Dear Carolyn: My stepdaughter is 17 and came to live with us after her mother kicked her out (and then her mom moved across the country and has pretty much cut ties). She’s a troubled kid. Her mom is totally self-involved to the point of neglect. Her dad, my husband, has been away often for the military in places where communication is difficult. They divorced when the kid was 13.

The kid loves pot. And smoking. Both of which her dad does not approve of. I am an ex-smoker so I get the addiction and we've been countering that with nicotine gum. But she went out for a walk, got some pot from a friend (no idea how she paid for it), came home and was smoking in her room.

Her father feels like a failure. She has a gloom-and-doom attitude toward everything. I’m so angry at her for putting all of us through this. What do we do? How do we help? She has a therapist and is on medication for depression, anxiety and attention-deficit disorder. It’s a mess. I’m so sad for both of them.

— Sad

Sad: Me too, I’m sorry.

You need a therapist too. Depression, anxiety, ADHD, substance abuse and family trauma present serious challenges, on top of the entirely understandable emotional obstacles, dips and freak-outs that come with being responsible for an adolescent in the house.

Yet parents routinely expect themselves to manage all this just by winging it.

Please don't do that to yourself. Get an instruction manual in human form — as a kindness to yourself more than anything, but one that will also become a kindness to your stepdaughter over time.

It sounds as if you’re bringing a really good heart to this, so no matter what you do, that’s good for everyone here.

Dear Carolyn: My spouse often says I should do something, should buy something, or my daughter should do something. I often think I don’t have to, I have a choice! It’s not a matter of whether I “should” but can I afford to, or do I have the energy or desire to.

You have expressed the problem with “should,” but I can’t remember what the root problem is. Would you mind explaining it again? I’m trying to figure out why these “should” statements get under my skin.

— Should

Should: The root problem is someone constantly telling you what to do because they know better and want you to change.

Even toddlers resent this, at an age so judgment-challenged they eat dirt and play in the street.

Don't you want to spend your time with people who see you as a competent adult? Who can decide without unasked-for help what “should” be done?

Please explain that to your spouse after the next “should.” Say when Spouse gives unsolicited advice, you feel irritated. Say you prefer to make your own decisions and ask for help when you need it.

This won’t be easy. It’s a huge emotional distance for your spouse to travel, from believing you need their help, to believing you don’t. But that’s where you start. Couples’ counseling is the next stop. And if your spouse really thinks you can’t make good choices without their “should” rulings, then that’s guardianship, not a marriage of peers.