Dear Amy: I am an adult professional woman with two teenage children. I am divorced, and the survivor of an abusive alcoholic mother.
I have been through years of counseling and have struggled with anxiety my entire life. My relationship with my mother has always been my burden.
As my children have gotten older, my mom’s health has deteriorated. She doesn’t call or attend birthday parties or sporting events, and tries to put the burden on me. I have not had a mother for most of my life and she doesn’t seem to care.
Now that she is sick from her chosen lifestyle, she wants again to pull us toward her because she needs us, not because she wants to make amends or apologize.
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People view me as cold-hearted, but I let her abuse me until I had children and only then was I able to pull away. All I ever wanted was for her to love me.
She has broken my heart so many times and affected all of my relationships because when the only person on earth who is supposed to love you abuses and rejects you, you’re afraid to love.
I’m going to a psychiatrist and a counselor and they say to protect myself and to go with my heart. I’m so conflicted. I really don’t like her, but she is my mother. I’ve spent 46 years of my life trying to please her, and she just disappoints me.
What do you think? Do I keep trying, or just move on with my life?
Angry in Iowa
Dear Angry: Moving on starts with acceptance. You need to accept your bad luck at growing up in the household of an alcoholic parent. You deserved better – everyone does – but you didn’t get the parent you deserved to have (but your own children did – lucky them!).
Please don’t let your childhood define you for the rest of your life. Being a good parent and a good person should define you now.
After acceptance, you work on detachment. You can’t fix your mother, and you can’t change her. You cannot rewrite the past, you can’t rewire your mother’s brain, and you can’t cure her disease.
You should attempt to have the relationship YOU want to have – and that includes no relationship.
Your desire to fix things, while wrestling with conflicted feelings, is common for adult children of alcoholics. In addition to your therapy, you should research and seek support from others who understand your challenges, through Al-anon or another support group.
Read “After the Tears: Helping Adult Children of Alcoholics Heal Their Childhood Trauma,” by Jane Middleton-Moz and Lorie Dwinell. (HCI, 2010).
Dear Amy: I am currently living with my daughter, her hubby and their children. I came here because when my husband passed away, I was unable to get an apartment.
My daughter and her husband graciously offered a room to me; it was a good feeling to know I wasn’t alone at this time.
I feel that the time has come for me to move on. Unfortunately, this brings up the problem of finances.
I have been living on Social Security, and now with the upcoming presidential election, there is a lot of talk about this program and others being cut back, or worse, cut completely.
I’m so confused. I don’t want to make a bigger mistake by moving out. This is not a decision that I can just jump into. What do you think I should do?
Running in Circles
Dear Running: You should enlist your daughter’s help to research housing options in your area. Where I live, you can apply for subsidized housing specifically intended for low-income seniors.
It is sensible to try to anticipate possible changes in your benefits, but I don’t think Social Security is going to go away anytime soon.
Regardless, you should do your research and apply soon – the process might take several months.
Moving into a community of elders could be a positive life change for you, and I hope you'll bravely try to make this happen.
Dear Amy: “Worried” is an 11-year-old girl whose father recently died. The letter and your compassionate response moved me.
In addition to your recommendations, readers should know that hospices often offer grief groups for children. I hope her mother looks into this for her.
Dear Touched: Thank you for the reminder of how important and helpful hospice programs are – before and after a loved one’s death.
Email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.