Dear Annie: My father has always been especially unkind to my sister, “Portia.” She always has had behavioral problems, not to mention she is a bit paranoid and has a ferocious temper. Portia also drinks too much and continues to contact her abusive ex-boyfriend.
My older sister and I try to show Portia lots of love, but Dad usually deals with her problems with anger, insults and general vitriol. Though he has occasionally shown her support over the years, he usually singles her out as the “problem” child. There have been times when he has screamed and even intervened physically when my sisters have fought, always pinning the blame on Portia.
Recently, Dad’s anger has grown and he reacts testily to every comment or question Portia makes. He even reacts poorly to my mother, and is now talking about moving in with his sister in another state until his depression and anxiety subside.
Dad’s behavior seems really disturbing to me and borders on abuse. Yet my mother submits over and over to his anger. What should we do? — Afraid of Escalation
Dear Afraid: There’s not much you can do for your mother, who doesn’t see this as a serious problem. She is accustomed to Dad’s moods and prefers to avoid confrontation. Would your father see a doctor about his depression and anxiety instead of waiting for them to “subside” on their own? Portia’s issues may be genetically linked to her father’s, and she also is likely to benefit from both medical intervention and therapy.
If your father wishes to move in with his sister for a while, then that will provide an opportunity for everyone to calm down. Dad obviously recognizes that he has a problem and that a little distance can help. Perhaps his sister will convince him to talk to his doctor.
Dear Annie: I’m responding to “Feeling Unloved,” the divorced dad whose teenaged kids don’t seem to want to spend time with him:
First and foremost, if your kids are angry or resentful, encourage them to talk about it and simply listen without being defensive or blaming the other parent. It hurts, and it’s hard to hear, but it’s what they need. They are kids navigating a difficult situation they feel powerless to change.
Second, remember that they are teenagers. Most teenagers can be a bit self-centered and focused on friends rather than family.
Finally, don’t expect them to call you. Invite them places, even if it’s out for pizza. And if they decline, then ask them when would be a good time. And don’t give up. It will get better. -- G.
Dear G.: Thank you for your sage advice. Navigating parenthood with teenagers is already complicated, and divorce adds to the difficulty. If the parents were living together, they could see the situation more clearly, but separated, they aren’t certain what’s going on. They sometimes blame the child or the other parent for a change in the relationship, but often it is simply growing pains. Teenagers require a revised playbook.
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“If your father wishes to move in with his sister for a while, then that will provide an opportunity for everyone to calm down. Dad obviously recognizes that he has a problem and that a little distance can help. Perhaps his sister will convince him to talk to his doctor.”