#41 Son needs help to kick depression / Father needs father-coaching


Dear Annie: Our 24-year-old son, "Rod," has been jobless for nearly a year and now lives at home. His mother and I have tried everything to get him off the couch and find a job, to no avail.

At a recent free depression screening (thanks for recommending it), Rod was diagnosed with "moderate depression," although he generally seems to be fairly cheerful. He sleeps most of the day, and at night stays up playing computer games or goes out with friends.

Rod dropped out of college after his freshman year, saying he'd rather kill himself than go back to school. Later he took one computer-graphics course at a community college and survived. He doesn't contribute to room and board, but will do odd jobs to help around the house when asked.

Rod has a counseling appointment next week, which is good, but when he's gone for counseling in the past he never returned for a second session. As an adult, he can't be forced to do anything against his will. And his will to do anything seems virtually nonexistent.

If I kick Rod out of the house, I fear he won't be able to cope and will end up on the street. But I'm getting increasingly fed up with his do nothing approach to life. What can you suggest? —BUMFUZLED IN NASHVILLE, TENN

Dear Nashville: The inability to "get off the couch" is often a sign of depression. It might help to tie in Rod's room and board with counseling sessions. Let him know he can stay if he continues to see a counselor. Also, help him find some part time work, and insist he earn a few dollars and be productive. Sometimes motivation comes if it is proceeded by a swift kick. —Annie

Gabby's Reply

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  Gabby's Reply:

Hi Nashville: There's nothing wrong with Rod. It's you. Rod presently has absolutely no choice but to mirror you and your leadership-communication skills.  You alone have trained him. You might be tempted to want to split the responsibility with your wife but that would reveal an addiction to blaming.  You've trained her as well.

It could be said that you have been unconsciously intending him to behave this way in support of you completing your relationship with him. Specifically, there are thousands, yes thousands, of conversations you have yet to have with him in support of you both being whole and complete. You are stuck in the process of becoming a father; he's stuck in being lazy, disrespectful, manipulative, and abusive. He's waiting for you to be a father.*

Many readers are thinking, "Whaaat! You should have the cleanest windows in town."** They can't imagine why you haven't said to him, "You're welcome to stay here while you recover, however, if you want to crash here you need to put in four hours a day, at the level of excellence." The remaining hours each day he would use for job hunting, appointments, and eventually procuring an apartment.  Of course, you and I know that you are presently incapable of having your son work four hours a day (five days each week) around the house.

Notice I use the word "having" as opposed to "getting."  Having connotes creating space for responsible contributions; whereas, "getting" him to do chores requires threats and involves lots of remindings, proddings, and arguments.

In this regard you have failed him. You simply could not bring yourself to supervise him responsibly. In truth he is in charge of you. You have trained him to use you. He can not feel good about the way he is misusing you, so this compounds his negative karma. He knows he doesn't yet deserve the job or relationship he believes he wants. You're setting it up for an employer, the military, or prison staff to train him to be responsible.

BTW: You don't get any points for being nice and easy (euphemistically referred to as a permissive pushover), as opposed to being dictatorial and abusive.

notice that both leadership models (permissive or dictatorial) produce less-than-desirable results. You think that what you call love is supportive.  The majority of us still have poor penmanship because we had "nice" teachers.

My suggestion for you is: Intend that he stay home with you. Verbally communicate to him (instead of non-verbally as you do) that you'd like him to stay home with you for as long as he wishes.  Why? Because that's the one result you can be trusted to produce without you having to change. He has had no choice but to resist you in having a life and career. The alternative is to get some leadership communication-skills coaching for yourself; unless you do, you will keep using the same leadership-communication skills that produced a lazy abusive son to produce the same result with your grandchildren. Yes, his behavior is abusive —his behavior not only detracts from your aliveness and that of your wife's, it also invalidates you both as parents.

He is covertly communicating something; you just aren't getting it, and so he has to keep repeating himself (non-verbally) daily.  It has to do with thoughts of resentment, disrespect and contempt. I suspect that you paid for his college. At some level he has thoughts of disrespect towards you for throwing away your money and, most importantly, for buying into his con. In other words, you've got to recall the first breakdown in communication between you (the truth of what it was about) and complete that communication.

And yes, you must be willing to have him pull his trump card on you—your fear of knowing he's "on the street" or worse—him dropping the word "suicide" in your space. If he does, enroll yourself in therapy so as to address your addiction to enabling.

