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Mother Left Father and Daughter

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I'm 15 years old and I'm having a lot of family problems. I don't know what to do anymore. My mom left me and my dad and now me and my dad are very depressed. I'm not only depressed about that but it seems like my entire life is falling apart. I never know what I want to do, I'm always upset, I feel like I'm left out of things with my friends, I just want to move and start all over and try to put the past behind me. Would that be a good thing to do? If so, what could I tell my dad to talk him into it and make him realize that it's the right thing to do? I also feel like something is missing because there is this guy I want to be with so bad but we live far away from each other so I never get to see him. I don't know if I should just give up and forget about him or still talk to him and hope that everything will work out? Please help!

A: I bet that there's a part of you that's still in shock over your mom's leaving the family. You and your dad are depressed and unable to deal with this emotional trauma on your own. If your dad's depressed, he probably hasn't been able to be the caring, supportive father to you that he would want to be. And you have probably been trying to be the "woman of the house" and take care of him -- but you are 15 and you are burdened with your own life problems. So we have a broken family with a dad and a daughter who both need help and support individually and as a family. You can't be your dad's substitute for your mom or his therapist or best buddy - you can just make an effort to be the best daughter you know how to be.

I would like to see you both receive some professional counseling during this very troubling time, both individually and as a twosome. It's a wise person who knows she/he needs help to recover from the emotional trauma that you have both suffered. Even if you were both being comforted and supported by family members and friends, I would recommend therapy at this time.

You may feel distant from your friends because they don't really know how to respond to your family situation and to how depressed you are. Many times, even our best friends withdraw from us during troubled times because they are unsure of what to do or what to say to us. I t doesn't mean that they have deserted you. It might mean that they need to hear what they can do to help. As difficult as it may be for you to come right out and say what you'd like them to do for you, I would make a big effort to ask them for what you need, even if it's just a sympathetic listener.

It has to be tough for you, under the best of circumstances, to maintain this long distance relationship. I would continue to keep up the relationship as best as you can, hoping that if it has a good foundation he will understand what you are going through and be a good friend to you as you begin to get better. As for convincing your dad to move away with you and start fresh somewhere else, I don't know if that's possible, given his job and your family's finances. I do know we can't outrun the hurt we feel inside by moving away -- it follows you. So, while getting a new start somewhere else is certainly something to consider, after comparing all the pros and cons of such a move, I would not place a lot of hope on the move alone relieving your hurt, confusion and sadness.

Please get the professional help that you need right now and ask an adult you know who's close to your dad to encourage him to do the same. Even though your world looks bleak now, you will recover and know happiness and optimism again, but you have to move through the pain to begin the healing. Let me know how you are doing. I'm pulling for you.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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