Watching From the Sidelines

By Annie Lane

December 1, 2019 4 min read

Dear Annie: My son "Bo" has been with his wife, "Joyce," for 13 years. Several months ago, my husband and I spent a long weekend at the beach with our children and grandchildren. My husband rises early, and he was in the kitchen at 4 a.m., starting his day, when he ran into Joyce. She was just getting home. Without my asking, Joyce explained to me the next day that she doesn't get to go out often and that tavern owners remembered her from the previous year when she did karaoke there. She said they were buying her drinks and later invited her to their beach house. I told her that when men buy you free drinks they usually want something in return.

She was away daily most of the time out with her brother, "John," who is very dependent on her socially. Bo seemed indifferent to her behavior the entire time. This week, my husband and I visited to attend a grandchild's school play and soccer game. During the visit I found out that John is now residing on first level of their home, and Bo is now living on in the finished basement. I asked Bo about living arrangements, and he said that he and John do not get along, so he moved downstairs. John does not pay rent or help financially; he just helps around the house.

Bo and Joyce are in debt, yet somehow she's always planning trips out of state and out of the country. She often puts extravagant ideas in the kids' heads such as going to Paris for a birthday. I want to help financially and be supportive, but I am not sure how. I told Bo my concerns about their finances, and he said they're trying to cut back. My husband thinks that she likes for me to visit because I pay for things while I'm there.

In addition to these concerns, I would say that Joyce is a borderline hoarder. The living room and dining room are completely full with mostly clothing and things from her grandmother's estate. They have two storage units with nonworking cars in them.

She is very insecure and had a difficult childhood, so I sympathize with her. Yet, sometimes she complains about Bo in front of us and it is hard to not say anything. They are coming to dinner for the holidays and I feel I should tell Bo that he needs to insist she get rid of things. I did suggest to Bo they see a counselor. I want to have this discussion with Joyce over Thanksgiving. Also, I want to tell her outright that she is developing a bad habit of hoarding. — Worried Mom Watching On

Dear Worried Mom: It's painful to watch from the sidelines as your child struggles. You want to jump in, help him, make it all better. But the sidelines are exactly where you need to be to cheer him on and best support him. We cannot live our children's lives for them, and once they've reached adulthood, we have to allow them the dignity to make their own mistakes and discoveries.

While it was wise of you to suggest marriage counseling, I'd caution you against giving unsolicited advice beyond that, to him or to Joyce. Actively communicate with your son and ask how he's doing, sans prying. Foster a healthy, respectful dialogue, and trust that he'll come to you if and when he's ready to talk about whatever is going on in his marriage.

"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]

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