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Published: Friday, July 18, 2014 4:58 p.m. CDT

“Molly” was never physically abused, but she was never really parented, either.

Her older sister got most of the leftover mothering duties, and she was interested mostly in her own adolescence. The things she taught Molly would have shocked even her mom. Her mom worked a day job and tended bar at night to supplement their income. It also was her dating service.

Molly was at home when her sister’s regular evening “parties” took place. When you’re 10, you have no other place to go. She tried to stay in her room, but she shared it with her sister so it was in bounds as a party location. She smoked weed later that year and was sexually active by 11. The parties became too much even for Molly’s mom, and her sister got ejected from the house at 17. Molly, at age 12, was now a seasoned drug and alcohol user, already known to the local police, and she was struggling in school.

Molly managed to finish high school with the help of several teachers and a school counselor who recognized her situation. She curtailed as much of the drinking and drug use as she could, cleaned up her act, and by 19 met a nice boy who “only partied a little.” She had her first baby by 20 and managed to stay sober through the pregnancy. Her second and third came in rapid succession, but her efforts at sobriety weren’t as successful.

Molly’s fervent goal was to be a family and “never treat my kids like my family treated me.” She did well in the early years with the kids, although things in the marriage were often rocky. The kids were usually the focus of the conflict, with Molly protecting and enabling and her husband trying to discipline then feeling unsupported and estranged.

The only way Molly knew to manage her sadness and pain was her love of her evening wine bottles, which she hid from everyone. Molly had given to her kids, given too much, and finally given in. All three were often disrespectful, demanding and angry at her for everything. She couldn’t understand their attitude because, as she put it, “I gave them everything.”

Confused, exhausted and guilt-ridden, Molly finally got some help. She began to realize her kids were a product of her own unresolved problems. She learned that she had, unknowingly, trained them in their entitlement. She learned she needed to deal with her own issues before retraining could begin.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor. He can reached by email at

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