To thine own self ... ILLUSTRATION: Tim Furey

To thine own self ...

Teen shouldn’t have to lie to get money for school from her deadbeat dad

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 10/27/2011

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­­Dear Patti,
I’ve always been an excellent student and loved school but never thought I’d have the money to be able to go to college. Well, my dream finally happened! I’m 19, living in the dorms and have a full scholarship to one of LA’s most prestigious universities. 
 
My mom was initially proud of me — although disappointed I wasn’t going to work in her small retail business instead — and offered to pay for my living expenses. This week, however, she called to say that she and my stepfather are going to sue my father for half the costs. He refused. I can understand her frustration that, despite his wealth, he has always been chintzy about child support issues. The problem is that my mother won’t win her case unless I lie and say that I’m still living 
at home.
 
I don’t want to lie. It’s not right, and I’m afraid I’ll lose my scholarship if I get caught. She was furious when I said no. My father won’t take my calls, and I don’t know what to do. I even considered actually moving back home, but I don’t think my mom or stepdad want that, either. I really need financial help, but I feel like a burden and am sad, angry, hurt and scared that my options are so limited. 
~Christa

Dear Christa,
Before examining this problem, it’s very important you appreciate how wonderful you are and how much you’ve already accomplished. Don’t ever lose sight of that, and don’t ever give up on your dreams. The fact is that you’re a high functioning, talented young woman who is already doing great things with her life. While it’s necessary to face your feelings of sadness, anger, fear and hurt, it’s just as essential to your emotional well-being that you also regularly tap into the feelings of happiness and pride. It’s clear you deserve all of the educational opportunities you’re getting, but at times like these you need to develop an inner voice that is loving and encouraging.
 
The first step is to sit down face-to-face with your mother and your stepfather and have a talk. Explain that it’s absolutely imperative you stay true to your talents, accomplishments and ethics. Remind them that you’ve done your part by obtaining a full scholarship and will continue to work hard in school. Help them to realize that while you understand their frustration toward your dad, the existing friction isn’t your fault and has nothing to do with you. Express that you appreciate their support, know your mother loves you and acknowledge she’s part of the reason why you are doing so well but that it’s not fair to put you in the middle. 
 
Whatever perceptions they may harbor about being cheated by your dad should not be overshadowing the reward that comes from getting closer to you and seeing you individualize as beautifully as you can.
 
At this time in your life, you’re trying to adjust to a whole new world, and they need to be aware of the effects these family problems are having on you. You certainly didn’t ask to have divorced parents or an unsupportive father, nor should your refusal to engage in lies be construed as any form of disloyalty. To the contrary, it affirms that your mom raised a good person who has integrity. Your mother made a commitment to pay your living expenses and it’s her responsibility to follow through on her word regardless of how she feels about your father not contributing. Try to gently make her understand that. See if there are resources at school or from other family members.
 
It’s difficult at this in-between stage of being almost on your own but not quite. Don’t tell yourself you’re a burden; it’s perfectly normal to still need help at 19. Many adults would be thrilled and honored to have you as a daughter, and you need to remember that.
Last but not least, it’s also important not to forget to have fun and enjoy the companionship of new friends and classmates. Explore life with joy, but study hard as well in order to achieve the rest of your dreams! 

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site: patticarmalt-vener.com.

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