Q. My husband and I have a son and a daughter in their 30s. Some years ago these two had a falling out in which my son became violent. My husband and I did not learn of this until two years after it happened.
Our son had another incident while at home and was diagnosed as bipolar. He has seen psychiatrists and is on medication and counseling.
My daughter will have nothing to do with him and refuses to let him around our 3-year-old granddaughter. She won’t come home for the holidays and wants all family gatherings at her home because it is her home and she can therefore exclude him. Our son is living with us because he lost his job and is trying to set up his own business. Therefore, our daughter won’t let our granddaughter spend the night at our house.
When my husband and I try to talk to her about him, she becomes defensive and says we are taking his side. We have tried to get them together to discuss things and bring the family together again, but my daughter flies off the handle and says she has a 3-year-old to protect.
What can we do?
A. You’ve done a lot already to try to mitigate your son’s behavior, but you don’t mention that he has made efforts in this regard. Has he acknowledged and apologized for what he did? Has he reached out to his sister to explain bipolar disorder and offer her assurances that he is stable?
In addition to your son’s mental illness, if your children have an otherwise volatile relationship history, her feelings about him will be complex and conflicted. Your description of your daughter as “flying off the handle” makes me think your son isn’t the only volatile person in the family.
Mental illness is both stigmatized and misunderstood. Your son should discuss this with his therapist to explore ways he can be a more active participant in this process. Perhaps this therapist would meet with you and with your daughter (separately or together).
In the meantime, you will have to respect the fact that she is the child’s mother and has to make judgments about who the girl spends time with. Her motivations might be mixed, but you have to accept her choice.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers a wealth of information on bipolar illness at nami.org.
Q. Our daughter is graduating from high school this spring. We’d like her to go to a different university than her boyfriend of 16 months for many reasons.
She needs to grow emotionally, socially, and, mostly, academically. He is too jealous and possessive, and we are very concerned about this relationship. We’d appreciate your advice.
A. I completely agree with you. If you are paying for college, you have leverage over her choice of schools, and I wouldn’t hesitate exerting this influence.
Additionally, if she is with someone who is jealous and possessive, she would benefit from professional help (you could offer it to her as a way to deal with her frustration over how mean you are).
Be aware that this boyfriend’s control could continue — quite easily — even from different campuses. She needs some emotional distance and perspective (and additional maturity) to see the damaging and potentially dangerous effect this sort of relationship has on her personal growth and on her other relationships.