Dear Margo: Fallout from Divorce

My relationship with my adult daughters is strained; how do I patch things up? Margo Howard’s advice

Fallout from Divorce

Dear Margo: My adult daughters have many childhood issues. Their father was an alcoholic, and I was an enabler. My ex and I divorced when the girls were in their early 20s. Since then, my relationship with my daughters can go from quite loving to not being on speaking terms. They blame me for their unhappiness. The negativity toward me includes hurtful comments and ignoring me in public — and on occasion, the younger one attacks me on the phone for all the things she thinks I did wrong as a mother.

My attempts to talk to them about their issues fail. They don’t want to hear why I made the decisions I did. Occasionally, they get mad at one another, and then each of them is closer with me. When they are getting along, their common bond seems to be not wanting anything to do with me.

The situation now is that we are not speaking. I’ve gone to counseling a few times, mostly to learn how to cope with this situation and to get a handle on my emotions. The sessions have helped, reminding me that my happiness doesn’t depend on a good relationship with my daughters. The counselor strongly recommends family counseling. My daughters have ignored my requests to do this. I don’t know how to fix this, and it’s breaking my heart. –Tired of Crying

Dear Tired: Ah, yes … children of a broken home in their 20s. I know children like yours. Their mantra is, “The world owes me a living, and whatever is wrong is all your fault.” I have little patience for this because, in your case, the girls are rejecting family counseling in favor of attacking you, and it sounds like misplaced anger in the bargain. What likely was more damaging was living in a home with an alcoholic parent.

Do you know what I would do? Stop trying to fix things that aren’t fixable. They don’t want to listen, and they don’t want to understand. They just want to lash out at you. I would follow their lead and suggest that you become the one who is incommunicado. –Margo, realistically

A 6-Year-Old Sexpot?

Dear Margo: I know this sounds nuts, and it’s not even my business. But a group of us was at a Sunday brunch, and there was a little girl there, I swear, who was a 6-year-old sexpot. How is this possible? She was crawling up on the lap of any man who sat down, and at one point, while just standing around, it really looked as though she was masturbating. When we all left, I mentioned this to my husband, who said perhaps she’d unfortunately seen some porn on TV. I do not know her parents well enough to bring this up, but I think something is really wrong with this. What do you think? — Disturbed

Dear Dis: I think this must have been a jolt to your system, and there is definitely something wrong. A child that young has no way of knowing anything about sex, even if she’d seen some porn on TV. (If she’s seen a lot of porn, that could be a problem.)

I know this may sound almost unbelievable, but there’s a good chance that some male member of the child’s family is molesting her. This is not to say that young children, even babies, don’t touch themselves, but to be that sexualized at her age means someone is having at her. If you don’t feel comfortable bringing this up with her mother (which admittedly would be difficult, even if you were close friends), I would call the family services agency in your town and just report what you saw. You will have done as much as possible to advocate for this child. — Margo, regretfully

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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81 comments so far.

  1. avatar blueelm says:

    Margo I think you missed it with LW1. They don’t sound like “spoiled brats” from just any separated family. They sound like children from an abusive dysfunctional home who are used to this dynamic and who never had a secure home. LW1 needs to realize that this is what happens and let go. If they are going to have a relationship with her it won’t be the way she is now. She is probably contributing to the situation herself, and her children probably don’t even know *how* to have a family after years of having to take care of drunk daddy.

    Yes, this is a part of the tough choice you make when you have an addict in the family. You can’t make people love you. It may be her kids got used to not feeling loved and don’t know how to give her what she wants. Think of it this way LW1… some people’s kids are dead. So at least you can hope maybe after they have some time to deal with it all they’ll want a relationship with you.

    If they’re yelling at you, they’re saying that they don’t want you around. So leave.

