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How To Deal With Adult Children Who Take Advantage And How To Prevent Your Child From Becoming A Freeloader

In last Monday's newsletter, I shared some thoughts on the growing trend of adult children financially abusing their aging parents, and how such behaviour is often carried out by those who show sociopathic tendencies. By the end of the week, I received hundreds of e-mail responses, the vast majority of them from people sharing their experiences with such adult children or asking for suggestions on how to disentangle themselves from said circumstances. I don't recall receiving such a high volume of emotion-laden messages in response to a newsletter, which I take as a strong indication of how ubiquitous financial abuse of the elderly is in today's society.

The defining characteristic of a garden variety sociopath is a person who lacks conscience - that is, he or she can knowingly steal, hurt, or take advantage of another person and feel no remorse. Sociopaths feel entitled to whatever they can get. And they are often able to garner sympathy from those around them, being masters of conveying how tough times have been, and how they would turn their lives around with just a bit of support.

Crocodile Tears

Such people can sob and even emit full body trembles when their instincts deem crocodile tears helpful to their cause. They can be charming and warm and world class in saying thank you and heaping praise upon those they take from. Ask them for a list of their top ten movies, and chances are good that "Catch Me If You Can" will make their list, as most sociopaths feel a strong kinship with Frank Abagnale, the former con man and imposter played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

I have almost unlimited juice for warning the world about those who serially look to take advantage of others because I've intimately known a good number of them. Whether they fit the bill of a sociopath, a narcissist, or another personality disorder, these people share the common trait of not being able to empathize with others experiencing pain and suffering. They also have a strong sense of entitlement - they don't feel remorse or shame in taking advantage of others.

Please know that I share all of this with a spirit of wanting to see targeted victims protect themselves rather than to vilify those who look to take, take, and take some more. I recognize that not everyone who takes advantage intends to hurt others - they are clear on what they want, and if others end up losing or suffering in order for them to get what they want, they will march forward and do what they must without guilt or regret. My wish is for such people to get the professional help they need to be less harmful to society, but because their mental conditioning runs counter to wanting to be a decent person who looks to serve the greater good, I strongly feel that we must prioritize educating and empowering those who tend to be targeted by sociopaths and narcissists of this world.

People who knowingly and consistently take advantage of others typically possess most of the following traits:

  • High intelligence

  • Unreliability

  • Dishonesty

  • Insincerity

  • Lack of shame or remorse

  • No interest in learning from mistakes

  • No true capacity to deeply love or care for another person

  • No interest in attentively listening to and understanding others, though they may pretend to try at times

If you have an able-bodied adult child, sibling, or friend who regularly takes financial support from you, ask yourself if you would do the same in reverse. Would you take or even expect financial support, or would you find a way to be self-sustaining through multiple jobs if necessary?

Are You Enabling Freeloading And Self Destructive Behaviour?

With few exceptions, when we enable adults to exist without putting forth the effort to care for themselves, we cripple them - we perpetuate an existence that will continue to be burdensome and cause damage to surrounding people long after we are gone. I believe most sane people would agree that the best thing we can do for such adult children is to be a loving presence but not be a source of monetary support. We as parents, grandparents, siblings, partners, or friends must not be a deterrent to these people being left with no choice but to roll up their sleeves and find a way to be self-sustaining.

A sad reality is this: It may be too late to have much influence over the basic mindset of an adult child who regularly takes advantage of anyone he can. It certainly doesn't help our adult children to enable and embolden them further by being their crutch, their bank of mom and dad that charges no interest and doesn't even require repayment of loans. Being a lifesaver to such a personality is the real life Marvel equivalent of giving Thanos the Infinity Stones needed to grow in his destructive power - such power is as self destructive as it is harmful to those within their circle of life.

So it is best to say no to enabling sociopaths and narcissists no matter how much our hearts bleed for their circumstances. If they want to live in our home or a rental used for retirement income, we must be sure to collect fair market rent and expenses, even in the face of stories of hardship that make it extremely difficult for them to carry even a portion of their fair load. With such people, there will almost always be a story in which they are the victim, so we must remind ourselves that they played a major role in creating their present day circumstances, that they made many choices to create their situation.

We must set up some structure and hold them accountable no matter how painful the process is and even if they threaten to hurt themselves. There is nothing wrong with them taking on a second job washing dishes, cutting lawns, or shovelling snow. The reality is that in most such cases, those who repeatedly take advantage of others won't make any such sacrifices and will actually be living comfortably, often eating out, buying themselves and their children brand name clothing, drinking beer and wine, playing video games many hours a day, going to the theater, engaging in costly hobbies, you name it. It is in their best interest to learn that when they freeload off of their aging parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends, they are taking away from all of these people's other loved ones. It's possible that the adult narcissist or sociopath has not considered this, and it's likely that they won't even care, but we are not fulfilling our duty as a family member or friend if we don't try to make them more aware of what's right and fair to everyone. This is especially true if you are their parent - no one else can share such messages with your adult child and have a chance for the situation to improve - no sibling, no friend, not even the adult sociopath's own children. As the parent, you and you alone have a slim chance of helping your adult child see and take a better path. And remember: when looking for signs of receptivity and change for the better, words mean very little. Behaviour is what matters most.

