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Be true to yourself in dealing with parents

Published October 12, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dear Carolyn • I am an only child (grown) to two parents who did a really stellar job in a lot of concrete ways — encouraged my development and growth, paid for a top-tier college, and loved me very much — but were also uncontrolled alcoholics for much of my childhood and adolescence. This had (and continues to have) a lot of consequences for my mental well-being. My relationship with my mother was particularly fraught, and although she would very much like us to be close, we are not. She is now taking steps to get better. She has been sober for a year and seeing a psychiatrist for almost two. I feel obligated to be supportive — and I am, in broad ways. It is obvious, though, that both she and my dad would like more from me. He texted me asking me to send my mom a note on her one-year sobriety anniversary. And as always, I feel totally conflicted: Do I write something effusive that I know would thrill her but isn't terribly true? Or do I write something that expresses support in a more objective and rational way, which would be true for me, but not what she wants? I feel guilty and also resentful of being in this position. In the past, I've straddled a middle ground that satisfies nobody. She does not tend to handle honesty well, even in this post-therapy world.

Faking Feelings

Dear Faking Feelings • That's a heavy load to carry around, I'm sorry. A couple of things you probably know already: (1) Ultimately it's your prerogative to decide what's right for you, and to live your life accordingly. True not just for you, but for everyone. (2) An alcoholic parent interferes with that process, because the addiction is that parent's "north" — which means you're trained to see it as yours as well. Enduring legacy: Nagging uncertainty about what "normal" is and what you "should" do. Don't repeat that navigating error here by responding to your parents according to what you think they expect from you. Just don't do it. As hard as it is to tune out your parents and figure out what you actually want out of any given exchange — and out of the relationship in general — that's what you need to do, here and henceforth. You need to set your compass to that.

Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.