DEAR AMY: My mom died several years ago, and my father has remarried. The woman he married is an alcoholic. Dad seems to be in denial about this fact, or, perhaps he simply doesn’t care. When my siblings and I have confronted Dad about her alcoholism, he gets uncomfortable, makes excuses and changes the subject. For years, my siblings and I have told our children that they are never to get in a car with her because she is an “unsafe driver.” The children are now coming to an age where they are asking questions, wondering why they can’t get into a car with her, why she acts the way she does (falling; stumbling; slurring words; going to bed very early; breaking bones; being downright nasty). My children are visibly uncomfortable and scared when she is around, and I can’t lie to them any longer. I feel that by keeping this secret from them, I am condoning her behavior, which is not the message I want to send to almost-teenagers about substance abuse. My siblings think telling my children will result in a major rift, with Dad deciding not to see us any longer. As painful as that would be, I am prepared for that because I need to protect my children. But I’m concerned I will upset my siblings to the point that I will lose both Dad and my siblings. What can I do to minimize the hurt to all involved? Should I continue as we have and say nothing to my children, or should I answer their questions honestly?
DEAR CONCERNED: Yes, your “almost-teenagers” should be informed about their grandmother’s alcoholism. From what you’ve reported, there is a significant risk to their safety and well-being. There is no reason for you to disclose or discuss this with others — how your siblings choose to handle this is up to them.
Your kids have already picked up on the fact that something is wrong. Having that confirmed may upset them, but it may come as a relief too. Please, do not present this as a value judgment (even though you seem bitter about it), but as an unfortunate reality about a family member.
Your father’s wife has a disease, and it is called alcoholism. By being honest with your children, you are showing them that their instincts telling them something was wrong were good. You should talk to them regularly about alcohol use. Obviously, they will be facing risks and temptations in their own lives.
If you haven’t done so already, you should consider finding an Al-Anon group in your area. Talking with others in similar situations may allow you to respond more compassionately. Compassion is definitely called for.
DEAR AMY: Recently, my college roommate, who lives out of state, brought her family on vacation within an hour of my house. I was surprised and hurt when I saw the pictures of them on Facebook because I would have loved to see them for even a short amount of time. I just wish she would have called, emailed or texted to let me know. I didn’t want to ruin their vacation, so I didn’t bring it up. How do I tell her that I was hurt?
DEAR UPSET: While it was a little bit discourteous of your old roommate not to tell you she would be nearby, it’s also discourteous to alter their vacation after the fact by pointedly asking why she didn’t tell you she would be nearby. How would you feel if someone reproached you in that way?
In my experience, traveling with children is a lot like traveling with a pack of bears: sometimes everything goes perfectly, but sometimes it’s a disaster. Facebook photos don’t reveal the whole story, only their location.
Reach out, but don’t be accusatory. Let her know you saw the photos and ask how the trip went. She may have forgotten just how close by you were, or she may apologize and say that she didn’t want to inflict her kids on anybody else. Reconnect, get the details and be sure to invite her to bring the family around next time they’re in the area — if she wants.
DEAR AMY: Your advice to “Destroyed” didn’t go far enough. Her daughter and family had moved in with her years ago, and essentially, they were refusing to move out. She should call the police.
DEAR CONCERNED: These younger family members were definitely manipulating her. I agree that if she isn’t able to make a move on her own, another authority should get involved.