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My 38 year-old son has been homeless for 7-8 years, off and on drugs, spent some time in prison for domestic violence. He has been in touch with our family for the past year or so and seems to be trying to talk “nice”. He needs a place to live. I think he needs a place to live where a strong person can insist on daily showers, counseling, medical/mental evaluation, exercise, and healthy meals.
As his mother, I could be that person. My other children say NO and would very careful about contact with me if it gave him access to them. It would end family dinners, grandkids spending the night at my house, and visits from my other kids. And, I might not be able to go to their houses either. That right there should answer my question and make my decision for me, right? But how do I reconcile the teachings of the Savior, the parable of the good Samaritan, King Benjamin’s teachings of “give to them that ask of thee”, etc. How can I turn my back on my son’s pleas for help?
The Savior perfectly balanced mercy and justice, which is a struggle for the rest of us as we interact with others. Your children are looking to you to somehow meet their competing needs for justice and mercy. Your situation brings to mind the counsel the Savior gave his apostles when he said, “I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”[i] Your heart aches for the son who has fallen on hard times and, yet, you can hear the concerns of your other children who are worried about their own families.
This situation requires hearts to be both soft and wise. Even though it’s impossible for you to be responsible for all of your children’s relationships with each other, you are in an important position of influence. You have a son who has clearly crossed some serious lines that threaten the safety and stability of the family. He’s burned some bridges, and, despite his efforts to be nice to his family, he hasn’t earned back their trust.
I worry that out of your concern for your son, you’re overestimating how helpful you can really be to him. I don’t believe it’s a good idea to have him live in your home right now. Having adult children move home with their parents is often a challenge even when there aren’t legal or addiction issues.
You have a big heart and want to help him get back on his feet. However, recognize that extending mercy to your son can take many forms beyond offering a roof over his head. Before you can even entertain the possibility of having him live with you, there are some important questions to consider. For example, is he willing to accept responsibility for the ways he’s affected his siblings and their children? Does he understand why they’re unwilling to have him in their lives right now? Is he willing to do whatever it takes to restore trust?
At a minimum, if he’s not accountable to his family for the damage he’s done, then he’s not ready to be in your home. Your other children are counting on you to create stable conditions for their families. If you aren’t willing to provide those conditions in your home, then they will create stability for their families by keeping their distance.
If you don’t invite your son to live with you, recognize that you can still help support him outside of your home by coordinating care and providing other types of support. Your son can change, but it won’t happen until he’s understood and accounted for the impact he’s had on the lives of his family members.
If your son is humble and works to repair the damage from his past behaviors, then he will be more likely to understand the hesitancy of his siblings to engage with him at this time. This is an opportunity for him to get professional help so he can begin developing insight and, ultimately, a plan for how he can repair his sibling and family relationships. His willingness to protect these other families will be one of the fastest ways he can restore trust with his estranged siblings.
You can still care for his extensive mental, emotional, and physical needs while at the same time acknowledging the wounds he has created in his family. Once some stability and order has been established, it will be easier for his family to build relationships that could potentially be a blessing to him and everyone.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] Matthew 10:16