Hi Carolyn, Last week I wrote to you because my daughter was having problems with the daughter of a pastor "Ellen" at the local mega church and her desire to pray for the victims of the Boston Marathon during school. My husband and I met with the principal and a few teachers on Monday and then again on Wednesday with Ellen's parents. It seems that this conflict has been brewing for some time now and this is not the first time my daughter has questioned Ellen on religion. Evidently, a few weeks ago around Easter, Ellen and a few of her friends were questioning a Jewish student in a hostile way and my daughter stepped in and asked Ellen to leave them all alone. The principal and teachers have been watching this situation very closely and documenting a lot of the things Ellen and her friends have said and done in the name of religion. At the meeting with Ellen's parents, the principal and teachers explained that public schools simply cannot have these kinds of conversations and that Ellen's attitudes were bordering on bullying. Ellen's parents gave us all scripture and verse and I suspect that this is not the last time we will all meet. I just told my daughter to hold her head high, be respectful of other people even if you don't agree with them, and remember that nobody can ever make you believe anything. Thanks for your encouraging words last week.
You're welcome, and thank you for the update. Your daughter sounds like an exceptional person, and a reminder that raising kids is hard work, but also a privilege.
Fifteen years passed before one day I received a phone call from an ex-boyfriend (we'd been together on and off from when I was 16 to 27). I was glad to hear from him, not really expecting to hear he was sorry about the way he'd treated me - badly - but it was good to hear from him as to how his life turned out. Until it became clear that after all these years he just wanted phone sex. Unbelievable. My husband and I had a good laugh about it and I really felt sorry for his wife. Some people don't change.
Great story. Now I realize we left something out of the whole apology discussion: how transparent and meaningless it is when it's done to get something in return. How many years have to pass between apologizing and asking for something. 100?
Hi Carolyn - I am an only child (grown) to two parents who did a really stellar job in a lot of concrete ways - encouraged my development and growth, paid for a top- tier college, introduced me to lots of positive and varied experiences, and loved me very much - but were also uncontrolled alcoholics for much of my childhood and adolescence. This had (and continues to have - and yes, I have done a bunch of counseling) a lot of consequences for my mental wellbeing. My relationship with my mother was particularly fraught, and although she would very much like us to be close, we are not. My issue is that she is now taking steps to get better - she has been sober for a year and been seeing a psychiatrist for almost two. I feel obligated to be supportive - and I am, in broad ways. I tell her that I am very glad she is taking care of herself even thought it is hard, and that she is doing the best possible thing for herself. It is obvious, though, from conversational hints and direct requests, that both she and my dad would like more from me. He texted me asking me to send my mom a note on her one year sobriety anniversary. And as always, I feel totally conflicted - do I write something effusive that I would know would thrill her but isn't terribly true? Or do I write something that expresses support in a more objective and rational way, which would be true for me, but not what she wants? I feel guilty and also resentful of being in this position. In the past, I end up straddling this middle ground that feels like it satisfies nobody, and that seems like the wrong approach. She does not tend to handle honesty well, even in this post-therapy world.
That's a heavy load to carry around, I'm sorry.
A couple of things you probably know already: 1. It's on you to decide what's right for you, and to live your life accordingly. That's not just true for you, that's true for everyone. 2. An alcoholic parent interferes with that process, because alcohol is that parent's North--which means you're taught to do the same. Next thing you know, your compasses are taking you to all kinds of strange places.
If you choose to respond to your parents according to what you think they want, then you're back to using Mom's alcoholism as your North. Don't do it. As hard as it is to figure out what you actually want out of this particular exchange, and out of the relationship in general, that's what you need to do here, and set your compass to that. That she does not tend to handle honesty well obligates her either to do the hard work or suffer the consequences of not doing it; she can't pass that responsibility off to you.
I've been dating an awesome guy for a couple months and we've been having a really great time together. Trouble is, he was tentatively offered a work assignment in another city that could last for a year (they approached him, he didn't apply for it). He'd be crazy not to take this job if it comes together. Because I've never connected with someone like this before, I'd be willing to keep seeing him if he takes the assignment and see where it leads -- assuming, of course, he wants the same thing (we're still talking this through and the offer isn't solidified). Is it silly for me to be willing to do long distance after a couple months of dating? We're very much in the shmoopie stage right now, so I'm trying to make sure that I'm seeing clearly while my head's in the clouds. fwiw, we've both said we think this could turn into something special if we keep going, and the assignment is a few hours away by car.
Sounds like a non-issue to me--more nuisance than anything else. You see if he gets the job, he sees whether he wants to take it, you both see whether one year of weekending it works for you. Two key facts--that the job ends in a year and you can drive to see each other--pretty much erase the really agonizing questions that normally come with the LDR decision. Whenever the circumstances allow you to wing it, that's what you do.
