Straight Talk Advice

Jul 18, 2007

Alcoholism a deal-breaker in choosing between parents

Dear Straight Talk: I’m 15 and during the middle of the school year I was taken from my mom because she drinks. My little sisters, ages two and three, were taken also. My sisters are now back with my mom, and I have the choice to move back, too, or stay here at my dad’s almost two hours away. I can’t figure out what to do. I want to stay with my dad, but I also want to live with my mom. Right now I see her every other weekend. My dad and I don’t get along very well. I get mad at him because he gets into my business and personal life, and my little brother invades my privacy. On the other hand, Dad gives me a lot of freedom compared to Mom and I like the school better here and have made some good friends. What should I do?—Heather, South Carolina

Dear Heather: For most kids, choosing between parents is the most torturous responsibility they are asked to bear. Most kids fear they will hurt the feelings of the parent not chosen. I want to assure you that a teenager’s feelings, especially around rejection, are much stronger than an adult’s, and the parent not chosen will not suffer nearly as much as you are imagining.

My advice is to choose your dad’s house. Your mother is an alcoholic, and not always a functional one, which is a deal-breaker in my opinion. I suspect you have already spent plenty of time caring for her instead of her caring for you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you also feel the need to take care of your little sisters.

People who live with an alcoholic (or any addict) usually develop a psychological condition called co-dependency, where they feel the need to take care of the alcoholic. It is an unhealthy condition based on hidden control and manipulation by the addict. Usually the co-dependent is not aware of the manipulation, and in fact, usually the addict isn’t either. The addict adopts the manipulative behavior unconsciously in order to protect and maintain their addiction, and the co-dependent unconsciously goes along with it out of survival. I urge you to attend a few Al-Anon meetings so you can see the psychological effect an alcoholic parent has on his or her children.

Keep visiting your mother on the current schedule, but make your dad’s home your permanent residence. That your dad gets into your business while giving you freedom tells me he’s doing his job as a parent. I suspect you’re just not used to it.

From Brittney, 18: A lot of kids these days have to make this choice. Ask yourself, where will I be safest and happiest? Which household will benefit me most?

From Geoff, 21: If you have found a school that you really enjoy, I say stay. Over the next three or four years you will meet great friends and teachers who will be part of your life long after you graduate. Your family (both households) will always be there.

From Farren, 19: I think it would be best if you stayed with your father. While you don’t get along as well with him, it sounds like you are living in a safe environment and enjoy the school. That your dad gives you a lot of freedom is good because you need some room to make mistakes. But he should get into your personal life! While you’re young, it is his business. It’s important that he knows what is going with you. How else can he give you guidance and support during these years when you’re sure to make mistakes? This may sound odd, but my dad knows pretty much everything about me. I’m very open with him and let him be part of my life. It is also important to see your mom and your sisters, so keep visiting them.


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