Sex and the City: Papa’s plight

I am deeply concerned about my daughter who abuses all kinds of substances and has smoked weed even in front of me. My wife and I are on the verge of a divorce as I realised within a year of our marriage that she was two-timing me, before, during and after the wedding with her ex. She continued to sexually relate with him throughout and soon after our marriage she was pregnant. Being from the merchant navy, I was on a ship when she delivered my daughter. On my return when I held my daughter I felt a deep bond with her, but shortly thereafter discovered that my wife’s ex had been in the picture throughout. On confronting my wife she denied any sexual involvement and asked me to do a DNA test of my daughter. I was devastated with the discovery but didn’t have the heart to go ahead with the test. Today my daughter is 16 and fully aware of the non-relationship between her parents. My wife also uses weed openly and has smoked up with my daughter. Though a recently done DNA test reveals that my daughter’s DNA does not match with mine, in my heart she is still my daughter. I don’t know how to help her, as when I suggested rehab for my daughter, my wife protested. We are separating shortly but I want to do something to rescue my daughter from doom. What should I do?

- When children pick up on the ongoing tensions between their parents, they are fully able to grasp the awkwardness of the splintered relationship and often they also become adept at capitalizing on it! I’m reminded of something my history teacher told me once about war. He would say ‘The politicians shout, the soldiers fight and the thieves fill their pockets with great delight’. What he meant to say was opportunists (thiefs) thrive on chaos.

Divorces are messy. Your daughter understands this. She is no stranger to the impasse reached between both of you. In all human beings, survival is thus as much an evolutionary obligation and a creative opportunity to get various needs fulfilled. At the outset, all children see survival as a largely one way wish fulfilment agenda with parents who largely cater to their demands and whims. Your daughter is aware that you and your wife will not to stand together on decisions that involve the family, the state of the marriage and even disciplinary matters that involve her. This lack of unity presents her with the opportunity to carry on with her drug usage unchecked and also, in some cases children ‘self-punish’ themselves as a way to get their parents to notice the ruin they have come to – as a way to perhaps blame their parents for a dysfunctional home and get the attention they so badly seek. It’s important for you to have a talk with your daughter on the matter to understand what’s really going on in her mind. She’s likely to have been affected by the tensions shared between your wife and you.

If she feels like she can get away with doing what she pleases as long as your gazes stay averted, matters will stay as complicated as they currently are. To be assertive with her is going to be a challenge since contradictory messages may be relayed to her from your wife. Maybe it’s a good idea to get someone your daughter trusts to have a talk with her or to take her with you to a trained counsellor who may ask her how she feels about her life and drug habits.

I’m going to spare you the ‘side effects’ of drug usage lecture as that can easily be accessed on Google or by also seeking the help of a de-addiction expert or general physician. Drugs can become a physical and psychological issue affecting both one’s health and one’s longevity. Teenagers lack foresight despite their raging hormones and the many emotional and physical changes they go through. They require guidance with care and patience extended to their sometimes erratic moods and fervent arguments.

You have made the difficult choice of separating with your wife but it’s still going to take a while for your daughter to fully come to terms with who’s calling the shots when it comes to her future as she is still technically and legally speaking - a minor. Let us assume that your daughter is the result of your wife’s affair with her ex – you are already taken a stand by separating with a woman who cheated on you. Apart from this, your best option is to strengthen the bond with your daughter by being open, honest by appealing to her intelligence and empathy for you as someone who’s always been there to support her and cater to her needs.

Her concerns and emotions need to be fully understood and attended to. For you to be able to participate in helping your daughter make better decisions, you are going to have to show her your own ability to make ‘solid’ decisions and stand by them.

Identify the role you’re comfortable playing and stick to that role. Let her have the information she needs and the support she requires to get in control of her life. Understandably, you have suffered humiliation due to your wife’s affair but let this be a moment of reflection so you can reorganize your intentions and your strategies to get things in order – once and for all.

-- Dr. Aman Rajan Bhonsle, Ph.D Consulting Relationship Counsellor & Youth Mentor