Dear Prudie: Son is a slacker. How do we motivate him?

Help! My Son Is a Worthless Slacker.

Help! My Son Is a Worthless Slacker.

Advice on manners and morals.
March 29 2012 6:00 AM

Not So Proud Papa

Our son is an unmotivated lunkhead. How can we light a fire under him?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
My son is 25 years old and has always been unmotivated in nearly every aspect of living. My wife and I have been nurturing and supportive of any potential he has shown. He has few friends and had only one girlfriend, briefly. He stays up late, sleeps at odd hours, and eats lots of junk food. He is probably 50 pounds overweight but doesn't seem to notice. He was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes as a boy. He manages it pretty well, although my wife and I still have to monitor his health care. He dropped out of college after freshman year. Around that time he was prescribed antidepressants, which he has taken off and on since. Six months ago we insisted he move out, and he now lives with his 23-year-old brother. He refuses to engage in any meaningful conversation with us. On the plus side, he has chosen to be an automobile technician, is very capable at it, and makes good money. He has a passion for motor sports. He doesn’t seem to be unhappy. My wife and I are trying to reconcile ourselves that this is how he will live his life, although it’s not healthy or what we consider fulfilling. Should we give up, give in, or just let him find his own way?

—Concerned Parent

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Dear Concerned,
As I started reading your letter I thought, “We’ve seen this movie so many times before.” Slacker Americanus: Cheetos-munching, tubby, semi-verbal, nocturnal, no prospects, repulsive to females. Think of the house of slobs in Knocked Up. Then you threw in a twist ending. The kid is employed, he’s got skills that are in high demand, he has a passion in life. He’s happy! (I understand he’s been on anti-depressants, but they're effective.) I’m inferring that you and your wife would prefer, and understand better, an arugula-eating son toiling on a doctorate in comparative literature. However, it could be that at the end of that son’s labors, you’d wish he’d spent less time analyzing Love's Labour’s Lost and more time getting some skills that resulted in a paycheck. Your son may be naturally monosyllabic, but it’s also unpleasant to constantly discuss with your parents why you’re such a disappointment. Since you say you were nurturing and attentive parents, I assume you engaged professionals to figure out what was going on with your son and got no definitive answers. So now, instead of working on your son, try working on yourselves. Start by letting him know how proud you are that he’s developed the skills to have a successful career. Take your car in for a tune-up to his shop as a paying customer. Tell him you don’t know a bleed nipple from an output shaft, and that you’re impressed that he does. Ask if he would take you to some car races with him. Once you establish a better relationship, tell him you and his mother are going to start turning over his diabetes care to him. Before you do, say you’d be happy to pay for some consultations with a nutritionist to help keep his condition under control. Tell him you’re making this offer because the healthier he is, the better he’ll be able to do the things he loves, and because you love him.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Mixing Business and Carnal Pleasure

Dear Prudence,
Should I report sexism from a business school interview? I'm a young female professional living in a big city, with several years of work experience in the event planning industry. This week I had my first MBA interview at a business school here, and I was appalled by the comments made by the admissions director. In addition to my work experience, I graduated from college magna cum laude, lived abroad, and volunteered with large nonprofits. The interview was standard until the end, when the director gave me some constructive criticism. He said I need to refine my “'elevator pitch” and explained why. Then he added, “How do I know you aren't just another pretty girl whose looks got her these opportunities?” I thanked him for his feedback and left the office angry that I didn't ask him to clarify his comments. How do I report this behavior without jeopardizing my graduate application? I certainly don't want other female applicants to have their experience judged by their looks.

