DEAR AMY: I am desperate, and so is my daughter-in-law. My son is spending up to $400 a month on beer and cigarettes.
They have two children and a mortgage. He is on light duty at present and doesn't make enough to cover expenses.
They have five credit cards and owe approximately $15,000. Our son can't seem to understand that the escalating interest charges are rapidly increasing their debt. He just bought a new wide-screen TV, despite his wife's objections. He refuses to go to a counselor.
Is there any way out for her?
— Frightened Father
DEAR FATHER: To start to dig out of this debt hole, your son would have to turn his paycheck over to his more responsible wife and adhere to an allowance.
This probably won't happen.
Divorce is one way out (although your daughter-in-law will be on the hook for a portion of this debt). She can also try to bring in more money, though your son's behavior wouldn't change. You could also jump in and essentially subsidize his lifestyle so he could watch his big-screen TV in peace.
Another way out is for the family to ride this train to the bottom, where they will face the painful and prolonged actual consequences of these choices. Eventually the credit cards will be cut off, and they'll lose the house.
Maybe then your son will start to comprehend the connection between his choices and the financial and personal stress his family will endure.
Your daughter-in-law should research credit counseling through her local social service agency. She (and you) should also consider attending Al-Anon meetings (check al-anon.alateen.org for a local meeting).
DEAR AMY: I am a 26-year-old man, about to have my first child with a very wonderful 24-year-old woman.
We are not married, and our families are supportive but keep hinting that marriage is the right thing to do. My girlfriend feels as if it's a shotgun wedding situation.
What's a good amount of time before I propose — without her second-guessing my intentions?
DEAR DAD: I don't love the term "shotgun wedding situation," but for lack of a different way to describe it — it is, in fact, what you have.
What I mean is that this pregnancy has pulled you together into a family on a schedule other than what you had planned. It's fine to cop to this. Marriages have been made on far flimsier ground.
If you want to marry the mother of your child, ask her now. You two should talk about whether you want to stroll down the aisle with a baby in utero or in a stroller.
DEAR AMY: "Wondering Out West" asked you if she should stay in her marriage to a man who routinely states that he "wants out" in 10 years.
This hit a nerve with me. As a child growing up, I witnessed my aunt and uncle's troubled marriage, with attendant abuse, ruin the lives of my two cousins. They stayed together "for the children."
If the marriage is unhappy/unhealthy, this is the picture the children take with them. If it doesn't ruin their lives when they are young, it will certainly have a profound effect on them as they navigate through life.
When my children's father began a relationship with a co-worker and our marriage began deteriorating, I did not want them to grow up thinking a loveless marriage was OK.
I tried to make it work, but the divorce was inevitable. I met and married a wonderful man, and I am so proud of the way my children, now great parents themselves, turned out.
Staying together "for the children" in a relationship turned sour is very toxic.
— Faithful Reader
DEAR FAITHFUL: I agree. Announcing that, "In 10 years, I'm outta here!" is disturbing and outrageous.
In my answer, I focused on what I perceived to be the extreme stress this father was under, but I completely agree That this is no way to conduct a marriage.
Send questions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Amy Dickinson's memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.