My boyfriend is insecure. He's says it's just part of his personality, I say it's something one can change, if they work on it. Who's right?
Neither of you. He should be willing to work on it, you should be aware that it's not your place to tell other people what they need to work on, and both of you should see that arguments over relationship "shoulds" are birds flying at plate glass windows thinking they're shiny bits of sky. (Poor birdies.) Put your expectations away somewhere and just enjoy people's company. If it works, it works, and if it doesn't, your irritation will tell you everything you need to know.
I grew up in a dysfunctional household, moved out of the house at 18 and left my home town when I was 25. I'm 54 now. In my youth I moved often, eventually ending up in New England. (No one else in my immediate or extended family left my hometown). Four years ago, after a bad divorce and feeling a pull towards family, I moved with my daughter (now 18) from the east coast to my home town in the west. I found a job within a month of arriving, and have purchased a home of my own - a life-long dream. Daughter assimilated well and is enrolled in college. But I constantly think about moving back east. In my heart I know it wouldn't be fair to my sibling, who would have to deal with our toxic aging parents, and I know I wouldn't be able to afford to purchase a home back there. It's been four years and I still don't feel as though I belong here. Is it selfish to consider such a move? Foolish to think of a major move at my age, with no guarantee of work and an uncertain future? I feel I would be letting everyone down if I left, and yet am so unhappy here. New Englander at Heart
You're "so unhappy"! Go. It's your life.
Well, maybe not "go" yet, but at least job-hunt, and figure out whether you can afford to set money aside for the "help sib with toxic parents" fund, and take advantage of your being there now to research whatever resources your region has to offer the elderly and their families. See whether it makes sense to rent your house vs. sell, whether you can afford the rent on a decent place where you'd like to live, etc.
Any major relocation, as you know, involves a whole lot of work before you pack the first box. A lot of it can be done without committing to anything. Seems to me the best thing you can do right now is all of the work you can do without committing, and then make your decision.
Carolyn, I feel like I am in a similar position with my parents. Overall, they were great - made sure I did wel in school, provided me many positive experiences, etc., but my mother has serious mental illness and has been emotionally abusive in the past. She is now in treatment and it is clear that she would like a closer relationship with me. However, given our history, I have a hard time feeling motivated to put effort into our relationship or share many personal details with her. I think the OP seems to be in a similar postion - her history with her parents have led her to not want an emotionally close connection, but now that her mother is changing, she is torn. I'm not sure your answer about her mother's alcoholism being 'north' fits - it doesn't seem to be about her alcoholism, it's more about her mother wanting to be closer now that she's getting better and her daughter being ambivalent given her history. So, when mom gives earnest effor to change, is it our responsibility to put in effort to repair/enhance that relationship?
But the way it's phrased, it's still about what the mother wants, what the mother does and doesn't handle well, what the mother has achieved in her efforts toward sobriety. This bid for closeness that the mother is making (in the original post; it's not clear in yours) is all about what the mother wants to receive from the adult child--it's not about what the mother is giving. In that, it is indeed about centering on her alcoholism all over again, because when she was drinking, it was all about the drinker getting what the drinker wanted/needed, instead of participating in a balanced exchange of emotional giving and receiving. Now, that you-give-I-take dynamic is still in force, but with (compulsory) intimacy as the pain relief instead of the usual liquid pain relief.
Since we're here ... that emotional giving and receiving isn't supposed to be 50-50 between parent and child; the parent is supposed to do all of the giving at first, in the child's infancy, and over time the child grows and matures and starts to shift the balance toward, ideally, equilibrium by the end of young-adulthood. With the alcoholic parent, the kids are asked to give early and often and out of proportion to what their own needs dictate.
So, I'd say that the adult child in this instance has better justification than most to hang on to what s/he thinks is right, instead of feeling obligated to provide what the parent does.
I realize this doesn't apply directly to your situation, but this was my reasoning for the OP.
Child of alcoholics - if your mother is working hard on her sobriety with the help of a program that encourages her to examine herself deeply, this all may work out better than you think. Your mother may be a lot more willing to hear truth from you now and in the future than she ever was while drinking and not working a program. It's still early days, but if she's still sober and working a program a few years from now, you may be able to have something that looks a bit like a real relationship.
I love an argument for keeping an open mind, thanks.
My husband is the classic middle child--the peacemaker who is often overlooked by his parents. He's come to grips with where he falls in his family structure. My problem is that this pattern seems to have extended to the next generation. Whenever we share exciting news about our son, my husband's parents always counter with something even more incredible that one of his cousins has done. I grew up with a grandmother who greatly favored my cousins, and it was incredibly painful. I don't want my son to feel the same hurt. How do we bring up this touchy subject with my husband's parents?
