Actually, Teresa’s son has long since passed puberty. But when he visits his mother, everything is the same as before. How can the two get together?

Dear Ms Peirano,

I, 52, have two adult children, Lukas, 24, and Mia, 20. Mia still lives with me and my new husband, Lukas moved out early and is studying in Munich. When Lukas comes to visit, I always look forward to seeing him, but after two days at most I’m so exhausted, sad and annoyed by him that I can’t wait for him to leave again.

He has a very strange social behavior that irritates us all. In general, he shows extremely little interest in us and our lives, and he also tells very little about himself. It’s all about him being calm, keeping his habits up. The most important thing is that he can go to the gym. He sleeps until noon and then first plunders my supplies to make a huge breakfast. Then six cans of tuna and four eggs easily go with it. His body is extremely important to him and he does a lot of sport and makes sure he eats a lot of protein.

I adapt to his preferences and cook for all of us so that we can eat together once a day. Helping out is non-existent. Even if you ask him to do it, he does significantly less than his share and grumbles. During the last visit he called me a fury because I asked him to carry a water box down to the basement and after asking five times he put it in the hallway. I just said briefly that I’m disappointed that I now have to carry the box myself… That was too much “scattering around” for him.

My new husband and I are quite well off and have a comfortable, beautiful house with a large garden. There’s always a lot to do, and it’s important to us that everything is tidy. Lukas messes up the order within hours. Picks up tools and doesn’t put them back, adjusts my bike saddle and keeps it the same height, doesn’t strip down his bed when he leaves, doesn’t buy supplies even though I’ve asked him to (and gives him money for his extra gave food).

I am very sad that his visits are not nice and close, but that I constantly bite my tongue so as not to scold and tell him the opinion in his face. I’m afraid that he won’t come at all.

Apparently his life in Munich is very “chilly”. When I visited him there, I noticed that he lives very simply. In an uncomfortable room in a shared apartment, he has rather casual contacts (except with his girlfriend), he eats a lot, but simply and with horrible table manners. In fact, he wolfs down the food. A bit of lone wolf.

I put a lot of effort into making it possible for him to have a happy childhood. His father did not help around the house and behaved in a similarly selfish and passive-aggressive manner (apart from the food issue). I used to be constantly overwhelmed and angry (internally; I don’t show my anger like that) and ended up doing everything on my own because asking him for something was no use. And now I’m seeing the same behavior in Lukas again, and it’s driving me nuts.

I separated from his father when Lukas was nine and after that I took care of the children, offered them a nice home and all the hobbies they wanted, made money and had a career and was extremely exhausting. The father of the children then lived his own single life, had various girlfriends and toured the area on his motorbike. Appointments with the children have often suffered as a result.

Lukas and I used to have very good contact with each other and were able to talk openly. We also went on two trips as a couple (Thailand and Mexico) and had a lot of fun together. But sometimes it all just blows away when he’s at our house. He doesn’t move an inch towards us, and after a few days his sister is crying, my husband is extremely annoyed and I just want to crawl away and cry my heart out.

What do you advise me? And does it make sense to talk to Lukas and ask him to reconsider his behavior?

Many greetings

Theresa T.

Dear Teresa T,

I can empathize with how you are feeling. You mix a lot of feelings when your son comes to visit.

I can imagine that you would actually like your son to recognize your remarkable achievement and be grateful for what you have done for him. And that he likes your home – and his former home – and feels comfortable there. And that he shows interest in being with you, your husband and his sister. That would all be desirable and appropriate. Instead, he signals to you that he doesn’t care about your life. That is hard!

I offer you an interpretation that might help you see the situation from a different angle.

As a child, Lukas experienced – consciously and unconsciously – how much energy it takes to want a lot out of life. You’ve created a beautiful house and garden for yourself, you’ve made a career and you’ve raised two children on the side without much help. They have experienced permanent excessive demands, they were certainly often exhausted and burdened.

Lukas drew his own conclusion from your life plan. He said to himself: All material desires and all tasks in life create stress. I want it to be very “chill”. So I give up possessions, structure, caring for others, responsibility. I have a small room, a degree that gives me a lot of free time and I take everything else very lightly and as I please. And my body and I are the most important thing. So that’s kind of his personal philosophy.

Possibly the comparison between his own father (dodges work and is apparently free to pursue his interests and needs; also at the expense of others) and his mother (works from morning to night to get everything done and is constantly overwhelmed) contributed in part to the fact that he identified more with the role of his father.

This is a bitter pill for you, because you have already suffered from the father of the children – and now the whole thing seems to be repeating itself. However, it only seems to repeat itself, because there are significant differences between then and now.

While the children’s father was your partner and abandoned you, Lukas is your son and can choose his own path and tasks in life. That is his right, and he will bear the consequences for it.

You have now achieved a lot and are living with a man who shares and supports your life model. And: you have brought up the children behind you and can now take care of yourself. Do focus on that! There’s just inner and outer turmoil every time Lukas comes into your orderly life and stirs things up. Then you come into contact with earlier bad feelings (overwhelmed in the role of the single mother AND the anger at the father of the children). It all comes up and you feel helpless, used, and bitter all over again.

My suggestion would be that you and Lukas spare yourself and Lukas the struggle over whose life model is right (flat share versus nice house; hedonism versus family life). Apparently he doesn’t want to come to you as he feels free with his student life in Munich. Without possession, without obligation, without formality. He can eat there whenever and whatever he wants. He can come and go as he pleases. And he keeps people at a distance so as not to have any responsibility. Just let him keep doing it.

You write that you had nice trips with him. There was a common denominator for encounters, and that would also be my advice: meet him on neutral ground, somewhere where there is little structure and you are not responsible for the general conditions. Book a room in Munich for a few days and then do something together by arrangement. Or travel together again, ideally “chilled” and “unstructured”, i.e. more in line with his life model rather than luxuriously and civilized, as your lifestyle would dictate.

This will save you a lot of fights.

Lukas wants to set himself apart and be free, as he defines it. You can endlessly argue that you should grow up, behave yourself and take responsibility. It won’t do any good.

Just take care of yourself and meet him outside of the house if possible to avoid having to engage in subtle fights. Then you will probably get close to him again soon. And maybe it’s also good for you to take a “chilly” unplanned vacation.

Best regards

Julia Peirano