I'm a single mom trying to do the best I can, but it with my teenage daughters it feels like no matter what I do it's never enough. Even though I can't afford it, I try to find them the things they say they must have to prevent being ridiculed by the kids at school. The last thing in the world I want is for my children to be seen as less than. I feel like they are suffering because of my mistakes (I married an alcoholic) and I'll never be able to make this up to them, though Lord knows I keep trying. Every day they remind me of the better life we once had when we lived with their father. This is true. We had all the luxuries, the creature comforts, but life with their dad turned me into someone I am not proud of. Last year I realized I wanted more for my girls than a shell of a mother, so I separated from my husband. At the time this seemed like the only option. The girls and I set up house in my mother's basement because it was all I could afford. When I made this decision I thought this would bring peace to everyone, but it seems it's done just the opposite for my girls. The funny thing is, they are both such beautiful people. Everyone says so. But as soon as they see me they turn ugly, verbally and sometimes physically tearing into me. I know they must be sad about the loss of their family, so I keep trying to be patient with them hoping their sorrow will eventually drain away and they will be kind individuals in the end. My mom has seen all this happening and thinks I'm doing them a disservice by allowing them to treat me so badly. She's sort of old school and thinks I should be firmer with them. She doesn't understand how important it is for me to allow my daughters the right to have a voice. Even if they say things that hurt, at least they have a voice, which is something I was never allowed to have. Sometimes it feels like no one is on my side.
-- Damned if I Do, Damned if I Don't
Dear Can't Win:
You've said so much, it's hard to know where to begin. First off, congratulations on following your gut and removing both yourself and your daughters from a home built upon the sinkhole of addiction. The strength this takes should be acknowledged. You left the "creature comforts" and now live in your mother's basement. How courageous is that! You knew that what others saw on the outside, a nice house with all the trimmings, wasn't real, you knew that you were turning into a cardboard cutout just to survive the insanity. You knew all this, and you risked being ridiculed by those who believed wholeheartedly the lie you felt forced to present.
It looks like your daughters are struggling to deny what has happened to them, what has been their life for, well, it sounds like forever. They don't know another way to live, so they are fighting to keep the old life alive. They do this by fighting with you, just like their dad fought with you. They do this by making you the owner of their happiness, the same way your husband made you responsible for his. But you knew the old life wasn't going to last, so you moved yourself and your girls into a basement, and not just any basement, but a basement in your mother's house. Your mother's house. A house in which you say you were not allowed to have a voice?
Whoever said there are no second chances was wrong. You have been given a chance, no, you gave yourself this chance to return to a place where you knew you might have a hope of learning to speak your truth. This time around your mother, in her old school way, is telling you it's time for you to find your voice; your daughters not only want, but need to hear it.
A great resource for families impacted by alcoholism is Alanon, check it out.
Ask Mom is a weekly feature in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. If you have a question you would like to submit to the Ask Mom panel, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. This week's column was written by Patrice Janda, MSW therapist with Cocoon Project SAFE, which serves Walla Walla parents of teens. For free consulttion and support, call 1-877-399-4179.