Now Sober and Struggling

Dear Dr. Meg,

My depression got out of control leading to me relapsing after 10 years of sobriety.  I made bad choices like having an affair because my husband wouldn’t annul his previous marriage in the Catholic Church.  I lost my husband and my 12-year-old daughter had to go live with her biological father. I was evicted by my husband from our home and lost my finances.  My daughter says I ruined her life and that her father and Grandfather tell her I chose drugs and alcohol over her.  She is 13 now.  I have almost 10 months of sobriety now.   My daughter won’t talk to me or see me and her father let’s her have her way despite the judge telling him to encourage her to visit me and provisions are made for him to make her available for phone visitation in our court order but I only get voice mail.  Both he and his father have alienated her from me.  I feel so much guilt and shame and am very sorry for what I have done and have tried to correct my errors.  I feel like my daughter hates me and is out of my life forever.  Is there any hope for me? How can I fix this situation?  Will my daughter come around?  I struggle with suicidal thoughts thinking her and her father and Grandfather will be happy if I was gone.  Her father is engaged to a woman and she already calls her step momma and he calls her kids, her siblings.  Thank you for any help you can offer.

Sincerely,
Now Sober Mom

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Dear Now Sober Mom,

Is there hope for you? Absolutely. You are at the bottom of a dark pit now because you are experiencing the pain of the consequences that come from bad mistakes. Your story is one that would sit beautifully in the pages of the bible because the disciples, prophets and even God’s beloved David made many of the mistakes that you have. But remember, God’s gracious hand was guiding and helping them through every mistake and recovery they made. Even though they felt like running or when they were depressed, God never, ever gave up on them because that’s how huge is love is. I can guarantee that His love is that great for you, too, my friend.

First, please do not hurt yourself anymore. You’ve done enough of that. Stop it. Get yourself to a good doctor to treat your depression and work your AA program like your life depends on it because it does. Your first priority is to get yourself well. I know that you are anxious to mend things with your daughter but that will take time (years not months) and the best way to make sure that you are successful is to make yourself strong and healthy. Get sober for years. Get your depression really under control. Find some good women who can help you. Skip boyfriends. Stay away from anything that threatens your sobriety or anything that will cause you to do stupid things.

Your daughter is hurting deeply because she feels that you abandoned her. You know that you were under the spell of alcohol and depression but all she knows is that her Mom left. Be patient with her. It will take years for her to trust you again and I don’t blame her because the truth is, you probably still struggle to trust yourself too. So, don’t trust yourself, trust God. He won’t let you down. I encourage you to write your daughter letters. Don’t write about what you are doing or how you are doing. Write about her. Tell her that you understand her disappointment and that you want to take a lifetime to make up for the hurts she has endured. Tell her that she has a good Dad and that you hope that she will get along with her step-Mom. Do not tell her that you are jealous or anything like that.  Just be encouraging.

Do not insist on anything, but get better and as you do, keep writing her and asking how she is. Focus on positive things. Here’s the hope that you have: that over time and with great patience, you can get back into her life but first you must prove to her and yourself that you are serious about recovery. I believe that you can do this so now you must believe that too and be patient with yourself.

Be encouraged,
Dr. Meg

Celebrating a Non-Crazy Christmas

Celebrating a Non-Crazy Christmas

Here’s the million-dollar question every conscientious parent asks at Christmas: How can I get my kids (and myself) to focus on the real meaning of Christmas? Well, if you are asking those questions, kudos to you. You’re off to a great start because you can only find answers to questions if you ask the questions.

I’ve lived through 31 Christmases as a mother, so let me give you my thoughts. Here’s what I have found works for me and I’d love to hear from others who have found pretty good answers too. First, I shift my thinking at the beginning of Advent to see the entire month of December as a different and holy time. I used to focus only on Christmas day but really, if you take the whole month to slow down and re shift your focus, this give you more time to talk with your kids about why we prepare for the birth of Christ. The best way to make sure you bring Advent into your home is to put a simple Advent wreath on the kitchen table. Even if no one’s home with you, light the candle appropriate for the week.

Then, I make sure to put a child-friendly crèche where kids can see it. Find a simple wooden nativity scene and put it on the coffee table in the family room and let the kids play with it. As they do, ask them questions like, “I wonder if it was really cold when Mary rode the donkey that night?” or “I wonder if Mary and Joseph were scared as they took off for Bethlehem?” Asking kids questions that pull them into the story trigger their imaginations and they will come up with great answers. Be ready to listen to them and make sure to let them talk.  When necessary, give the correct answers after they are finished.

Even with young children, adopt a family at Christmas several weeks before the day. Then, ask each child to go to the store with you and pick out a gift for each family member. They can come home and wrap the gift or you can. Then, deliver the packages together near Christmas day. If you don’t have time for this, a great option is to go through Samaritan’s Purse and give a gift box to a child overseas. They will help you do this.

