I am 19 and one of three children. My parents divorced when I was four, and they have had a fiery, bitter relationship throughout the years. They are not even on speaking terms.

     My parents are both intelligent people remarried to similar non-intellectuals, neither of whom I get along with. Since both remarried I have led a life of secrecy and emotional suppression. To stay out of the way of the drama, I learned to keep my mouth shut and go along with the way things went.

     My stepmother is immature, catty and selfish, and my relationship with her, in her eyes, was one of competition for my dad’s attention. My father is an alcoholic, and he is addicted to her. He chose her over me and kicked me out of the house when I was 15.

     I moved in with my mother. When my grandfather got sick, my mother was at the hospital every day for three months until he died. During this time, my stepfather cheated on her.

     I found out by noticing a handwritten note left on the kitchen counter directed towards her, apologizing for his affairs. I was shocked. I told my brother, and he moved in with my father because he couldn’t stand being around my stepfather anymore.

     Since then, when I was about 16, I am the only kid in the house and struggling to keep up the lie. I am not myself at home. I have to put on a face every day to keep the peace, as does my mother, because everything about my stepfather is offensive and repulsive to me.

     He is not someone I could even so much as be friends with if I knew him in school and he was my age. I know a lot of this has to do with suppressed anger, but aside from that he is somebody I do not get joy out of having a relationship with.

     I know my mother well and I know she is not happy. She is an emotional person who suffered a broken childhood, and I feel she is somewhat dependent on me for balance. I love her so much, but I am frustrated. She does not know I know about the affair, and I don’t know whether it would do any good to tell her.

     I am tired of living this lie. I feel if I don’t come to terms with my mother about everything, there will always be anger towards my stepfather and men in general. My mother and stepfather pay for everything for me, including college, and I am so appreciative of that.

     But I am at a loss of what I can or should do.

     Kim

     Kim, it’s natural to feel that coming to terms with your mother will resolve your life of secrecy. But if you think coming clean will be a catharsis for her, you are likely wrong. It will make her more embarrassed about staying with your stepfather.

     Your problem isn’t your mother, and your problem isn’t your stepfather. Your problem is how to live a good life without being plagued by other people’s baggage.

     Their personal lives are their own. Leave them be. Use them as a counterexample and focus on your future. If they can afford to give you a college education, there is no reason you shouldn’t have one, so you can move out into the world as you should.

     Don’t allow your mother to lean on you to the detriment of your own life. You can’t undo her upbringing, her choices and her current circumstances. If you stand firm and move away from her, she will learn to stand on her own.

     Usually selfishness is considered a vice, but for people from a troubled background, selfishness is a virtue. Without that virtue, family members who are living disordered lives will ruin your life as they ruined their own.

     Wayne & Tamara

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