Dear Annie: I'm at my wits' end, and I really hope you can help. I love my children, and I love being a mother, but my youngest seems to want to make that as hard as possible for me. My son is a senior in high school, and I fear he is going down the wrong path. He has always struggled in school, but I've always gotten him tutors; he's always gotten in more trouble than his sisters, but he always seems to know how to make it up to me. However, this all has gotten worse as he's gotten older. He ditches class, and no matter how many times he has to go to detention as a result, he continues to do so. I have caught him with drugs and alcohol, but no matter how angry I get, he continues to use. He has gotten three different jobs in the past year (after I pushed him to do so, sick of giving him money), and he just stopped going in to work each time. I have to hide my purse because I've caught him snooping through my wallet.
He's defiant, and it's gotten to the point that when I ground him or tell him to go to school or tell him to clean up after himself, he just looks me in the eye and says no. I've tried yelling. I've tried tough love. And, Annie, now I am just exhausted. I've taken him to a counselor to see whether there is a deeper issue, but we can't seem to find anything. Is this just a growing boy? His sisters have given up on him; my husband says that seeing as he's 18, we could throw him out, but I just cannot do that. I work hard for my family. I love my family. And I can't figure out where I went wrong. Annie, I miss my little boy. What do I do? — Miserable Momma
Dear Miserable Momma: Tough love can be tough to give our children, but sometimes it's the only option. After all, protecting them from the consequences of their actions isn't really a kindness; it just prevents them from learning from mistakes in the long run. Your husband's correct. Your son is an adult, and you're within your rights to tell him to move out of the house (or at least start paying rent and following your house rules). If you don't want to do that just yet, consider doing so after the school year is over. He needs to find his rock bottom before he realizes which way is up.
I know this won't be easy for you, so I encourage you to find the support you need to stay strong. One good place to find it is in a room full of people who understand exactly what you're going through: at a meeting of Families Anonymous (for friends and family of people with addictions or other compulsive behaviors) or Al-Anon (for friends and family of people with alcoholism specifically). Visit these organizations' websites to find a meeting near you.
Dear Annie: I had a friend who faced a quandary similar to that faced by "Distressed in Utah," the woman who wrote to you because she was getting ready to retire after 50 years of working and suddenly her family expected her to provide care for aging parents and preschool children in her "spare time." My friend announced to one and all that she would be happy to devote her life to taking care of family members eventually but she expected to celebrate her retirement by spending one month every year doing the things she wanted to do. During that month, members of the family could cover the care of aging parents and small children as they had been doing. More than four years later, when she was finally done "celebrating" her retirement, one of the aging parents had died, and the other was happily ensconced in assisted living; both preschool grandchildren were in school full time. And, I might add, the family as a whole had discovered that she was not a doormat. — Mary in Vancouver, Wash.
Dear Mary: Bravo to her. Thanks for sharing the tip.
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