Do things to make yourself a bit calmer. I know that every mother wants to make the season special for her kids. I battle with this constantly. But remember, our children would rather have fewer cookies, presents, decorations and special dinners and a happy, pleasant mother. Seriously. If you are overspent (in all ways) you will be a miserable person to be around. (I’ve learned this the hard way.) So, during Advent, skip a party or two. Answer emails only once per day. Shut your phone off for an hour and listen to Christmas music. Make only two kinds of Christmas cookies rather than five or- yikes! – buy some. Buy each child one present not four and give yourself a break. And hey- I don’t mean to be Scrooge here, but skip Elf on a Shelf.  God changing himself into a person and holing up in a teenager’s womb for 10 months is mystery enough- and the real kind- so you don’ t need to dumb it down. Even for little children. Because they, too, can understand this in an elementary way.

Elf on a shelf is a cute idea and won’t harm kids but it will make your life far too complicated, so give yourself a break. Besides- what if the elf in your house doesn’t give presents that are as nice as the ones he leaves at your neighbor’s and your kids find out?

Friends, Christmas is the gift of all Gifts that was given to us. All of the work has been done. Our job is to simply receive it, enjoy it and celebrate it, not make ourselves crazy.  And teaching our children that is the greatest success any of us parents can have this Advent season.

A Strong-Willed Two-Year Old

A Strong-Willed Two-Year Old

Dear Dr. Meg,

My sons are 22-months apart; they are now 2 and 5 months.  Right before my 2nd son was born, my 1st son really started acting out.  He hits, throws and now kicks for going on 6 months. He is not in daycare, we do not watch “violent” television, and the two days a week that I work he stays with grandparents. We have tried to be compassionate about the fact that he lost the “King of the Castle” when my 2nd son was born, but I am having trouble curbing this behavior and all of our behavior modification ideas have failed so far.  We intentionally spend time with him, especially when little brother is around and I have even tried telling little brother to “wait” while I do activities with older brother.  The acting out is not exclusive to when younger brother is around though; it has become the only way he interacts with other children too. I have tried interacting in play and showing him appropriate contact, we discuss positive interactions on the way to play dates (high fives, hugs, sharing, etc), but as soon as a child walks into his range, he lashes out. He has even started acting out when it is only me and him spending time together.  My husband and I have tried picking a method (spanking, time out, etc) and sticking with only that method for a period of time, but so far we have found nothing that seems to deter him from these actions.  He is a sweet sweet boy half of the time, and then a huge handful the other half.  I know sometimes his actions are meant to seek attention, but in other instances I cannot figure out what is fueling them, and in all instances I am at a loss on how to stop them and encourage positive behavior.  Thank you for any advice!

Sincerely,
Mother of Two

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Dear MOT-

You have a very strong-willed 2-year-old boy on your hands. I understand your desire to empathize with him, buy you’re overthinking things. Yes, your son’s nose was out of joint when his brother was born but he’s really acting out because he wants to and he can. He’s just a handful.

There are some strategies that really do work with stubborn toddlers. First, pick one behavior that you find most offensive. Is it backtalk? Hitting other kids? Talk with your husband and choose one behavior to discipline your son for over the next month. Then, sit across from your son and look him in the eye and say, “Son, if you do this again, Mommy and Daddy will not put up with it. So if you do this, you will have to go to your room immediately.” (You can choose another consequence but it needs to upset him- so that he will want to avoid it.

Once you have done this, you’ve thrown down the gauntlet. He will love this (because strong-willed kids thrive on challenges) and soon he will do that behavior. He will wait until he knows you are watching and then he will disobey. Immediately pick him up (don’t say a word) and put him in his room. He may scream, hit the door, and wail but this is all for show. He’s not used to you laying down the law and meaning it.

When he quiets down and sits for 5-10 minutes quietly, he can come out of his room. Again, you look him in the eye and say, “Do not do that (hit, whatever) again.” Then go on to do what you were doing before. Here’s the tough part: really stubborn kids will go through this routine five, ten, maybe twenty times in one day just to test you. If he’s really creative, he will do it when you’re at a friend’s home, at the grocery store or somewhere he thinks you can’t respond. So be ready, if you are any of those places, you MUST respond. Leave the grocery store, drive home and put him in his room. If you are at a friend’s home, excuse yourself and ask your friend to borrow a bedroom to use with your son. This sounds extreme, but if he is really stubborn, extreme measures are needed. I promise, if you act this way, he’ll stop disobeying.

You may spend one or two whole days accomplishing only one thing- breaking him of this behavior.  He’s trying hard to establish that he, not you, is the boss. The reason that you MUST win this battle isn’t just to curb his behavior but to make him submit to your authority so that he can have a sense of security. Bright, energetic kids who believe that they are in charge are frightened deep down and feel insecure. So you need to devote yourself to making sure that he knows that you are the boss.

Most parents fail because kids wear them down with their energy and stamina. Your job is to simply outlast him. Once you get him to understand that you (and Dad) are the boss, then move on to another behavior. Be patient with yourself and realize this is no task for wimpy parents.

