Grown-up ‘sleepovers’ and a difficult situation with an elderly father

Tell Me About It – Kate Holmquist answers your questions


Q I went up to my son’s bedroom one morning to see two heads in the bed, one a stranger’s. In the past, I have allowed my young-adult children to have girlfriends/boyfriends sleep over, but as it happens these have always been long-term relationships. This new girl, my son says, is “just a friend”.

I am worried that she is going to be hurt because I know he is not interested in commitment at this time. I don’t know how to talk to him about this and can hardly ban sleepovers now that a precedent has been set.

A I can imagine your surprise as well as your attempts to remain the liberal mother in this awkward situation, but you can hardly be expected to remain serenely oblivious when passing a stranger on the way to the bathroom. Will your son start bringing one-night stands home on a regular basis? Is his claim that they’re “just friends” credible?

After reading your letter, Terence Herron, family and couples therapist with the Family Therapy Association of Ireland, comments: “The writer feels major concern for a person she doesn’t know, more so than for her own needs and her own home. She should check out her own needs first.”

He suggests that the real issue isn’t the young woman’s feelings, but your own need to tell your son: “I’m not happy with you bringing home strange girls. I was happy with sleepovers in the past because you were in a long-term boyfriend/girlfriend relationship where we knew the young woman, but I’m not happy with this.”

It’s not a moral issue. You are entitled to your space.

“What I am hearing a lot these days is that in some cases it’s very hard for the parents of adult children living at home to assert themselves,” says Herron. Don’t let your son push your guilt buttons.He may accuse you of being too strict, but being liberal doesn’t mean anything goes in your house.

Email your questions to or contact Kate on Twitter @kateholmquist. Selected entries will be published on an anonymous basis only. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into


Q I co-own and share a house with my father, who is in his 80s . He insists that due to his age he should not have to contribute financially to household expenses. He also leaves all the housework to me. My sibling takes his side and gangs up with him against me. I am on a limited income and feel sick with stress (my GP has suggested counselling). I am tired of rolling over and giving in when they say so, but I want to have a good relationship with my father.

A When you are caring, compassionate and patient with your father’s attitude, it is hurtful to be taken for granted in this way. Does your father realise that, were he living alone, he would have to pay his own utility bills and wash his own dishes?

“There is no reason why he should not contribute financially and with whatever housework he is able for, just because he is in his 80s,” says Eamon Timmins of Age Action.

“Most older people want to contribute in whatever way they are able.”

It’s not nice to be ganged up on, especially when you have to live daily with the consequences and your sibling does not. Have you thought of trying elder mediation? You can do this informally, with an impartial person that you, your sibling and father trust, or formally through Later Life Mediation, an organisation with trained and accredited mediators specialising in just your situation.

“The fact that she wants to have a good relationship with her father is the place to start,” says Frances Stephenson, a mediator with the service.

You would first meet a mediator on your own. Then, if you can engage your sibling and father, they too would have individual meetings, followed by a group meeting in which each of you would be represented. The process would cost about €500 between you.

Failing this, you co-own the house, so is selling up and living on your own, leaving your sibling to care for your father, a final option? If this has crossed your mind, “a better way would be to gradually disengage from the services you provide, shifting responsibility on to your sibling so that he or she realises it is in his or her interest to support you”, suggests Brendan Madden, psychotherapist with Relationships Ireland.

Withdrawing support is your greatest point of leverage, but you must think through the strategy and be prepared to carry it out, he advises.

Because property is involved, as well as your responsibility for your father’s welfare, you should seek legal advice or consult Citizens Advice, Madden suggests.

Email your questions to or contact Kate on Twitter @kateholmquist. Selected entries will be published on an anonymous basis only. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into

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