  2. avatar fallinginplace says:

    LW1 could have been my mother, except that my parents divorced when I was 13.  My mother also tried to get us to do the family therapy routine – but while my sister and I had both had a lot of therapy on our own, my mother hadn’t felt the need.  Nothing wrong with her  – except that her kids didn’t speak to her.  I’m well into adulthood now but still bear the effects of my childhood.  I don’t spend any time whining about it, but therapy has not transformed me into a well-adjusted person, just one who better understands and accepts her limitations.  My mother is elderly and while I now speak to her, I still limit our contact because I don’t like the person I become when I’m around her.  Not everything can be “gotten over.”

  3. avatar Briana Baran says:

    @fallinginplace: “My mother is elderly and while I now speak to her, I still limit our contact because I don’t like the person I become when I’m around her. Not everything can be “gotten over.”

    I have never understood the whole “forgive and forget”. I’ve made it to roll on by, move forward, and evolve. Like you, I talk to my mother (she’s 1300 miles away, and 80, and we speak over the phone…no cell or computer for her as she refuses these things…at least once a week). I learned to be a different person than the one I loathed…the angry, frightened, brow-beaten, abused fat-and-ugly-daughter-who-mom-hated-from-birth…because MY survival depended on it. Now I have set boundaries that I refuse to allow her to cross, tell her jokes, surreptitiously check on her health by listening to her contradictions and come away from the conversations feeling…not much of anything. Which is a vast improvement over the past.

    Therapy won’t ever transform you into a “well-adjusted person”. Only you have that ability…and from the sound of things, you’re well on the road to your very own, individual, personal place of adjustment. No two people require the same tinkering, gauges and tools…and each human being has her own place at which she rests at her best balance and functionality. The trick is to add a bit of harmony and music to the functions. Therapy only helped me understand my own understanding of my self, and how to cope with it…and I’m still partaking.

    Which is not to blithely say you’ll be all right, and learn to love our mother just as she is. I love my mother, and profoundly wish I did not. I have no idea why I do. I think it’s a truly terrible thing to love someone who has taken every opportunity, your entire life, to hurt you, minimize you, rake you over the coals and sneer at you in utter contempt. Who is incapable of telling the truth, feeling compassion, or putting anyone before herself…ever. But you may come to accept that it is beyond your power to change her…and that this is all right, that it isn’t your responsibility, nor is it necessary or your fault that she is as she is.

    I wish you peace. We can’t have it every day…but I have more days of serenity than not.

  4. avatar Susan JH says:

    I will admit that I would like to see any child molester punished, but in this case, that is not my immediate reaction.  My immediate reaction is to get the child some help and retraining, if you will, to teach her that she is going about getting love and affection THE WRONG WAY before she makes some more serious mistakes going after it from the wrong person.  After that, figure out if and who and why, and nail the guiilty party, but first fix the damage done to the child’s psyche and attitudes.

  5. avatar HelliePie says:

    Re. LW#1: Considering that every alcoholic is estimated to affect at least four other people (usually negatively), it’s amazing that so many of the posters here are so familiar with alcoholics and so unfamiliar with alcoholism. The spouses of alcoholics have their own disease, called codependence. It is the flip side of the coin of alcoholism, and it is every bit as destructive. The alcoholic is the public face of the dysfunctional family, the codependent (or enabler) is the private one. I am an alcoholic and the daughter of an alcoholic and a codependent, and I can tell you the one who did me the most harm was not the drinker. Of course, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by blaming one’s parents. They are also the victims of victims. (Of all the cornball slogans in AA, one of the most useful in this regard is, “If they knew better, they’d do better.” LW #1 was a victim of her husband’s alcoholism, but what was her part in it?

    As for the daughters, it is unfortunate, but no one escapes being damaged by his or her parents. Some of us are just soiled, some of us are scratched, and some of us are torn to pieces. Read Alice Miller to learn about the long-term effects of child abuse and neglect. As the poet Auden said, “those to whom evil is done do evil in return.”

    LW #1 is STILL a codependent and needs Al-Anon, just as, even if her former husband has entered recovery, he will STILL always be an alcoholic, and will always need treatment. The daughters will likely form relationships with alcoholics or, if they are alcoholic themselves, with enablers/coedpendents, unless they enter recovery themselves. The twelve steps are the only known, somewhat successful treatment for alcoholism, but recovery for all concerned IS possible.

