Letty and Francesca say that growing up, their mother, Stephanie, chose drugs and alcohol over them — and even drank and used methamphetamines while pregnant with Francesca. Stephanie insists she has worked hard to turn her life around but says her daughters won’t let go of the past. Dr. Phil enlists the help of Troy Dunn
, author of the new book, Family: The Good F-Word
, to get this fractured family on the path to healing. How can they move forward?
Choosing Drugs over Her Children?
Stephanie admits she was a drug addict and even used while she was pregnant with both of her daughters.
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"I wanted to abort her by overdoing it with lots of drugs, and it didn’t work."
Letty and her sister, Francesca, say there were bounced from family members' homes to foster care growing up, and Letty blames their mother, Stephanie, for their rough childhood.
"My sister and I call my grandparents Mama and Papa. My mother visited very sporadically. I would sit at the window all day and wait for her. My mother never came," Letty recalls, fighting back tears. She says when she was 9 and Francesca was 7, they were removed from their grandparents' home. "We were put in a foster care because my sister wasn’t gaining enough weight. They thought that our grandparents weren’t feeding her. But the truth is my sister didn’t gain any weight because she was a drug baby." Letty says she didn't see her mother again until she was 14.
"When my mom came back in my life, I thought she was a stranger to me, because she wasn’t in my life for a very, very long time," Francesca says. "She has never apologized — not even once."
"I want Dr. Phil to pull my mother’s head out of her ass and make her realize what she’s done to Francesca and I, because we’ve continually told her, ‘We don’t need you. All you do is just cause chaos within our lives, and we’re tired of it. We are so tired of it,'" Letty says.
"When I’m around Letty and Francesca, I feel like I owe them and in reality, I don’t think I do, because I think I’ve paid my price," Stephanie says. "I’ve changed my life to become a better mother for them, and they won’t give me the chance."
In studio, Dr. Phil asks Stephanie, “What is the price that you’ve paid?”
“I did what I did in my past. I have made amends to them both. I have apologized several times. Their reply to me was, ‘Mom, it’s OK. You were young. We forgive you.’ Then the moment that I do something that they don’t agree with, I’m a drug addict. I’m a lowlife mother — and it’s this repetitive cycle,” Stephanie says. “It’s like they won’t let me be a mom. I’ve been trying to be a mom to them for many years, and they want nothing to do with me. I’ve tried. What more can I do?”
Letty responds. “I have told you that yes, it is in the past. We can’t change that, but it wasn’t OK,” she says. “I’ve never told you that it was OK."
“You don’t selectively recall. You don’t make it sound better now that the bright light of day is being shone upon this. You tell the absolute, brutal, unvarnished truth,” Dr. Phil says to Stephanie and Letty. “One of you two is not doing that.”
Dr. Phil takes Stephanie to task. Find out what drives her to walk offstage.
Letty and Francesca leave the stage so Dr. Phil can speak one on one with Stephanie.
Ready to Change?
Dr. Phil is joined onstage by professional locator Troy Dunn
, author of the new book, Family: The Good F-Word: The Life-Changing Action Plan for Building Your Best Family
, published by Dr. Phil's son, Jay McGraw's, Bird Street Books. Stephanie returns to the stage to speak with them.
“I want to make amends to my children the ‘proper’ way, however that may be. They won’t let me.”
Dr. Phil tells Stephanie that he asked Troy to join him, because he has written a new book, Family: The Good F-Word: The Life-Changing Action Plan for Building Your Best Family
, published by Dr. Phil’s son, Jay McGraw’s, Bird Street Books. Troy has been married to his high school sweetheart for 27 years, and they’ve raised eight children.
Troy addresses Stephanie. “One of the things I teach in the book is do not believe everything you think,” he says. “I think that’s what happening in your family — and by the way, it is a family. It’s a broken family … This family can be put back together. There’s just a lot of work that has to be done.”
Dr. Phil asks Stephanie, “Do you think you’ve ever genuinely been honest with yourself about what’s happened?”
“Probably not,” she replies.
“You’re wanting them to forgive you, right? You haven’t even almost forgiven yourself,” Dr. Phil says.
