Ask an Expert: Should I Visit My Addict Mother Against my Father's Wishes?

By Janice Dorn 12/29/14

Today's Ask an Expert is on how to choose between parents in conflict.

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I will keep this brief. I am 19 years old and in my second year in college. My dad who I lived with the last three years takes care of this cost. My mother is a functioning heroin addict (for four years) who has finally gone on methadone maintenance and who always begs me to visit her, though between her rages and her stonenedness, I haven’t been willing to see her for 3.5 years. Now she says she is clean and is begging me to visit her or to come visit me in school. My father says I should make her wait. I am torn. I found your website and decided to see what you had to say either about exactly what I should do or how to get the information I need to make the decision. Thank you. - Kathy

Janice Dorn: Hi Kathy,

This is just a totally awful conflict for you.  You have to choose between your mother and your father. No person should have to do that. Not in this day and age when—perhaps more than at any times in history—children need both parents. OK.  Maybe you are not exactly a child. You are a young woman. Nineteen years old.  However, you are dependent on your Dad for money to pay for your college education and room and board. This is a good thing to do, and you are fortunate that you have him. I hope you get through college and do something wonderful and productive with your life.  

That said, you know about money and control. The person that has the money almost always has the control. So, your Dad is in charge right now. He is sacrificing so that you can do to college. You don’t want to upset him in any way. He wants you to “wait” to see your mother.

I am not exactly sure what “wait” means, but, perhaps, this would be a good place to start.  If you really want to see your mother, you must first talk to your father. Ask him exactly what he means by “wait.” How long? Days, months, weeks, never? This is a critical thing to know.  

Whatever he tells you is what you should abide by until you are out of college and on your way to a career. I don’t usually talk like this to young people because I believe in their (your) autonomy and ability to make decent decisions. However—in your case, the most important thing for you is to finish your education and begin your career.  Once you are independent financially, everything will change for you.

So- what is the bottom line: 

You have two options in terms of seeing your mother—Either you see her or you don’t. Right now, I suggest you don’t. Why? Because your Dad doesn’t want you to, your Dad is supporting you and you really need to finish college, get on your own and build a life and a career for yourself.

Perhaps the best thing would be to tell your Mom that you would love to see her but you really cannot take the chance to do it right now. You need your Dad to support you and get you through your education. Talk to your Dad. Run everything by him. Approach him with totally rigorous honesty and don’t hedge or pretend. If you are talking with your mother, tell him everything. Ask him if he would have any issues with your speaking to your Mom on the phone, SKYPE or texting her. If he says “No”—then the answer is “No.” Tell your mother that you would like to see her but have to wait until you are finished with college and on your own. See if you can work out something so that you can continue communication with her while you finish your college work.

I think it’s possible that if you have a totally honest conversation with your Dad, he may agree to let you at least SKYPE or text with her. Your Dad is in charge right now and it’s important that you respect that. Your Mom is pretty much an unknown in terms of her degree of sobriety or recovery. In the final analysis, I think it’s critical that you choose yourself. Finish your education, get a good job, and become independent so that you don’t need anyone to support you. Then, you can make the decision if you want to continue the relationships with your Mom and Dad—and at what level.

Sometimes in life, it becomes important to put you first. In fact, you may find something quite magical happens when you put “YOU” first. Everything falls into place. Things that you never thought would or could happen actually do happen.  People begin to respect you for the woman you are and the woman you are becoming.  

There is a wonderful wisdom-filled poem called “After A While” by Veronica A. Shoffstall. Google it. If I were your age, I would memorize it and print it out and keep it with me all the time. 

I send warmest wishes and much strength to you. I hope that you will come to understand that there is a time and a place for everyone and everything. Right now, it’s YOUR time. Go for it; stand in your truth and your integrity. Get your education and find something to do that you truly love. Once you do that, you will truly know a new freedom and a new happiness. Decisions that  once seemed so difficult will no longer be that way. You will be free to choose and find what is right for you. 

There is hope!

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Janice Dorn, MD, PhD,
specializes in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine. She holds a PhD in Anatomy and has done extensive research and teaching in brain anatomy and physiology. She is also an expert on addiction to stock trading and on stock trading itself. Her second book, Mind, Money and Markets, with co-author Dave Harder, is scheduled for publication in the fall.
 Full Bio.

 

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