Conscious Parenting Of Growing Children

What can we do if our children are still young, if they are toddlers, in elementary school, or even in high school and still living with us as legal dependents? What can we do to help prevent them from becoming adults who look to take advantage of us and others? We can give them chores and responsibilities that serve the entire family. We can encourage them to earn and save for things they want but don't need. We must not rob them of opportunities to learn how to make sacrifices, how to be patient and resourceful, and how to handle not getting everything they wish for.

In some cases, we may need to love our children a little less. The warmest among us want to make it clear how much we adore our children by showering them with all that they need and want. Everyone stands to benefit when we embrace the idea that somewhere along the spectrum of being loving, there is a place that is partially motivated by our own need to be loved back. When we blindly love and adore our children and cater to all of their desires, it can become more about our own need to be loved back and less about creating the conditions that will best support their development into emotionally intelligent adults who have learned through hard work and delayed gratification to be self-sustaining. Conscious parenting allows for growing children to have many opportunities to make sacrifices, to be patient, to work for what they want, to be disappointed at times, and to learn how fulfilling it is to be a caring and thoughtful friend and family member.

In most cases, what we as parents say to our children likely won't have as much impact as who we are, how we behave, how we treat them and everyone around us moment to moment, day by day, year after year. Relationships and personalities are forged over many years through how we consistently behave, not via occasional sound bites on the virtues of being a decent person.

As a father to two young boys, now 13 and 11, I often think about all of the above and what I can be doing daily to create an environment in which they will grow to become responsible, independent, and emotionally intelligent adults, people who those around them can wholeheartedly trust.

If you have any thoughts on this topic, including advice or experiences that may be relevant to those who are currently struggling with what to do about a freeloading adult child, relative, or friend, please consider sharing via the comments section below. Thanks so much.

- Ben

 
 

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Comments

I am thinking that my sister’s problem is failure to launch.my mother put her through massage school till she found out that the muscles in her hands and arms will not let her give massages on an ongoing basis. She put her through college with a ba in business administration and now she says her blood veins that go up her neck to her head are not sufficient on one side so she doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to do business administration. She has lived with mom, taking care of her till mom died. Even though mom had long term care insurance and could have been taken care of so my sister could have a career. Now she has no pension. And mom is not there to give her a home any more. She has 4 kids so they can care for her. Ugh

An awesome article and reminder when we "adore " our children that we do them a disservice when we give up our goals and $$ so they will have what they want/.... not need ! EXCELLENT...Also, some of us have experienced irresponsibility in an adult we live with ( husband or / friend) and it is much harder when they start out being responsible and then slowly stop, handing o9ver the entire burden to you...It can be insidious and you keep adapting as it goes along, forgetting that you too should be having some assistance with bills and chores and the children, while your partner pursues their dream !!!

Your words makes sense and we need to let our children to be independent and responsible for their own actions; parents need to discipline them to understand what is right or wrong. They can grow with their own conscience knowing what’s right or wrong. Thank you for writing this article.

I just want to state for anyone else who may be wondering -- I know a family where the daughter is very generous, warm, and loving, and the son raised in the same household does not seem to have any true sympathy or feeling at all for his parents or other relatives. He can only take and take (and ask for more). He has had periods where he is not using drugs or alcohol and seems to be better during those periods, but he also has bipolar disorder. I feel sorry for him but I know that I cannot answer the phone to listen to a one-hour phone convo that only ends with another petition for monetary help. He calls his parents, sibling, aunts, uncles and cousins with similar requests on a rotating basis (we now compare notes).

Both children survived their parents' divorce and yes, they were both somewhat spoiled so that is a little part of it, but this young man honestly has what they used to call "a screw loose." He will never improve or change, luckily most of us know by now. He still takes advantage of his mother but it is so difficult for her to turn him away completely....

Thank you for posting these things and bringing us together in solidarity to know these people are out there and we are not alone in dealing with them. It really and truly means a lot, even if there is nothing much to do about it, to know we are not exaggerating things in our own minds and that we should not feel guilty for holding them at arm's length, even though our every instinct hopes that somehow enough familial love and prayer could "cure" them.

I am a barber and i hear it all of the time from clients who feel victimized by their adult children. In all cases, the parents are enablers. Parents must teach children boundaries, be consistent, let them do without, let them experience consequences for their actions. If a child grows up in a home where these principles are not applied , you have a good chance of raising a child that grows into the problem discussed. I would not be so quick to label them a sociopath. I personally know one true sociopath. In the case of these adult children, kick them out! It’s your house , your rules and no law that says you have to support them through their 30’s or longer. A freeloader is only a freeloader if someone is allowing them to freeload!

After reading your post on this subject it finally occurred to me that the financial abuse happened because I allowed it and that happened due to low self esteem on my part. I needed to feel needed. Wow! What an awakening. Now I am mulling over if I can recoup any of the loss. Thank you for your post.