Daughter Unmanageable Since Her Dad Left

Reader’s Question

My 18-year-old daughter recently stormed out of our home after she was caught in yet another lie, and my relationship with her is strained at best. My daughter was beyond devastated when her dad moved out and began dating a boy who was verbally and emotionally abusive toward her; she began to lie habitually about everything in order to see him. This is something that she NEVER did before her father left. Her father and I both told her that we were convinced that this boy would physically harm her, and she would tolerate it. As of just a few short weeks ago, this kid was still in her life.

Over the past 8 months, I have had the police involved with my daughter 4 different times for various reasons. I have had her at a counselor’s office, where the counselor told me that she is deeply and emotionally disturbed, all stemming from her dad walking out. Before she turned 18 (in August), I had even gone to the lengths of having her admitted to a teen crisis center (twice) for two weeks, but when it came time for her to go, she refused. That was my mistake in not trying harder to make her see she needed to get help. She tells me we “fight all of the time”; however, the ONLY time she and I would fight was when she was caught in a lie.

My husband and I separated 18 months ago, and I just found out 7 weeks ago that he has been living with a 29-year-old mistress for the majority of that time. He had been lying to his children and me the entire time about where he was residing. It was purely HIS mistake that I even found out where he was by sending an email that he addressed to me, his children AND his girlfriend. My daughter is living with her father, and his mistress is only 10 years older than she is, in a 1 bedroom/1 bath condo that is literally 5 minutes from my home. Her dad has admitted MANY times to me that he is depressed and recently said to me that “his life is over.” My daughter told me last night that she is sleeping in what is essentially a closet with a loft bed, but my concern is, what further mental damage is being done to my daughter’s psyche by witnessing her dad with a girlfriend up close and personal, when he is still married to me? She tells me that she doesn’t care, but I know better than that because she is a VERY confused kid, and I believe strongly that she is in danger. I have seen emails between my daughter and the girlfriend about her using marijuana (she said it was all a joke, but I don’t joke about that stuff). My husband is 18 years older than this woman, and my daughter is very vulnerable. She has become even more hateful toward me since she moved in with him, and I fear that she is falling deeper and deeper into the proverbial well of destruction. What can I do to help my daughter?

Psychologist’s Reply

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While it’s entirely possible that much of your daughter’s behavior is related to her sense of betrayal and anger with respect to the issues between you and your husband, it’s imperative that you not confuse issues. You and your husband have concerns that are between you and must be resolved. Your daughter appears to have issues needing attention also. But be very careful not to let your anger and upset about your husband’s actions color your perspective on your daughter’s problems — and don’t blame everything on your husband’s moving out. While it’s definitely possible that your daughter is unconsciously trying to “reunite” her parents in the noble cause of saving their daughter, don’t be too quick to jump to such a conclusion. Be sure to keep everyone’s issues clear and distinct.

Sometimes, children will direct the strongest negative emotions toward the parent with whom they feel the most secure. So, don’t take things too personally. Rather, you and your husband must stand firm and together on at least one issue, and that’s the welfare of your daughter. If your husband is depressed and he knows it, it’s his responsibility to secure the appropriate help. But your daughter is your mutual concern — and always will be, regardless of your individual conflicts and issues. So, it’s imperative that you get past your anger with him and his “young mistress” and stand together with respect to enforcing limits, boundaries, and even insisting upon counseling for your daughter. By the way, seeking counseling yourself and insisting your husband get the help he needs also would not be a bad idea.

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