It’s so hard to watch a young person throw her life away and also to watch her parents be continually hurt. It’s hard to feel powerless as a stepparent while you watch your partner be eaten up by worry and anger and perhaps shame. It’s hard to be the one whose needs get set aside while the parent continues to fight what looks like a losing battle.
Her parents love their daughter and continue to hold out hope that if they stick by her she will turn around. At 23, this isn’t an unreasonable hope but they may need some help figuring out how to love her without enabling the situation.
You are right. There is little you can do – but you can do a couple of things. First, you can try to draw some boundaries around what directly affects you. Don’t get into arguments with her. Don’t argue with her dad. Don’t lend this young woman money or leave her alone where she can take something you value. And, second, you can find a therapist to work with all of you – mom and her partner if she has one, dad, and you to help you all get on the same page about how to best manage the daughter.
Sadly, you’re not alone in this situation. There are thousands upon thousands of parents who find themselves caught between being totally exasperated with an adult child and yet loving them too much to stop protecting them. Fortunately, you’re not alone in this. Therapists and youth counselors have had to figure out strategies to help families deal when an adult child is out of control. When you make calls to local therapists, be sure to find someone who has lots of experience working with the complicated dynamics of stepfamilies. You need to feel like part of the adult team, not an outsider in the family. Hopefully, taking some action will relieve you of some of the anxiety.
Meanwhile, I hope you and your partner don’t let this tear the two of you apart. He needs your love and encouragement. You need his love and support.
I wish you well.