Your job as a good parent of a strong-willed son is to help him channel his will in a direction that works for him, not against him. If you don’t get him to bend his will to yours, his immature desires will run his life. Don’t let this happen.

Signed,
Dr. Meg

Responding To A Cruel Daughter-In-Law

Dear Dr. Meg,

I have a daughter-in-law of 14-years now! I consider myself as a very good Christian person. I have one son. Anyway, my daughter-in-law is very spoiled, disrespectful, and very rude to me every chance she gets! Her mom is her best friend! She won’t break down the wall and let me in. All she sees is the negitive about me! Her two kids love me!

Even when our son will give me a hug she’ll say sure you’ll hug your mom, but you won’t hug me! She had fours years of physiology in college.  I don’t get into their lives at all! She has got me over a barrel and if I say anything, our son will hate me and I won’t get to see our grandkids any more! I’ve tried so hard with her, but get stomped down by her every time! I am so severely depressed each time we’re with them, and what she does to me. I’m about ready to give up our son, and grandkids! And that is what she wants is to have them all to herself, and her family, and to leave us out! It’s not worth the pain she causes me! I’ve never in my fifty-eight years of my life ever had someone hate me and the ground I walk on. And our one and only son had to marry a girl like her.  I don’t tell our son any of this, because she always turns everything around and tells him that it’s me.

Meg, I’ve never told anyone this before, but I I’ve even thought of suicide, that way I’d be out of their lives, she’d love that! I pray every day for us! My husband is my high school sweet heart and is so very good to me, and I love him so much. I’d never do that to him. He just tells me just let it go, and tune her out! But it hurts me so much! Meg, you’re the first person I’ve sought help from. I don’t know where to go! I can write a book (as you can tell,) on all the mean things she’s done to me all these years! I’m sorry Meg, my question got so long, but I had to tell you just a little about my life and problem! Can you help me? I’d sure appreciate it! I know it would be hard for you to tell me since you don’t know either of our personalities! With my hand on the bible I am a good person, but I don’t want it to look like I’m stuck on myself, I’m not really! Ha!

Thank you,
Looking For Resolution

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Dear LFR,

I can tell that your daughter-in-law has really hurt your feelings. For some reason she has decided that you are the enemy. She either feels threatened by you or deeply hurt by you. Probably both. I encourage you to stop thinking about how you feel and try to put yourself in her shoes so that you can try to understand her frame of mind. Of course she thinks very differently than you do and there is a deep insecurity or hurt that continues to eat away at her and she is taking it out on you.

Here’s what I would do. Set asked one month and pray intentionally for her. Ask God to bless her. Then ask Him to help you understand what is bothering her so deeply. When you find yourself focusing on your own hurt, stop and think about her. Praying for someone is powerful because it changes her life and it changes yours.

Then, I would act as kindly as you can to her. Even the hardest-hearted people cave when shown enough kindness. It could be that this young woman has never felt any real kindness in her life- I don’t know. But I do know this: if you humble yourself in her presence and work hard to be nice, she will eventually respond. (And this may take years.)

When Paul was teaching the Romans about how very hard love is, he wrote: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him: if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

At this point, you can either keep doing what you’re doing and lose your son and grandchildren or you can try something dramatic and follow Paul’s suggestion. I highly recommend the latter.

Signed,
Dr. Meg

Help! My Daughter Wants To Marry Me.

Help! My Daughter Wants To Marry Me.

Dear Dr. Meg,

I have a 3-year-old daughter that has been asking me to marry her every day for the past few weeks. I keep telling her thank you, I love you too, and that I am already married to her mother without telling her ok and or pretending to marry her. My wife and I even pretended to have a wedding in our living room and allowed her to be the flower girl in hopes that she would be satisfied with that and stop asking to marry me. She keeps asking her mother if she could marry my wife and me was trying to be tactful and honest and told her that she could not marry me and said that she would find a guy to marry after college. It seemed to break her heart and crushed her dreams and she cried and cried and cried. When I got home from work, she asked me again to marry her. We keep rolling with the same pattern of responses, I am already married to mommy, lets talk about that when she gets older, and try changing the subject.

Are we doing the right thing? Please help.

Signed,
Already Married To Mommy
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Dear AMTM-

How lucky you are to have a little girl who wants to marry you. You must be a great father. Here’s the reason that your daughter tells you that she wants to marry you. In her very young mind, she never wants life to change. She wants her mother close and she wants you to stay in her life, just the way you are. At such a young age, the word marry means something very different to her than it does to you. It means that you will always stay in her life as her very special Dad.

Your daughter’s question is perfectly normal for her age. Many young girls feel this way about their fathers. Here’s what I encourage you to do. When she asks you to marry her tell her thank you. Then tell her that her mommy will always be your only wife but that she can be your special girl. All she really wants to know is that she can have a spot in your heart reserved for her alone and that nothing will ever change that.

Over the months, your daughter’s mind will change and she will stop asking about marrying you. So don’t worry, even if she seems not to hear your answers now, eventually she stop and then, you’ll wish that she still asked!

Signed,
Dr. Meg