about something & you wouldn’t talk to her any more? If you dad divulged info then you should be angry with him. If he didn’t give it up then who gives a toot. You then had a fit and slammed down the phone in anger when she called to apologize? (very mature. Maybe anger management class is in need). I really, truly cannot fathom that either one of you are older than 18. Furthermore, you didn’t really tell us what it eating you. You obviously have some beef with Wanda aside from her being nosy (or concerned).