Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: My daughter betrayed me over her smoking habit

"You will be no more successful bribing a nicotine addict to stop smoking than you will a heroin addict to stop shooting up"

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

I was so worried about my 20-year-old student daughter smoking that I said I would pay her rent if she stopped. She promised she would, and I have paid around £400 a month for six months.

Now my other daughter, aged 26, tells me that her sister has been smoking all along and has even shown me Facebook pictures to prove it. How can I confront her without telling her that her own sister was the “grass”? Not only do I feel utterly betrayed but, as it is, I can’t afford this money and I’m having to borrow it. I feel very confused and distressed.

Yours sincerely,

Virginia says...

While I can imagine how upsetting it must be to find out that your daughter isn’t being honest with you, I’m afraid I do think you must take some blame for this. Smoking is an addiction. You will be no more successful bribing a nicotine addict to stop smoking than you will a heroin addict to stop shooting up. If it was that easy to stop people drinking, smoking or taking drugs, there would be no need for rehab, addiction centres or stop-smoking clinics. You’d just pay people to stop.

It’s well-nigh impossible to stop anyone from smoking unless they really, really want to – but a 20-year-old student? Didn’t you smoke when you were her age? I know I smoked away a small fortune until I eventually gave up.

I hate to say it, but bribing her was a completely mad idea from the beginning, and one that was almost certain to end in tears, with you feeling betrayed and with her, I’m betting, feeling dreadfully guilty about the whole thing.

I’m wondering, too, about her sister’s role in this – because I imagine that she feels very guilty for telling you about seeing her sister smoking on Facebook pages. At the same time: why did she tell you? She told you, I’m sure, because she felt very resentful at the idea of you forking out £400 a month to her sister and not spending anything on her. (Unless, of course, you are subsidising her as well to the same tune, in which case you’ll shortly be bankrupt and will need more than advice from me.)

Bringing money into an emotional relationship has ended up with hurt feelings all round – yours, your smoking daughter’s and her sister’s.

There is only one way to get out of all this. Remove the money from the situation. You’re broke and, indeed, in debt. Your older daughter is resentful and your younger daughter is living in a kind of dream world – with her smoking actually subsidised by her mother.

Say nothing about the Facebook pages or indeed her smoking. Simply write to your daughter and say that you’re terribly sorry but your bank balance won’t cope with the continued funding of her rent. Say that you’re in debt as it is, and having to give up a lot of things yourself to pay for her lodging. Say that from next term onwards, you’ll have to stop. This may have a far better effect on her smoking habits than you might imagine. Because, first of all, it will make your daughter face up the realities of life, just like her fellow students, who must be rather amazed at the generosity of her parents. Perhaps she’ll be forced to get a part-time job or move to cheaper rooms.

And, who knows, if your daughter is spending, say, £8 a day on cigarettes, she may realise that she would save more than half her rent at once were she to do the sensible thing: give up smoking. 


Readers say...

Ask her about keeping her side of bargain

Choose a suitable time, perhaps after having a meal together, and say, ‘As it is about six months now since you gave up smoking and I’ve been paying your rent, I’d just like to have a chat about it.” Ask her directly if she has kept to her side of the bargain.  Whatever the answer, ignore it at that point but ask her how her studies are going and if she can show you any exam results or marked coursework. Say your personal situation has changed a bit and you are having to borrow to pay her rent.

Congratulate her if she says she has stopped smoking (!) and if she is doing well at her studies but set a firm time limit, say the end of her present term or the college year, when you won’t be able to pay her rent any more and that both of you will have to decide how to go forward. But whether she smokes or not, explain that you are sorry that you can’t manage any more financial help for a while as your debt is getting too high to repay and you can’t borrow any more. Say you will always be there for her and help her to find a part-time job and encourage her studies. This way you won’t involve the sister but you won’t pay the rent you can’t afford by calling her a liar. 

M Simmonds
by email


She needs to take responsibility

I suggest that you stop paying the rent. Your daughter has had time to stop smoking and now she needs to take responsibility. You have been unnecessarily over-generous and there is no need for you to continue paying the rent. Your daughter does not need to know the reason for this sudden decision. I imagine that the outcome of this change can only be positive for you all.

Robert Hughes
by email


Don’t bring her sister into this

Unless you’re able to access these Facebook photos on your own, through your own account for example, I don’t think you have much option than to say that your cash flow is tight, you need to repay your lender, and you hope your assistance over the last six months has helped. Maybe this might help her to see sense and push her conscience a bit; alternatively, perhaps her sister could persuade her to be honest with you, but this will be difficult I would imagine.

Claire Warren
by email


Next week's dilemma...

A year ago, I visited my parents and was told that I was ugly and inconsiderate. Some of what they said to me, I can’t even repeat to my husband, whom I trust and love. They were “too busy” to attend my graduation, and they never came to my wedding. There’s no one in my family I can open my heart to – no one seems to feel any tenderness towards me. When I explained how they had hurt me, my parents told me I was hysterical and disgusting and said that unless I apologised, they would disown me. I have two younger brothers who are adored by my parents, who also seem to dislike me. I need some insight – this situation blights my life.

Yours sincerely,


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