  6. avatar Lym BO says:

    RE the “sexpot” (really?!?!) . My children, 7 &4, are very comfortable & friendly & crawling on a man’s lap wouldn’t be out of line for them- in a pile up on a grandpa type figure kind of way. As for masturbating- Inappropriate in public for sure, but my 9 yr old has been masturbating since she was 2. My 7 yr old started it this year as well. While masturbation is not super common, it is considered within normal limits at six years old. Her mother needs to stress it is inappropriate in public. Readers please note the observer, obviously a woman in her 70s or later, wasn’t even sure the child was masturbating. She was speculating the child may have been. Bottom line, the LW likely needs to observe a bit longer. Perhaps the minister needs to be made aware or the sunday school teacher to keep an eye & ear alert. CPS is way to aggressive at this point.

  7. avatar Notakid says:

    Re: Adult daughters
    I am really shocked by how willing people are to jump to the daughters defense and bash this mother. You have few facts- but sexism in the form of automatic mother bashing is alive a well on this site. 
    Consider these details:
    1. When they fight with each other these kids are more than happy to use mom.
    2.  though mom calls herself an ‘ enabler’ perhaps she was a mom in an impossible situation where nothing a parent does can make it ‘ all better’ . And maybe these girls think- incorrectly- that even at their age- she has to be glinda the good witch to deserve the time of day.
    Maybe shes not the enabler she says- maybe she had no choice other than what she did and has been labelled in order to blame her( again) and she is so at a loss that she has accepted that idea. Maybe she is an abuse victim. That is not the same as an enabler.
    3.Maybe its understandable that she wants her grownup kids to know how and why she did what she did. Maybe she loves her children!  And maybe- one cant just up and leave a marriage with your children and disappear. Because- you cant. 
    4.Why is there so much silence about the Dad.? Not one comment. Not important? Nope.  Whatever happened- lets blame MOM. Maybe she did the best she could to protect her kids..  Do you think children dont get angry for the wrong reasons some times.? Or believe lies? Or get lobbied. 
    5. Losing your children is as painful as it gets. She doesnt want to.  But- thats the fate she deserves? 

    Show me a parent  who can take the advice that she/he should forget the kids she/he  raised- and i will show you a REALLY neglectful parent

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Did you read the same letter as everyone else did? It was written by the mother…not some third party. In it, all she talks about is herself, no empathy for the daughters who spent their entire childhoods and teen year living with her and their alcoholic father. Over twenty years. Are you seriously saying that in that entire time she couldn’t break free of this marriage? And that, now that she has, it’s completely the responsibility of her daughters to forgive and forget because mom couldn’t help herself?
      No one has mentioned the father because it’s a given that he was an alcoholic, and everyone accepts his culpability in the situation. That the LW doesn’t speak of him is an indication that her girls are not using him as a weapon against her, and are probably not associating with him because he’s out of their lives. No one is being “lobbied”. Children who live through family situations with an alcoholic and an enabler usually don’t like either one of them. And they don’t believe in fairy tales or happy endings. “Maybe mom was an abuse victim”…she doesn’t mention this either…but her children definitely were.
      Sexism? I suppose if a man had written the same letter, you’d be hammering him for enabling his alcoholic wife, not getting her into rehab but instead divorcing the poor, damaged creature and abandoning her to her fate, not protecting his daughters, and being a selfish bastard who’d better just understand how he was soley responsible for ruining his daughters lives. Misandrists are no better than their opposites…not one bit.

  8. avatar roxanne9000 says:

    Lw1: Margo, I’m surprised at you. Maybe because you are a mom you’ve got your blinders on for this one… Because I don’t understand why you would side with an abuser over her victims. A mother who enables the abuse of an alcoholic father is abusing and neglecting her children. Her young daughters are likely just realizing the extent to which their mother has failed them… And their anger is justified. Maybe instead of boo-hooing and poor-meing about how hearing about her shortcoming hurts her, she should take responsibility for the harm she’s done and do what she can to make it right. That’s what a good mom does.