Dear New Shrink,

I have a 40-year-old brother who is living in the back guesthouse of my parents’ home and has been there quite some time, for free. I realize times are tough but I can’t help feeling like he is taking advantage of my elderly parents, who don’t have the heart to kick him out.

Recently I have asked him to start paying rent, which seems fair to me. The reaction I got was a little surprising. He seemed to resent it and actually refused to pay. He seemed to think because he is family he should not have to pay anything.

I find myself in the position of trying to help my parents out because they actually could use the money but then being the bad guy for asking my brother to pay his fair share.

I know that economic times and jobs have been tough but they weren’t that tough five years ago. It is nice to have him there to help my parents some but when does that become about taking advantage of my parents? He is an adult and as far as I can see able to pay. I have helped my parents pay for a number of things and don’t see why he can’t also.

I don’t want to cause any more friction than there already is but I feel strongly about this. It’s just not fair.



Dear Unfair,

You have no idea how often I hear this story these days. So many adults needing to go back home to live with parents and the siblings who support themselves often have negative feelings about it.

I won’t pretend to tell you or anyone how to feel about this sort of thing but it seems like it depends, in large part, on the circumstances.

Your situation sounds like your brother has been there rent-free for some time now. You mention five years, has he been there that long? You are correct, five years ago we were in much better shape with our economy and there were more jobs. I am assuming that he works if you say that as far as you can see, he has the money to pay rent.

If he is working then he can’t be available to take care of your elderly parents all that much, can he? At his age, I would assume he has some kind of social life. I’m sure it is nice to have him around when he isn’t working, that is if he is there much, but how much is that worth? Have you calculated it? What would the guesthouse rent for if it were on the market? Perhaps figuring this out would be a beginning in establishing what is truly fair.

I don’t know that you can say that he is taking advantage of your parents; this is for them to decide. Do they like having him around? Do they get an emotional advantage from it?

The issue that pops out at me is that you are helping your parents financially, but he is not.

It definitely seems unfair that you should be helping them out when he isn’t, not only for the obvious reasons but because your support most likely means helping him out indirectly as well.

There is also the question of whether or not it is in your brother’s best interest to continue living with your parents for so long and at his age. I say question because I don’t know all of the circumstances. Did he lose a job? Does he have some type of handicap, emotionally or intellectually? Short of this, it is not in his best interest to continue living there indefinitely.

It definitely is not in your best interest to be in the role you described or to feel the resentment that I am imagining that you have.

Answer some of the questions I have posed here, calculate what you believe to be the fair monetary amount and then set out with a plan. Perhaps it means talking with your parents. It may mean having a family meeting. At the very least it will mean having another talk with your brother but this time, don’t just ask for rent out of the blue. After all, he has been there rent-free for all of this time so at some level, you have all co-signed it.

Sit him down and go over the concerns and feelings that you have. Show him the financials on paper. Explain the burden you are carrying and maybe you need to start preparing yourself for what we call, “Tough Love.”

It’s up to you to think it over and either bow out or prepare for another conversation. If your family agrees, then be prepared to tell him to pay his fair share or leave.

Do not continue to harbor resentments. His problems are not worth compromising your health and well-being.

Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist. Her offices are in Brentwood. Feel free to contact her or send your e-mail inquires to Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters.

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