Ask Amy: Unreliable parent leaves guilty legacy
Dear Amy: I grew up with a mom who I could never trust to reliably "show up.”
She was an alcoholic until I was 7, and I was sent back and forth between my father and her while she went through relationships with several men.
She had a sober period from when I was 7 until I was 13, and then she remarried and had two more children.
Once I went to college, I was no longer invited home, and this continued even after I was married.
She rarely called and was very busy with my half-siblings. There was always an excuse as to why she couldn't see me.
She would cancel at the last minute to see a friend or make it very difficult to set solid plans. If I didn’t initiate getting together, I would never see her.
Now my kids are teens, and they don't know her at all.
Throughout their childhoods, she never invited them over. She never invites us for Christmas celebrations with my stepdad and half-siblings.
I feel like it has been my job to try to maintain a relationship with her.
I often feel it as an extra burden – with heavy guilt attached. Am I right to feel this way?
I have always wished for supportive and involved grandparents, but I really don't know what is normal.
When I've told my mom that I'd like for her to maybe come up with something to do with my kids, she's just said that she can't.
Am I right to feel burdened and frustrated?
She's not that old; she is capable, drives, and takes care of others in her community.
I've yearned for close family connections but feel like my efforts have not panned out or been reciprocated.
How do I find that connection I've yearned for?
Dear Distressed: You question your own feelings, which is what people do when they’ve experienced chaos and dislocation in childhood. Childhood is when humans learn to inhabit and express their authentic feelings. Competent, sober, and reliable parents guide children through this process. You were denied this – and much more – in your own childhood.
One way to find the connection you’ve yearned for since childhood is to continue to nurture this connection with your own children.
You are the surviving adult child of an alcoholic, and if your children grow into adulthood knowing their own mother to be the steady, reliably loving parent that you never had, then you’ve triumphantly broken the chain.
Sadly, you will not receive this nurturing from your mother. She cannot give what she does not have. Learning to release your own expectation (without guilt) will be liberating for you.
You would benefit from connecting with others through an Adult Children of Alcoholics group. Check adultchildren.org for information and meetings.
Dear Amy: I am responding to the question in your column from “Guilty Bystander,” written by an adult who had become aware of a rumor regarding a male teacher from her high school who’d had a sexual relationship with an underage female student.
As the retired head of Health Education of a large urban capitol city school system in the United States and with more than three decades of teaching in my resume, I can unequivocally agree with your advice to Bystander, who posed the question about their role in reporting what might prove to be a serious, life-changing criminal act.
If the horrific treatment of our Team USA gymnasts has taught us anything, I would hope we begin to learn that it is everyone’s responsibility to speak up.
These vulnerable girls and young women were abused over the course of many years by a monster, and they were not protected by any institution, including FBI investigators.
If you don’t speak up, you are part of the problem rather than the solution.
– A (former) Mandated Reporter
Dear Reporter: None of the gymnast survivors of Dr. Larry Nassar’s abuse consented to this behavior, while the implication from “Guilty Bystander” was that this (rumored) sexual relationship between teacher and underage student was thought to be consensual.
However, as I pointed out in my answer, there is a reason the law supports a legal age of consent. The power differential between adult and underage person – or teacher and student – can very easily lead to exploitation.
I’ve heard from many people expressing concern about the rights of a teacher who might be wrongfully accused. I understand this concern, but adults have the duty to report, and institutions must investigate.
©2021 Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.