Dear Amy: My daughter has been seriously dating a young man for about the last six years. They are both 25. He is an immigrant/refugee from a war-torn country and has struggled with serious psychological issues relating to his childhood experiences. He recently totaled his car and got a DUI, confirming that he is an alcoholic. He is on probation and cannot drive, so my daughter now often drives him.
I’m quite sure she feels deep compassion and a desire to rescue him. I believe he is a good person with a good heart – and lots of problems. My daughter has a college degree, a good job, lots of talent and potential. She’s moving ahead in her career. She is attending Al-Anon and counseling.
What is a mother to do? I have talked to her about my thoughts and feelings, pointed out the obvious difficulties and heartache being in a relationship with an alcoholic. She asks me to let her heal from this, and she continues to date him. I have been to Al-Anon, and I hired a life coach to help me devise strategies on how to “allow” all of my adult children to be adults.
Why is this so hard for me to do, Amy? I pray a lot. I want to tell my daughter she is dragging around a ball and chain, enabling him, making the biggest mistake of her life, wasting her time, seemingly changing who she is in order to “help” him cope.
I think about the many other successful guys out there who could be so much fun for my daughter to be with. I drive myself crazy thinking about all of this, but I bite my tongue.
Do you have any advice for me on how to let go?
Dear Distressed: Keep this idea in mind: Whenever you attempt to coach your daughter away from this man, what she hears is, “You’re so incapable of making good choices that you require my constant worry, omnipotent help, and guidance.” The harder you push her to leave, the more she will try to prove you wrong by staying. If you stop trying to fix her, she may stop trying to fix him.
It isn’t until you completely detach that she will fully come into her own. And in order to detach you will have to find a way to accept that your daughter may not ever become the version of an adult you insist she must be.
Parenting at this stage is counterintuitive. You must first trust that you did your best as a parent, and then you must accept your adult children as they are. The rest is really up to them.
Dear Amy: I have recently become engaged. I am close to my fiance’s sisters. One of his sisters is six months younger than me, and we have always gotten along.
Recently, she has been really bitter and selfish. She freaks out if any of us don’t drop everything to help her. She threatens to commit suicide and storms out.
My fiance and I have helped her countless times, whether it be with her car, or her two sons, who are 1 and 2.
I want to reconcile with her, but she won’t apologize to anyone, and thinks she has done nothing wrong.
We think she might be bipolar, but again don’t know how to bring this up without upsetting her.
What should I do to help her, and fix her relationship with us?
Scared for Her
Dear Scared: Any mom of young children who threatens suicide should be considered at high risk. Your fiance’s sister might be suffering from postpartum depression, or high stress. Her family should urge her to get a medical screening because of her alarming behavior. Compassion is called for. You don’t need to give in to her manipulations, but you should express your concern about her well-being. Don’t insist on an apology, just yet.
Dear Amy: The letter from “No Win” concerned an elderly couple where the wife announced that she wanted to move to be near her family.
I think you missed the real problem. This isn’t about equity or fairness. This woman has effectively said: “There’s nothing for me here. I’m leaving and I don’t care what you do.” When a spouse says that, it’s game over.
I spent more than 30 years as a divorce lawyer. I heard that sort of statement many times.
Dear Experienced: I fear you may be right.
Email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.