Carolyn Hax: Parents see alcoholic boyfriend as ‘burden’ for daughter

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

We like him. And we support him in his struggle. But there is no marriage, no kids, no house, and we are old enough to know and worry about the course recovery takes. Namely, two or three relapses before it sticks and lots of human wreckage. I don’t want my kid to be part of the wreckage. As far as I can tell, everyone — his family, his friends, his co-workers, us — has been understanding.

I do not want to blow this, and from everything I’ve read, my only option is sympathy and support. Ugh. I resent the burden this has placed on my daughter.

And, yes, plenty of people have gotten clean and stayed clean. But is the partner always looking over his or her shoulder?

So how do I address this? I am not condemning him, but I do not want to let him off the hook.

Anonymous: Yeah, ugh to sympathy and support!!! Where’s a good shaming when you need one.

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

But do not conflate your valid concerns about the potential for his alcoholism to affect your daughter negatively with any license or duty to punish him for it. You are not the law here — you are not the putter-on to or letter-off from hooks.

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

Because it’s a life we’re talking about here, the way she manages it will involve error. Some of it massive, maybe with at least a temporary cost to her (and even your) quality of life.

That’s why adult members of reasonably functional families also tend to share the role of one another’s backups and safety nets — when needed or asked. The help doesn’t flow just from parent to kid, either, but among all competent adults, because life can come at any of you with problems you didn’t expect.

So it’s important to separate wanting the best for your child and wanting the best for your child literally. If this is 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 hardship.

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

Presumably you expect to manage this without your parents stepping in.

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, then pursing your lips or putting him on hooks would amount to placing obstacles in his path. Needlessly. I can’t see how that helps your kid.

If your agitation is just a thwarted impulse to do something here — it’s hard to let go of, this parenting thing — then try Al-Anon. Learn how not to be an obstacle to someone’s recovery, or to a grown child’s agency, or to your own emotional independence.

Or, in the one-day-at-a-time spirit: Learn how to be the warmest, least invasive houseguest you can be. If they go on to marry, then I think it’s safe to say your kindness and support during your visit won’t have been why.

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

When the issues become a nuisance, I say time to be grown-ups and sacrifice to pay for day care for your own children, rather than treating your mothers as paid help who need attitude adjustments.

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

Yeah. That’s all I’ve got.

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