You can't begin to imagine what a shift it will be for you to issue the ultimatum to him to work a full four hours around the house. Not three hours and fifty minutes but a full four hours.  In fact, you'll have to undergo as much of a shift (yes, as much) as he will to become motivated. This is why you need to spend some time with a coach/counselor before you issue your house-work ultimatum, else your son will know you don't mean it—it's so not you. It requires consciousness to supervise another in doing excellent work. What you're also looking for is the childhood incident of yours (a specific conversation, time, and place) after which you made the decision to not be like, or to be like, someone. Possibly a parent made you work hard and so you made the decision to not be like that parent with your son. That, or one parent was hard on the other parent and again you grew up not wanting to be like that. You may live by the decision that it's mean/wrong to be assertive. In any case, whatever the decision you live from, it's having a profound debilitating impact on your son.

Rod is mirroring you and your pattern of "trying." For every 24-hours more you try to help him, it postpones his maturity.

Re: ". . . when he's gone for counseling in the past he never returned for a second session." He doesn't go back because he knows he'd eventually have to confront and acknowledge his abuse of his parents. 

* A quick fix is to take him on a 6-day camping-hiking trip. The bonding will be comparable to thousands spent on therapy.

** One of the most powerful lessons one can give a child (9-years and older), (it's also recommended as an essential part of an employer's interview-test for a job applicant) is the job of cleaning a window.  With your son, the task begins by telling him that all the supplies he needs are in the kitchen. Note: For a windshield you'll need to buy a bottle of automotive Glass Scrub (removes water spots) and a new kitchen "soft" scrub pad (white w/sponge on one side (use the scouring side for the windshield glass). It's his job to discover what works—Paper towels or newspaper? Windex (w/without ammonia)? Vinegar and water, etc.? Instruct him: "Let me know when you have cleaned the inside and outside of just one window before you do any others. By the way, 'clean' means clean, no smears no streaks."

Tip: Begin by assigning him one window to clean. Not both parts of a whole sliding glass door, just both sides of the sliding part, or both sides of one smaller window, or a windshield. Tell him to come to you when he's completed it. When he comes to tell you it's clean, look him in the eyes and ask, "Is it clean?"  Most likely he will be lying. If you observe his facial communications you'll see his considerations revealing the lie.   You'll see that the window has streaks and smudges. Simply say, "No pass." Then ask him, "Can you see the smears?" Most likely he'll get upset. Listen to his upset but don't argue with him. Just say, "I got your upset, and your considerations. Can you see the smears?" Get a clear definitive "Yes." Then, he'll probably try a quick fix (minus the intention to have it be clean) and he'll come and get you again. You'll find the streaks and smears (you have to look closely from all angles and light) and again say, "No pass." Ask him if he can see them. If it's night-time you might have to go outside and use a flashlight (with him looking from the inside) or even wait for morning or sunset for the smears to reveal themselves. He will not want to see the smears that you can see. If you give up and accept less than "Mars spacecraft clean-room clean" you will have rewarded mediocrity.  Do not offer suggestions about how or what to use. It's called discovery-learning. Cleaning has to do with intention. A blind person can clean a window. It has a specific feel when it's clean.


#1 My 9 and 10-year-old girls could be trusted to do complete work (weeding, floors, windows, dishes).

#2 Quite often, depending upon how much unresolved anger the person has, one's first window job can take 2 - 3 days, with lots of drama including pouting, upset, and anger—all the tricks they've used before to get someone off their back, the cons they've used that rewarded them in doing a half-assed job. If the anger persists have them do The Clearing Process for Couples or The Clearing Process for a Parent and a Young Person/Teen with you.

#3 A window when viewed during the day may appear to be clean but at night with different lighting one sees the smears. Eventually one discovers that the job is about intention not technique (ironically it's the same for communication). The parent must intend (cause) the child to re-create the parent's intention for the window to be clean.  A child can hear the lie when a parent doesn't mean what he/she says.

#4 Those who have problems supervising the job correctly the first time have been trained to work at the level of mediocrity. What works is to sit the person down after several attempts and have them empty their mind.

#5 Newspaper smears a micro-thin layer of ink. Newspaper paper does work if it has not been printed on yet. White paper towels work.

#6 A parent who buys into the anger and lets the child quit without eventually cleaning the window before watching TV or going out to play, rewards temper-tantrums and paves the way for a life of mediocrity.

#7 In the old days, as a rite of passage, sons would, in anger, challenge their father to a fist fight; afterwards, they'd end up hugging, thereby ending the father's dictatorial-domination reign. The Clean Windows Game accomplishes the same result without bloodshed and, the lesson about intention and doing complete work will stay with the child for life.

#8 You clean a window first before you assign the job so that you know that it can be done; it will be as difficult for you to do as it will be for him.

Thanks for the great letter, it will of value to many.  —Gabby
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Check back occasionally for minor edits (last edited 9/22/17)

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