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I'm a 28-year-old male and have a 4-year-old daughter with my partner of nine years (we're not married but completely committed). My daughter was not planned and I had serious reservations about having a child at such a young age, but there's a lot of love in our family and everything has worked out. But since taking a new job several months ago, I've started feeling differently. All of my co-workers are young and I've made a few good friends, but I often have to decline invitations to events I'd really like to attend because of my family obligations, or because I can't afford it. I'm the only one with a full plate of adult responsibilities, including supporting my partner, who is an artist and doesn't bring home a paycheck every week. So I have to say no to joining them on road trips or at exclusive restaurants, because my weekend consists of toddler birthday parties and visits to the playground. It's making me rueful that I've missed my 20s and worried I will wind up bitter no matter how much I love my family. How do I get out of this funk and regain happiness with my circumstances, and how do I face my co-workers every day when they’re a constant reminder of what I'm missing?
—Longing for Lost Youth
The life you’re living used to be considered the normal course of events. You may be somewhat out of sync with your cohort, but take heart that many satisfied people have followed paths similar to yours. I was moved by this account of the Walkers, a successful, happy couple celebrating their 45th anniversary who got a start like yours, with an early, unexpected pregnancy. But in case my attempt at cheering you up is just depressing you further, I’ll offer this alternative way of looking at things: You simply are at the vanguard of a life change that in a few years will be sweeping across your friends. They’ll be deep in diapers, while you’ll be the one sleeping through the night. I understand that no matter how much you love your family, you are struck now by longing to be youthful and carefree. But one of the great advantages of having a child early is that you will still be young when she is grown. There should be many great trips and meals ahead for you, and if your career continues apace, you’ll be in a better position to afford these. You and your partner didn’t decide to become parents; it just happened. You’re committed to each other, but not married. Now that you have a child, you two need to be more deliberate about what you want out of life. It’s fine if your child is an only, but if you want to expand your family, that’s a discussion you should be having. Being an artist can be a dream career, but since your partner is not make a living at it, it’s time she applied her skills to more remunerative endeavors, especially as your daughter gets ready for full-time schooling. If something happens to you, your partner will be completely financially vulnerable. And don’t forget there are such things as babysitters. Right now, you may not be able to go on the road trips or to the best restaurants, but you and your partner need to treat yourself to adult pleasures. Surely the two of you could get together with your new friends when they all go out for pizza.
Dear Prudence: Insensitive Stepsons
My 27-year-old cousin "Joe" struggled with back pain after playing football in college, and in the last several years he has developed an addiction to prescription painkillers. When he attended family functions, we noticed he had lost a significant amount of weight, had sunken-in eyes, was very depressed, and had lost his job. On the Fourth of July this year, Joe came to a family barbecue completely high. He stumbled around, slurred his words, wished me a happy engagement (I am not engaged), and when he ate lunch, had food all over his face. I was very upset to see him like this. Joe's parents, my aunt and uncle, are wonderful people, but he lives in their home in this condition. He did go to rehab once, but checked himself out after a day and they brought him home. After the party, I spoke to my parents about how we can help. My dad has spoken to his brother about this, but doesn't want to get involved again because it breaks his heart too much to see Joe's parents enable Joe. Is there anything we could do to convince Joe's parents to act? I don't want our family to lose our cousin.
You are right to be scared. According to the CDC, there's an epidemic of painkiller overdoses that are killing almost 15,000 Americans a year, more than heroin and cocaine combined. Without sustained help, your cousin is on track to be one of them. The dark side of the prescription painkiller industry has been thoroughly chronicled by New York Times writer Barry Meier. He’s done years of reporting on the catastrophic cascade millions of people on opiates have experienced. Sure, the drugs can be a salvation in the right situation. But as Meier documents in a new book, too many people are on too many pills for too long, the result being that the painkillers themselves destroy people’s lives. The drugs psychologically and physiologically sap people of energy and drive. Ironically, these painkillers can even end up hypersensitizing people to pain. Bring this information to your parents and say that despite their own discomfort, you need their help in convincing your cousin and his parents that his life is in the balance. Encourage your parents to take the step of talking to a professional interventionist (they can find a referral at the Association of Intervention Specialists) in order to be as effective as possible. It would be a sad, tragic waste to have your cousin’s funeral be the catalyst for shaking his parents out of their denial.