Q. All five of my now-adult children were adopted. The youngest two are bio-sisters and came to us when they were 4 and 5.
These sisters have always struggled, and we were in and out of counseling as they grew up.
They have accused us of abuse (not true).
They both have substance abuse issues, and have exhausted their brothers and sister, too, with their lies and behavior.
Amy, they refuse to even talk to us. My heart breaks for their hurt and I do not know how to help. How can we mend this torn family?
A. You seem to have given your all to your children. I hope you have something left for yourself.
Ideally, adult children more or less take up where their parents left off and continue to raise themselves as they mature, but aware and sensitive families face a reckoning when they realize — surprise — there is no such thing as an ideal family.
According to information published by the National Institutes of Health, “Addictions are moderately to highly heritable. Family, adoption, and twin studies reveal that an individual’s risk tends to be proportional to the degree of genetic relationship to an addicted relative.”
Your youngest daughters may have entered the world already marked for the struggles with addiction disorders that they are facing now.
Unfortunately, you may not be able to mend your torn family. Parenting at this point for your challenging younger daughters may mean establishing firm boundaries and supporting recovery, but not enabling addiction. You may have to train yourselves and your other children to learn how to lovingly detach from them. Therapy at this point should focus on your own coping skills, as well as exploring concepts such as codependency.
Charles Rubin has written a tough, searing book based on his own experience being the parent of addicted children: “Don’t Let Your Kids Kill You: A Guide for Parents of Drug and Alcohol Addicted Children.” New Century Publishers (2007).
When I interviewed Mr. Rubin about his book, he told me that his own experience led him, finally, to focus not on his failed, futile, and frustrating efforts to save his adult children from their addictions but on saving himself.
It might be time for you to surrender to your own powerlessness over your daughters’ addiction, and make a choice to focus on your own health and recovery.
Sometimes, pulling back or detaching can disrupt the dynamic enough to nudge troubled people toward taking responsibility for their own recovery. Other times, detaching will have no effect on the family members you are trying to help, but it will help you. And you and your other children living good and healthy lives is better than everyone going down with the ship.
Q. We recently put our home for sale. Our next-door neighbors are nice. We say hello that’s about it. The problem is that their property is unkempt.
A pool in their yard collapsed years ago, and it’s still laying in the yard, along with the broken and rotted decking that was around it.
The trim is coming off in some spots and missing in others.
Several potential buyers have asked if the house was abandoned, or if anyone lives there. We’ve been asked, “What’s the story over there?”
I don’t believe my neighbors are breaking any laws.
I don’t want to create hard feelings.
Can I say something, or should I just keep my mouth shut?
A. If I gave you permission to say something to these neighbors, what would it be? “Hello, nice people. Please, clean up your property, so I can sell mine and get you some new neighbors?”
No, if these people won’t clean up their property for their own sakes, they’re not going to clean it up for you. If they aren’t violating any local statutes, then it is what it is.
You could communicate this to prospective buyers: “In our time living here, we haven’t really gotten to know the neighbors very well, but they seem very nice. We’ve never had any problems of any kind with them.”
Q. “Empathetic from Afar” felt burdened by a friend’s requests for support through social media.
I appreciated your suggestion that support doesn’t always need to be financial. Maintaining contact and a connection is helpful, too.
A. The current health care cost crisis has led people to crowdsource support for their expenses. But support takes many forms.
Amy Dickinson can be reached at email@example.com.