Hi Carolyn:

I am happily married for a year to a wonderful man. He has a 3-year-old daughter who lived overseas. We brought her here because she was being beaten, neglected and underfed. We were so excited to have her. Well, now she is here . . . and we both were really unprepared. She demands a lot of attention, more energy than we have. (Note to childless people: You are clueless!) We both work full time, and by the time I put her to bed at 7:30, I also have to lie down. My husband goes to school nights and works overtime. We have help on Saturdays when my hubby works, but it's not enough.

I'm afraid I'm not cut out to be a mom. I thought it would be fun and challenging and I'd love her as my own, but it's NOT fun, and I don't love her. If I knew she would be okay, I'd send her back to the mom without a qualm. My husband says he will abide by my decision since I spend more time taking care of her. He feels if I sacrifice my happiness for someone else's, I'll never be happy. But yet -- how can I make my decision when I know sending her back will result in belt beatings? Is it right to sacrifice someone else's happiness for yours? Or yours for someone else's?

-- Anonymous

You could be "happy," knowing you sent this girl to the belt?

There is no decision here.

I would howl that I even have to say this, but even people who love love love their toddlers dislike them sometimes, and they're already deeply invested. I can only imagine the questions that, in your darkest moments, someone else's attention-starved, special-needs toddler can push you to ask.

Besides, you're raising a child you're honest enough to admit you don't love. You don't need my help to feel worse.

And there's more bad news before the good. You can't just add an abused toddler to your world and expect to have the same world plus miraculously recovered toddler.

All new parents must rebuild their worlds for a baby. Since yours has special needs and isn't a baby -- and, in fact, is at a famously recalcitrant age -- you must reexamine every inch of your world in the new light of her needs.

Starting with: two full-time jobs plus overtime plus school. Complete non-starter. Time to give less to your careers, yourselves and your bank accounts, and give more to her. Time for your husband to be a father; whatever he's studying can wait. If one of you can get immediate family leave, do it. If you're too broke, then refinance, move, cut back, cut back more, have a pro redo your finances.

You didn't prepare, so prepare now. Call Childhelp USA's hot line, 800-4-A-CHILD, for local resources for families of abused children. You are in over your heads; get help. Learn to be parents. Now. Putting her first will make you good ones, which can make you happy.

Maybe not blissfully so, especially if she suffered lasting emotional damage -- but there still can be gratification and pride. There can be love you never imagined.

Push yourself to get there, please. And learn what every parent does: that you'll never wish you gave less.

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