My adult son is a mess. How can I help him?

Question: My 48 year old adult son is threatening suicide because his former girlfriend broke up with him over a year ago. He lives in California and I have not seen him since 1992. He sends “help me” e-mails and I don’t know the truth of the situation. He has used pot since 7th grade and drinks excessively. I think he is bi-polar. Now I think he may be homeless. Any suggestions?

Answer: Seeing our adult children make chronically poor choices that mess up their lives is very painful. Unfortunately you can’t fix these problems for him. He is the only one who can take a hard look at his life choices and the consequences and make changes.

Since he doesn’t have an address that you know of, even calling the local Crisis Intervention number in his area when he’s threatening suicide, won’t be of much help because they won’t know where to go to find him.

What you can do, however, is to pray. I’ve been reading through the Bible this year and I am struck again and again by the power of prayer when from a human perspective, the situation looks hopeless. Every time he comes to mind, or you receive an e-mail, pray and ask God to send people into his life that can help him learn how to make better choices. Pray for his protection and that he will learn from his mistakes and desire to get the help he needs.

You may also want to check out some good churches in the area where he lives. See if they have a ministry to the homeless or support groups like Celebrate Recovery. When your son e-mails you, send him these resources as places to go for help in making a fresh start. That way, if he is genuinely seeking help, he has something specific to do.

Unfortunately sometimes adult children prey on their parents’ kindness and their guilt. Most parents have some regrets about their parenting. When an adult child can hook those guilty feelings we can feel that we “owe” our kids because we didn’t do enough in their growing up years. Even when that’s true, we can’t really fix their lives. Their life is their life now and they are the only ones that can fix their life.

That doesn’t mean that we may not help out with the costs of counseling, or rehab if necessary, but if you do so, you need some very specific boundaries and guidelines around your part of the help.

For example, payments go directly to the facility and you check out the facility for its credentials. You receive permission to contact your adult child’s counselor about his progress (your adult child will need to sign a release). And, you only do this one time, not again and again. If they blow the opportunity to get help, then they have to figure it out for themselves the next time. A great resource for parents with adult children who are out of control is Setting Boundaries with your Adult Children by Allison Bottke.

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