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Ask Rene: Is My Daughter Being Abused?

Hi Rene:

My daughter is away at college and secretly started seeing a guy from high school we didn’t approve of. Her behavior changes when she is with him. She has lost many friends because their relationship is obsessive. They text from the time they get up until they go to bed, even during class time and Skype pretty much every night. They see each other pretty much every weekend. She can have plans with friends but he will talk her into spending the time with him instead.

She has a nine-year-old sister for whom she has no time unless it is convenient for her, like when he isn’t around. She can’t take the time out to even talk to her for a few minutes or even text her. Her sister feels like she has lost her big sister and wants him to go away.

When he is away, she is a different person but when he is around, she is only nice to us when she needs something. Once she gets it, she returns to the same hateful person. When we have told her how we feel about how she acts, she gets mad and says we are crazy. She even tells others how awful we are, but only tells them what she wants them to know and not both sides.

So, between him and anyone who will listen to her side only, she thinks we are crazy and are wrong for how we feel about their relationship. I haven’t talked to her in almost two months and it is killing me. Our youngest has had to talk with a counselor at school because she gets upset thinking about her sister, she misses her so much; the counselor says she is in a grieving state. My husband feels we should move on and leave her to do whatever with no communication. I am totally heartbroken and miss her. How do we move forward?

Heartbroken in Weehawken


Dear Heartbroken:

UGH! I’m sorry to hear this. Well, I am of two minds here. The first is that this is normal behavior for an all-or-nothing teen who’s on her own for the first time. The second thought is much more sinister, dark and dangerous. Let’s go through this one thing at a time.

IF THIS IS NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT: Let’s assume this is puppy love on steroids. Let’s hope this is just your daughter’s first time away from home and she’s thrilled by the idea of seeing this bad boy behind her parents’ backs, taking charge of her own life and making choices for herself, even if her parents don’t approve. If this is the case I would recommend these things.

  1. Let her go: She’s not going to listen anyway. I know you miss her and it sucks that she can’t see anyone outside of this dude. But the good news is that attraction like this cannot go on forever; it burns hot and fast, very, very bright, then POOF, it’s out.
  2. Stop giving her stuff: Why in the world are you still giving her ANYTHING? If she wants to act like an adult and make her own, (potentially poor) choices, let her! That means paying rent, gas, car insurance and car note. Don’t let her butter you up with good behavior when it’s convenient for her. Seriously, STOP! Trust me, telling her you’re going let her be her on woman in every sense of the word, will get her attention; maybe then she’ll listen to what you have to say about the guy.

IF THIS IS SOMETHING TO WORRY ABOUT: I hate to have to even go here and under normal circumstances, I would side with your husband (as heartbreaking as this is) because I think she will eventually come around. But the part of your letter that is troubling to me is when you say she changes when she’s around him and that he seems to be, with her tacit approval, cutting her off from other people in her life. That is classic abusive behavior. The question is what to do about it.

  1. Know the signs of abuse: Time to get educated. Find out what you can from resources online and in the community where your daughter is going to school. I would even have a talk with someone at the school about your concerns but bottom line,  you need to know where to turn and where to tell her to go in the event things get bad, fast.
  2. Talk to her again. I think it’s okay to reiterate that you don’t like the boyfriend, that you have some serious concerns but end it with, “We’re here for you.” Even if she doesn’t think she needs you or pushes you away, it’s important for her to know she can always come to you. If and/or when she does come back, please bite your tongue; none of this, “I told you so” as that is definitely NOT what she will need.
  3. Get your younger daughter into counseling: I know your heart is breaking, but here’s the thing; nine-years-old is young but not a baby. You need to explain to her what’s going on, that her big sister is busy, preoccupied with this boy and you hope that she’ll be able to regain some balance in her life. You can also use this as a “teachable moment” to show her the kind of guys who are no good. Then pray that big sister finds her way back again.

This is a tough one mom but hang in there. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

Good luck to you.

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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