Firmly, kindly and with concrete examples, but I don't have high hopes. They've been doing this for decades by now, and that's a big mountain for a few well-chosen words to climb.
There are alternative responses you can try in place of talking to the parents or in addition to it. You can limit your son's exposure to people who blatantly play favorites; you can gently assert your concern on the spot ("That's wonderful about Cousin--let's give each his own moment in the sun, though, no?"); you can recognize that you and your husband turned out strong and healthy in spite of the undercutting and not get too worked up about the grandparents*; you can recognize that there's no such thing as a childhood without "hurt," and make a calculated decision on how much you can or want to prevent, and how much you brush off as part of life, and how much you use as conversation starters about people's frailties. "Grandma means well but she has a way of treating life as a competition. Her remarks say more about her than they do about you."
*This is a judgment call. If you turned out "strong and healthy" only after needless suffering as a child and hard remedial work as an adult, then skip this one and go straight to protecting your kids from "the same hurt." If instead it was something you were able to process and keep in perspective as you matured, then consider stepping back and being more of a supporter/guide than a shield.
I am a 30 year old single woman. Sometimes I like to ask my dad for advice and he always shares this with his wife, whom he married 10 years ago. I asked him not to do this and he said he shares everything with her. But I sometimes would like to have just HIS opinion about something. It's irritating. Do I have a right to be irritated or is this normal married practice?
I think it's normal marital practice to discuss things freely, and I would have a hard time if a kid were asking one parent to keep something from the other parent. In very limited circumstances, I'd keep an open mind, but as a general practice, no.
With a parent-stepparent setup, it's easier to argue an entitlement to privacy, but I think you have to use it very sparingly and with cause. For example, telling Dad that your entire private life is embargoed just because you're not keen on his wife is needlessly divisive. Spouses share things they care about, that's what their daily conversation consists of, and he cares about you. If she's not completely misguided or incompatible with you. then his saying this stuff out loud to someone he trusts can even make him a better adviser to you.
If instead the wife is blabbing your stuff all over the place, then you have every right to ask Dad not to load her mouth cannon with everything you just shared with him.
If it's somewhere in between these extremes, as things usually are, then I'd say you have every right to ask on rare and specific occasions that you keep a conversation between you private. That he won't grant you even that is, in my opinion, justifiably irritating. It's also your cue either to accept that she'll hear it all or to go somewhere else for advice.
Carolyn, About a month ago, my husband, out of nowhere, informed me that he no longer wanted to be with me, and we are now in the process of separating. I am extremely hurt and frustrated, but we are keeping things as civil as possible, and have been able to negotiate our separation terms on our own, which includes built-in time for my husband's parents. My husband travels frequently for his job - usually two to three weeks total each month - and we have worked out a visitation schedule that takes into account his travel. I'm wondering if you can provide me with some guidance as to the best way to uphold my son's relationship with my husband's parents through the separation and divorce. I have always had a good relationship with my in-laws. They live about an hour away from us, and in the past, I have taken our son to certain family gatherings there even if my husband was gone. With us separating, however, I'm wondering how to balance my own feelings of not wanting to attend these gatherings and not feeling "obligated" to do so anymore, with my desire to do what's best for my son regarding his relationship with my husband's parents, and with their desire to see their grandson. Should I still take my son to my husband's family's events when he's not here to take him, or is there a way to bow out gracefully? Before you say "Maybe they won't ask you to come..." - they already have. So far, I have politely delayed giving a definite answer, but I know I can't hold out forever... Thank you!
I think, as much as it will suck, that bringing your son to your husband's family's events will set an awesome example for your son.
(I just said "suck" and "awesome" in the same sentence. Yes, I am 12.)
Hi Carolyn. Husband and I recently started marital counseling to help with a few issues. I've been in counseling for myself off and on for quite a while, so I'm kind of used to how the process works and it has really helped me. However, the marital stuff just feels...strange. Like I feel more reluctant to bring things up because It's not just me and the therapist. But my husband isn't really bringing stuff up either, so we end just discussing issues we're having with our toddler, which isn't really the point. I mean, they're contributing to some of the stress between us, but there's other stuff going on too. Any advice for making this process work, including getting my husband to bring stuff up, too?
Try telling your therapist that you're holding back--not in a session, but in a voice mail. See if that jogs anything loose.
Eventually you're going to have to stop waiting for your husband to be the one who "brings stuff up," but it might be easier to leap if your therapist also knows you need to do it. Or, knows you know. Yknow?
