Annie's Mailbox: Husband has substance abuse problem

Dear Annie: I have a daughter from a previous marriage, and my husband and I have a son together. The problem is, my husband ignores my daughter.

He says he loves her, but it doesn’t show. He is an alcoholic who refuses to help around the house or with the kids. He also won’t brush his teeth or flush the toilet. Worse, his sister pushes him to drink at every family gathering, including the children’s birthday parties. I told her he becomes verbally abusive to my daughter when he drinks, but she still supplies him with beer at every occasion. Meanwhile, she and her husband are outside smoking pot while the kids run wild. After I tearfully confided in my mother-in-law, she told him, “You deserve to have a beer whenever you like.”

It hurts to see my daughter’s little face wanting positive attention and affection from her stepfather while he turns away from her. But, Annie, I still love him. He once stopped drinking for two months, and those were the happiest times we’ve had. He was energetic, paid attention to both kids, started brushing his teeth and even helped around the house. But it ended when his sister came over with a six-pack.

I’ve suggested counseling, but he refuses to go, and his family backs him up. I can’t go alone because I have no one to baby-sit. So tell me, how do I help my daughter cope?

— Indiana

Dear Indiana: It sounds as if your husband comes from a family of substance abusers who will continue to undermine any effort he makes to stay sober. First contact Al-Anon (al-anon.alateen.org) at 1-888-4-AL-ANON (1-888-425-2666). Then ask your pediatrician to refer you to a counselor who will talk to you by phone or e-mail if you cannot find a neighbor or friend to watch the children.

Dear Annie: My husband and I have joint custody of his children. Lately, the ones who are old enough to drive have started dropping by when they are scheduled to be with their mother. While I dearly love my stepchildren, it alarms me when I occasionally find one of them at the top of the stairs while I am dripping wet from the shower.

We don’t want to send the message that they are unwelcome. What more can we do?

— Loving Stepmom in Memphis

Dear Memphis: We hope you recognize how lucky you are that your stepchildren feel so comfortable around you, and you might want to put up with most of this. Still, you are entitled to some privacy. Approach them with humor. Explain why their unexpected presence could create embarrassment, and ask them to please ring either the phone or the doorbell before entering the house to make sure everyone is dressed and presentable. And keep a robe handy.

Dear Annie: I read with interest the letter from “Rather Embarrassed in Minnesota,” the 24-year-old female virgin who is concerned about her inexperience.

I am a 26-year-old male and a virgin. I am saving intercourse for marriage. I made this decision for several reasons. I do not want to trivialize the strong emotional bond that sex can form with my partner; I do not want to risk contracting an STD; and I do not want to potentially start a family with a woman I’m not willing to marry.

I’d like to encourage women with moral objections to premarital sex to remain true to their feelings for as long as they make sense. Our culture gives the impression that everyone sees sex as uncommitted recreation, and thus we are silly to deny ourselves its pleasures. I strongly disagree and am holding out until I find someone who holds the same respect for our procreative power.

— Waiting in California

Dear Waiting: It is not always easy to stick to your principles in this day and age. We admire your efforts to maintain your standards.

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