Carolyn Hax: Parents see their alcoholic boyfriend as a ‘burden’ on their daughter

Dear Caroline: My husband and I are about to spend a week with our daughter and her boyfriend. They have lived together for about three years. The boyfriend had a bad year: he had a good but demanding job, then he was apparently diagnosed with anxiety. He left work and the anxiety turned into alcoholism. He recently got out of drug and rehab, but he’s not working and is now looking to start over in a new city.

We like it. And we support him in his fight. But there is no marriage, no children, no home, and we are old enough to know and worry about the course the healing will take. Namely, two or three relapses before it sticks and lots of human wreckage. I don’t want my child to be part of the wreckage. As far as I can tell, everyone – his family, his friends, his colleagues, us – has been understanding.

I don’t want to ruin this, and from everything I’ve read, my only option is sympathy and support. Ugh. I don’t like the burden this has placed on my daughter.

And, yes, many people got clean and stayed clean. But is the partner still looking over their shoulder?

So how can I solve this problem? I don’t condemn him, but I don’t want to let him off the hook.

Anonymous: Yeah, ugh sympathy and support!!! Where’s a good shame when you need it.

Alcoholism and anxiety are significant and complex issues that require ongoing care, yes. No arguments there. Recovery usually involves a relapse, yes. And your daughter would have fewer obstacles to leaving if she ended the relationship now, most likely.

But don’t confuse your valid concerns about the potential for his alcoholism to negatively affect your daughter with a license or duty to punish him for it. You are not the law here – you are not the putter or the scholar of the hooks.

Your role is to trust your daughter to manage her own life to her own satisfaction.

Because it’s a life we’re talking about here, how she handles it will involve mistakes. Some of them are massive, perhaps with at least a temporary cost to his quality of life (and even to you).

This is why adult members of reasonably functional families also tend to share the role of each other’s backups and safety nets – when needed or asked. Help doesn’t just go from parent to child either, but between all competent adults, because life can come to any of you with problems you didn’t expect.

It is therefore important to separate wanting the best for your child and wanting the best for your child. literally. If he’s a decent man who treats her well and has the strength to face his own [stuff]then theirs can be a full and wonderful life.

Because, again, all lives involve difficulties.

Such as: watching your child struggle or having to contain your worries about her so that you don’t exert undue and unnecessary influence on her as she navigates one of the toughest challenges she will ever face.

You probably expect to handle this without your parents intervening.

You may not want your daughter to stay in this relationship – again, valid. But she’s going to make that decision without you, and if she chooses to stay, pursing her lips or putting him on hooks would be putting obstacles in her way. Unnecessarily. I don’t see how that helps your child.

If your restlessness is just a thwarted impulse to do something here — it’s hard to give up, this parenting stuff — so try Al-Anon. Learn not to be an obstacle to someone’s recovery, or an adult child’s agency, or your own emotional independence.

Or, in the spirit of one day at a time: learn to be the warmest, least intrusive guest possible. If they are getting married, then I think it’s safe to say that your kindness and support during your visit will not have been why.

Dear Caroline: I’m sick of young couples who use retired mothers to serve as unpaid babysitters so they can live well while complaining about them. These women have already provided at least 18 years of childcare to one member of these couples, so I suspect any interpersonal issues are long standing and were initially ignored in favor of free childcare.

When problems get in the way, I say time to grow up and sacrifice to pay for daycare for your own children, rather than treating your mothers like paid helpers in need of attitude adjustments.

Tiredness: I’m sick of people blaming others for their own inability to say no.

Yeah. It is all I have.

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