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—Just Look at My Résumé

Dear Résumé,
The head of admissions either had a stroke during your interview or he’s been watching way too much Mad Men. That this guy said to your face that your success is possibly a result of your pretty face is a violation of about 30 years’ worth of evolving higher education rules. His superiors definitely need to know. Look at the school’s directory and find the appropriate deans in positions over him and send them an email. You can make your subject line something like “Disturbing question asked at my admissions interview.” That should get their interest, and blood pressure, up. Make your description factual and uninflammatory. You can say that the bulk of the interview was fine, but you were completely taken aback when the admissions director said what he did about your looks. Give a short summary of your work history and say you were appalled to have someone question whether your achievements were based on anything but your skills and hard work. Add that you know their school is excellent and you are still interested in being a student, but that they need to know the kinds of things being said to applicants. I doubt you will have hurt your chances for admission, though the head of admissions may have helped his chances for retirement.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am a 22-year-old wife and mother of two young children. My husband is not the father of my eldest child, who is 7 years old. I met my husband when my daughter was 2 years old, and since then he's been the father figure to her. My husband’s family refers to her as their granddaughter. But they often ask why my daughter's father isn't in the picture and why his name isn’t on her birth certificate. It's a private matter that I find difficult to discuss, so I just change the subject. When I was 14 years old, I was raped by a family member and became pregnant. I am ashamed and disgusted that I never pressed charges. The rapist is living his life like nothing happened. My husband is aware of my daughter's origin. He wants us to tell his family so they will stop asking. But discussing it would be like reliving it over again. Is there something I can tell his family so that they will stop asking?

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—Touchy Subject

Dear Touchy,
This guy got away with a heinous crime. Yes, your wonderful daughter is the result, but that does not undo the fact that a family member is a criminal and you may not be the only young woman he has violated. Deciding to bring him to justice would be painful but right, and I hope you will consider it. If you go ahead, contact the prosecutor’s office where the assault took place. Some states have no statute of limitations on rape, some fairly lengthy ones, so depending on where you live, prosecution may still be a possibility. The fact that you were only 14 years old when you were impregnated and that a DNA test will show it was by a family member could result in a powerful case. There’s no reason to be ashamed about the decisions you made. You were just a child yourself, and you should be proud of the fine family you have created out of such a tough beginning. Whether or not you move ahead with reporting this crime, you should get support for what you have been through. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network has a referral site that will help you find a local rape counseling center. Talking out what happened, and thinking through how to handle whatever decision you make, will help you feel more at peace. If you don’t report, you shouldn’t have to squirm when your husband’s family asks about your daughter. Have him privately say to his family that you were just a girl when you were impregnated, the circumstances were terrible, and that there’s no need to discuss it.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My wife and I are buying our first house, and she’s gotten really excited about the decorating. For our new bedroom her plan was to make everything—walls, rugs, linens—her favorite color: pink. When she told me, I reacted badly and forbade her to do this, saying that I would never be comfortable in such an emasculating atmosphere. I know I hurt her feelings deeply, and since then I've apologized and tried to get her to look at bedding sets with me. I just want her to be happy about our house again and forget that I overreacted. What can I do?

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—Just Color Me Happy

Dear Color,
I’m wondering exactly what you said: “Why don’t you just cut off my balls with pinking shears?” or “How do you expect me to get it up when I feel like I should be wearing a tutu in my own bedroom?” Either seems reasonable in response to her My Little Pony decorating scheme. You have apologized for seeing red and for being overbearing and rude. But maybe she should acknowledge that turning your bedroom into a princess purgatory for you wasn’t very thoughtful, either. If she’s sulking, or just planning to make the room into a brown man-cave, tell her you are as excited about the house as she is and that you want to work together on it. Then explain that a compromise—a rose-hued rug or a chair upholstered in raspberry—would be just peachy.

—Prudie

More Dear Prudence Columns
"A View to a Thrill: Neighbor boys peep at my scantily clad daughters. Should I have them cover up?” Posted June 30, 2011.
Loving Thy Neighbor: I have sex with the couple next door. Should I tell my kids about it?” Posted June 23, 2011.
Fatherly Advice: Dear Prudence advises a dad whose wife fears he'll abandon the family in favor of his long-lost daughter—and other Father's Day advice seekers.” Posted June 16, 2011.
Businessman on the Road to Ruin: My wife doesn't know I visit strip bars and porn theaters while away on business. But that's not cheating, right?” Posted June 9, 2011.

More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
All Dogs Go to Heaven: Dear Prudence advises a dying husband on whether to confess his infidelity—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 27, 2011.
Sloppy Stay-at-Home Mom: Prudie advises a man whose wife is great at everything except keeping the house neat—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 13, 2011.
The 40-Year-Old Mean Girl: Prudie advises a former bully whose kids are being mistreated by her victim's children—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 6, 2011.
The Accused: A young neighbor's unfounded claims put my family in danger. Should we allow the girl back into our lives?” Posted June 2, 2011.