“Not even,” Stephanie agrees, fighting back tears.
A New Life?
Stephanie says she’s been clean for 18 months, and five months ago, she started a sober living home for female addicts.
“Our mother has definitely cared more about her drugs and her drug addict friends than she cares about Francesca and I,” Letty says. “My mother enjoys the attention that she gets from other people for starting this sober living house, and then she neglects Francesca and I.”
“My kids always get jealous because I’m always at meetings. It’s like I can’t win with them,” Stephanie says. “If I don’t have recovery and I don’t have these addicts in my life, I might as well go get loaded. The women there appreciate me more than my kids do.”
Troy addresses Stephanie. “You’re looking for that relationship, and I believe they’re looking for that relationship. You’re not getting it, and it looks like you’re filling it with other people,” he says. “I believe that your daughters, who are angrier than snot, I believe that that’s just a big cover for how much they're hurting. And, I believe that they would consider rebuilding this family, but I think they’re still waiting to hear from you … that to the core, you understand how many pieces you broke them into.”
Dr. Phil reminds Stephanie that however her daughter’s act, she has influenced their behavior. “You had a lot to do with what they became,” he says.
Letty and Francesca join their mother, Troy and Dr. Phil onstage.
“Giving birth does not make you a mother. Making you a mother is being there for your children.”
When Francesca was 16, she moved in with Stephanie and her husband. Stephanie says things quickly spiraled out of control. She says that Francesca disrespected her home and animals, including drawing on her coffee table in ink, throwing out her dishes because she didn't want to wash them and kicking her dogs.
"A lot of my sister's outbursts were because she felt neglected," Letty says. "My mother would definitely say stuff to my sister like, ‘If you don’t knock this crap off right now, I’m going to beat your ass. You little b-word.’"
"She yells at me and blames me for everything," Francesca says. "My mom is nicer to the dogs than she is to her children."
Stephanie eventually kicked Francesca out of her house but let her return a few years later. "Just this last year, Francesca came to live with us for six months. She was on her best behavior for about a month. Then, she started with Internet dating. I told her she was not allowed to Internet date, and then Francesca freaked out," she recalls. Stephanie says Francesca willingly moved to Stephanie's transitional living home.
"I never told my mom I wanted to live there. She just got mad because of my attitude. She was tired of me, and she couldn’t handle taking care of me," Francesca says. "When my mother dropped me off at the halfway house, that’s when I decided I’m done with my mother."
“You just heard someone role play you in a cold, matter-of-fact way, because that’s all she sees.”
The Only Mom They've Known
"I cannot stand Francesca’s foster mom, Donna. I think that while Francesca lived with Donna, that Donna coddled her, that’s why Francesca doesn’t have any life skills," Stephanie says. "When Francesca moved in with us, she didn’t know how to work a washing machine. She didn’t know how to load the dishwasher. She didn’t know how to cook anything — She didn’t even know how to wash her body. I feel that Donna is an enabler."
Donna joins the show and tells Dr. Phil that she and her sister have been foster mothers to Francesca and Letty on and off for the last 11 years and still remain in contact with the women, even though they’ve aged out of the system. “As far as I’m concerned, they are part of my family,” she says. “If they need a place to go, if they need help, I’m there for them,” she says.
“If some woman had stepped up across an 11-year period to fill a void in my girls’ lives, I don’t think I would follow the word 'grateful' with the word 'but.'”
Repairing Their Relationships
“How important is forgiveness in making this work?” Dr. Phil asks Troy.
“Forgiveness is the other good F-word. I consider it the key ingredient to a happy family, to a happy marriage, to a happy parent-child relationship," he says. Turning to Stephanie, he continues, “You have spent 30 years on drugs. You’ve been clean 18 months. The first 25 sucked like a broken vacuum. The next 25 could be better.” He turns to Letty and says, “Twenty-five is too soon to write off an entire family.”
Dr. Phil addresses the family. “I think that what needs to happen here is there needs to be an acknowledgment that the pathology here is way over your heads,” he tells them. “You need to be willing to bring professionals to the table that can help start to structure putting this family back together. And, it will begin with tiny steps and huge boundaries.” He offers to provide the family with professional help.