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The question

Two challenges. The first: About 15 years ago, my wife suggested that we sponsor my parents to retire and come to Canada. My parents arrived with less capital than they led us to believe, my father died broke and so, for the past 10 years, we have had to support my mother completely with no assistance or moral support from my siblings. My mother and my wife don’t get along so we had to get her an apartment on her own. Essentially what might have been a modest retirement for us (I turned 65 last year) went to supporting my mother, and this has now led to deep resentment. The second challenge: My wife’s 30-year-old son by her first marriage does not like the concept of work, and six months ago moved into our basement so he and his girlfriend could “save some money.” They make no contribution to household expenses or upkeep. When my wife goes shopping, he goes along and his food purchases get paid by us. Essentially he’s a sponge. How do I say to my wife’s son, “Time to move on – at age 30 you shouldn’t have to be supported by us,” after we have supported my mother for so long?

The answer

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First, let me say I thank everyone who writes in from the bottom of my heart for trusting me with your thorny, Gordian-knotty problems. This one’s a doozy. A double-doozy!

As always I will do my best to sort it out.

But first … thank your lucky stars it was your wife, not you, who suggested your parents come over. Otherwise you might have been subjected, as Seinfeld’s Costanza says about his parents, to “an aggravation installment plan that [would] compound with interest for decades.”

Sounds like you’re doing the best you can vis-a-vis your mother. Everyone who knows me knows I consider a mother a holy thing. Hello? None of us would be on this planet if it weren’t for our mothers, so if we have to put up with some hassle now and then, it’s a small price to pay.

And procuring an apartment for her sounds like an excellent solution to any friction that might exist between your mother and your wife.

So − well done. The only caveat or codicil or asterisk I’ll add here is: Why are your siblings getting off so easily? I would phone and/or e-mail every one of them and say words to the effect of “Hey, how about stepping up here a bit, financially, morally and in every other way? She’s your mom, too.”

Politely, of course, but in your shoes, I would not readily take no, or evasion, for an answer.

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But your real problem here, clearly, is the 30-year-old layabout son.

I don’t quite have kids there, yet, age-wise, but I’ve read somewhere that something like 40 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 20 and 30 live with their parents. So it’s going to happen to, uh, two out of every five of us.

I know many people might say, “Duh, what’re you waiting for, kick the kid out,” but speaking as a parent, considering the crazy real estate prices and iffy employment situation out there these days, you start to picture your offspring sleeping on a steam grate − and it’s easier said than done.

For me, personally, my children will always be welcome in my home – and in fact, a little part of me wants them to stay forever. I’ll be heartbroken when they leave. I guess I must be ultra old-school: I like the idea of a multigenerational household.

But my friends are all like: “Hey Dave, you’re not doing the kid any favours. They have to leave the nest, and they will find a way (e.g. staying with friends, living in a cheaper community) for the reason people have found a way since the dawn of humanity − because they have to.”

So fair enough. Certainly, 30 is at the upper limit of what most would consider is time to leave the nest.

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Until then, though: He should contribute, financially and in every other way. Pay rent. (Sounds like you could use the dough.) Buy groceries. Be part of the team. As I’m always (attempting) to remind my own children: This is a ship, not a gondola. You don’t just sit there under a (metaphorical) parasol while we do all the work. Grab an oar and help us row!

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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