Parents’ troubles haunt teen
Q: My father, when I was in fourth grade, cheated on my mother with her best friend.
My parents almost ended their marriage over this. It left a huge emotional impact on me.
Now I’m a freshman in high school, and suspicion and fear are taking over my life. Each night I listen to hear if my parents are arguing.
I almost have a heart attack every time they do, even when it’s a simple fight that ends quickly.
Lately, I’ve noticed tension between them and feel again my sweaty palms and nausea.
I’m increasingly suspicious of my father for cheating again. I see him on Facebook and he stays up late every night.
I’m probably just assuming the worst because of the past trauma I’ve had. But is it okay to ask if he isn’t cheating, just to clear my head and conscience?
I want to ask respectfully without him getting upset, and assure I’m not accusing him but reassuring myself so I can sleep at night.
If he does get upset, how do I say that I just want to put my mind at ease? — TEENAGER’S SLEEPLESS NIGHTS
A: The driving emotion here is your feeling of a returning trauma and family chaos. It’s haunting you, affecting your sleep, and sense of security.
Confiding your own fear is the only approach that might encourage a private conversation between you and your father.
Any direct question about him cheating is bound to be a mistake.
There’s no guarantee that he’ll answer truthfully, not feel accused, and not get angry.
At worst, he may even feel that your mother put you up to questioning him or said he’s cheating, and that will create far more tension even if you deny she was involved.
Most long-term couples experience some periods of strain.
His using Facebook at night is not evidence.
Talk to him only about how the past is still affecting you. Both your parents care about your well-being. They may suggest that you get counselling to help you handle/overcome anxiety feelings.
That’s a good idea, no matter what else is going on.
Q: My boyfriend and I are high school seniors. His life with his parents is getting increasingly pressured.
They’re really strict, even though he’s a great kid (class valedictorian, and doesn’t drink).
His parents talk about kicking him out of the house (if he were 18), telling him that he won’t get a job, will get kicked out of college and be a failure in life, and threaten to not pay his college tuition.
Recently, they offered to get him an expensive graduation present. Then yesterday they fought and said they wouldn’t buy it.
It makes me angry and sad to see him put through this turmoil.
I’m trying to support him, but on his many bad days I don’t know how to help him. — BOYFRIEND’S DIFFICULT PARENTS A: Stay supportive. He’s lucky to have you on his side, but unless he’s in a true crisis and prepared to leave home, you don’t want to make things worse by interfering.
His parents may believe that, with all the potential negative influences on teens, they have to remain strict with their son.
Yes, it appears they’re overdoing it. But he may also be moved to exaggerate sometimes because it brings you two closer.
As a valedictorian, he’ll likely get to college and have some freedom from the current pressure.
Encourage him to stay with his goals, and to try to avoid conflict.
FEEDBACK: Regarding the worried mother who’s son, 22, is smoking marijuana and using cocaine (April 15):
Reader - “Smart Recovery uses the principles of Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) which has been proven to be effective in helping addicts make better choices.
“Smart Recovery has several online meetings per week and also has in-person meetings for families.”
Ellie - I don’t know this resource personally, but it can be researched online as to cost, involvement, and appropriateness.
Reader #2 - “Having an increased familial morbid risk for schizophrenia may be the underlying basis for schizophrenia in cannabis users and not cannabis use by itself,” note researchers in one study.
“It’s therefore a bit negligent of you to leave that possibility out and simply flip off the mother’s concerns as overreacting.”
Ellie - I wrote, “You have good reasons for concern.” Only a medical/psychiatric diagnosis can determine schizophrenia, not assumptions.
TIP OF THE DAY
If fears of a family breakup keep recurring, tell your parents and be open to getting counselling.