Terror in the household

Joey Garcia

My daughter’s husband began taking long walks at night, and this is when she started checking his phone-call history. Turns out he was secretly talking to a divorced co-worker, who lives in a city he visits for work. My daughter called the number and asked, “Why are you calling my husband?” The woman hung up. My daughter then confronted her husband, who insisted the relationship was platonic.

They have two girls, 20 and 11. The younger child sleeps on the floor of her parent’s room nightly, even though she has her own room. The older girl abuses alcohol and drugs, was caught stealing alcohol from a store and attended behavior-modification boot camp. My daughter insists that the younger child needs to be in the parent’s room because the older girl might come home after partying and cause problems. That has never happened. The older girl loves and protects her younger sister. My daughter had addiction issues, but has been clean and sober for more than 10 years. My wife and I told her she must stop allowing the younger child to sleep in her room and she must go to counseling immediately. Other suggestions?

You and your wife must realize that you cannot save your daughter or her marriage. Adopting this perspective will ensure that your daughter does not become a stressor for your own marriage. Of course, you can continue to provide insight and emotional support. Ultimately, though, your daughter must grow up.

Your wife’s suggestion to send the 11-year-old back to her own bed is a good start. It’s possible that the child expressed discomfort about her sister’s behavior and your daughter overreacted. It’s also likely that your daughter, with her own prior addiction issues, misbehaved in some way with a younger sibling and is projecting her past behavior on her 20-year-old.

It’s curious, though, that your daughter allows the 20-year-old to terrorize the household, forcing everyone else to hunker down in one room at night. Doesn’t it make more sense for a parent, especially one in recovery, to establish rules that create a peaceful household? One option is to state that alcohol and drug abuse will not be tolerated and to list the consequences of violating this rule. The result might be anything from reduced privileges for the first violation, no key for a second violation, to no longer living at home for a third strike. Your daughter may not be able to enforce a sober living environment in her own home because she is emotionally dependent on her 20-year-old. Perhaps this young adult is the identified patient, someone to fuss about when talking to friends or family, a focal point for drama. Or your daughter may be having difficulty understanding boundary issues (where one person ends and another begins), so she sees her daughter as her younger self and is unable to deal effectively as a parent. Either way, your daughter needs to understand that responsible parenting is a part of her recovery from addiction.

Another red flag: Your son-in-law is seeking emotional connection outside of his marriage. It’s significant that his wife (your daughter) chose to review telephone records, then confront the “other woman” before talking to her husband. Both partners are involved in behaviors that invite the erosion of emotional intimacy. Intimacy, emotional and physical, is further weakened by the continual nightly presence of the 11-year-old sleeping in their bedroom. The daughter remains infantilized and the parents’ intimacy is compromised. Is it possible that your daughter exaggerates her fears about the 20-year-old harming her younger sister so she can create an obstacle to physical and emotional intimacy in her marriage? Your daughter does need a good psychotherapist. Find someone adept at weeding out self-imposed blocks to emotional health.

Meditation of the week
“Big, undreamed of things—the people on the edge see them first,” wrote Kurt Vonnegut. Is that why people on the margins of society—artists, poets, spiritual guides—are rarely respected or included in dialogues about how to inspire or transform institutions? Where do you turn when you need help changing?

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