Life Advice



Ask Amy: Parents ponder daughter's prison contact

By Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: My husband and I have raised our granddaughter, "Allie," since she was 3 years old. We adopted her a few years ago. She is now 13. Her biological mother (our daughter) got into drugs, alcohol, and stealing to support her habit. She has stolen and betrayed us and other family members, has been in jail many times, and is currently in prison for the second time. When she is incarcerated, she always writes letters to us saying how badly she has messed up, how terrible her life is, and asking for forgiveness -- but the main point is to ask us to send money and items to make her time easier.

Each time she is released she quickly falls back into her old cycle. This has been going on for 20 years.

Her last letter also contained a letter for Allie -- asking her to write and send pictures.

I did not show this to Allie, but now I'm wondering if I should. I have tried to spare her the sordid details, and say that her mom has mental problems.

Allie is well-adjusted, has friends, and does well in school.

She occasionally becomes very tearful and sad that she doesn't have a "normal" mom (her father has never been in the picture).


I thought we would let her decide what kind of relationship she wants with her parents when she's old enough. But how do I know when she is old enough? We've told her mom that she cannot visit with Allie until she is clean and sober for at least six months.

-- Wondering Gramma

Dear Wondering: I think it's time to level with "Allie." Keeping all of this a secret might create more problems than it would solve. However, I think it's vital that you also find a qualified counselor who can meet with all of you in order to guide family conversations and also serve as a supportive neutral party for Allie to communicate with, as she tries to navigate this challenging family issue.

You should be honest with Allie about the depth of her mother's problems. Do not paint her as a bad person, but as someone who has an addiction disorder and makes terrible and destructive choices, over and over again.


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