Father: “My son (22) has an attachment disorder. He was nine months old when we adopted him. His biological parents are known, but he never wanted to contact them. My wife and I are divorced.

“He had a rough puberty and was kicked out of his home when he was 18 because of aggressiveness. He has calmed down a bit, but continues to make a mess. Can’t hold a job, stumbles over zero-hour contracts, incurs debts: we have to cancel his rental house now. And I have to empty that because he won’t show up.

“The outside world has an opposite view of him; he is good-looking, well-groomed, funny, eloquent. Always friends. It seems like some kind of play he is playing.

“The question is; will this ever be okay? Can he ever be happy? And can I ever let him go? I’ve spent so much energy helping him. Again and again those promises that are not kept. He destroys in me what is dear to me. Maybe it’s not wise to always help him, but I’m afraid of the consequences if I don’t. I fear crime, homelessness, even suicide. I feel even more responsible for him than for my biological child.”

Name is known to the editor. This section is anonymous, because difficulties in upbringing are sensitive. Would you like to present a dilemma? Mail your question to [email protected]

Supporting emotionally

Liesbeth Groenhuijsen: “It is time to expect less of your son. He probably won’t change much anymore; the ability to self-regulate must have largely been acquired by now. By not constantly hoping for the impossible, you prevent yourself from getting bogged down in a cycle of disappointment and guilt.

“He can still learn to punch his nose. Therefore, he must learn to solve his own problems. You can help him, but don’t take over the problems. Of course you can offer him to empty his house together, but don’t do it without him. You could also gradually reduce concrete help. For example: his money is always gone. Agree with him that he will receive a certain amount from you once a month, or that you will pay a bill for him. He also has to do it himself.

“Your son needs emotional support from you and his mother to build a good life with his strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps it will help if the three of you sit down quietly and re-word his story? What went wrong then, what went right, where is his strength and perspective?”

New script

Anneke Vinke: „It is time to radically accept who your son has become, and to be happy with very small steps forward and beautiful moments together. I recommend that you step out of the role of savior, but it is wise to continue to support him emotionally. The message is: ‘I can’t take it from you, but I’m always by your side.’

“I wish your son a good therapist who dares to go back with him to the pain of abandonment. In his experience, your son is ‘discarded’ again and again, first when he was a baby, later at home, now at work – he subconsciously ends up in that old ‘script’ again and again. This causes anger, confusion, possibly shame. Stepping out of this circle is only possible together with a professional. It takes time. I recommend a Top Referential Trauma Center. There are also neurofeedback training courses that help to gain a better overview.

“I also advise you to seek help yourself for the bad experiences with your son, so that you keep strength, patience and fun in your parenting role.”