Is there anything you can do about parents who are retired and bored out of their minds? My father retired much too young, and it is painful to interact with him now. He was a pretty bright, dyanmic person in his youth, but now (age 75) every single email or phone call is about a new ailment. It's kind of amazing to me that he doesn't notice the repetition in his own behavior. My aunt actually told him he talks about going to the dr too much. But he continues to, for ex, take up one entire week talking about his sleep apnea, and then as soon as that is treated next day he needs surgery on his knee. This has been going on for 20 years! I have tried encouraging him to pick up a hobby but... no luck. My poor mom. Any suggestions?
Do you live close enough to pick up a hobby with him? If not, then your reach into this situation is limited. Well, even more limited, since there's the usual limit of its being his life to live as he chooses. But I think any answer starts with the willingness of someone nearby to try to establish and share with him a potential diversion. You, your mom, your aunt, a friend of his. If you don't have that, then what you have is just meddling.
Carolyn, since about halfway through the engagement, our now daughter-in-law has been extremely cold, hostile, and at times downright spiteful to us. It's getting very hard for us to communicate since it seems that whatever we do or say, she takes the wrong way and in the most hostile light. Son is trying his best to mediate between us but it's getting extremely difficult for him to be in this position. We have a feeling that she is fairly immature in the way she handles conflict, and we'd love to be able to discuss with her what is actually going on, but she is completely unwilling to open into a dialogue with us to attempt to improve things, and in the meantime is being, well, if not actively hostile, extremely passively hostile. How do we open a channel of communication to both of them to try to improve things?
To the extent possible, don't give him anything to mediate on your end. Make talking to you a safe and comfortable place for him to go. It'll be tough, but you have to starve her of things to rage about and starve him of reasons and opportunities to choose her over you. These hostilities rarely end well and in the in-laws' favor, so keep that in mind when you're tempted to return fire. instead, the line you need to hold with both of them is, "I/We keep saying/doing the wrong thing, and don't mean to. If I/we can make amends, please let me/us know how." With your son, it's also: "I'm so sorry you're in the middle." Hold hold hold that line. Good luck.
Hi Carolyn, I work in an office where we have a coworker that loves to play 21 questions with everyone that walks in the door. Where do you live? How long is your commute? Where do your kids go to preschool? We are all put between a rock and a hard spot and end up answering her questions as she does not let up and if you say you have to go, she follows you! Her questions can be very personal at times (ex. asking a coworker the pain level of her dying mother in law). What is a good way to respond when the questions become too personal? PS. She has been known to use this information against people such as "Oh shes late again because she lives so far, she should leave earlier."
This reminds me of a great moment many years ago, when a few of us were talking about the nuisance of getting rid of people who come to your door (Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.). One guy shrugged and said, "I drop my pants and start speaking in tongues."
Besides being a beautiful thing unto itself, it's actually apt for your interrogator, in a keep-your-pants-on-in-the-office kind of way. Instead of treating her as if she's a normal person entitled to polite answers to her questions, realize that your interaction has gone off the wall and go off the wall with it. "I live in a yurt, and my favorite color is cheese. But don't tell the people in my head." Then smile and get to work as if she doesn't exist, except for the occasional, "Excuse me, you're blocking my light," as needed.
And if you try this, please report back.
My wife insists that my parents favor my 2 younger sisters over me (oldest brother) and really don't see that that's the case. She brings up all these events that clearly show that my parents favor them over me... and I just don't really see it - e.g. they did this for sibling 1's graduation, but not for mine - but I simply don't care about these things, but it's very difficult when she appoints herself my 'protector' and tells them that they should be doing more for me, but I don't know how to tell her to stop being so divisive...
"I think you want to help me and stick up for me, and I love that you do, but bringing these things to my attention doesn't help me. I'm at peace with my family. What can I do to help you find peace with it, too?"
Yes, no, maybe?
My in-laws have a summer cabin that my husband and I typically visit for a week every summer. This year we told them we wouldn't be able to make it because I have an intense deadline, and needed to spend my vacation writing at home. MIL encouraged us to come out anyway, suggesting that we take the cabin on a week when they weren't using it, giving me a quiet retreat to work. We gratefully accepted. Now that tickets have been purchased, though, In-laws have begun emailing about plans for barbecues and day trips, and it's become clear that they -are- planning spending the week there with us. These weren't the original terms, and I wouldn't have agreed to them. What's the best way to handle it now? Cancel my own ticket, or ask husband to talk with them about not coming to their own house?
Response to parents' email, by son: "Wait--this was going to be Spousie's quiet week to write. Are you guys coming after all?" A leeetle bit of playing dumb allows him to clarify their side and yours without marching all the way to, "Uh, either you guys stay home or Spousie has to."
If they don't jump in with, "Oh right, we forgot, sorry, we'll leave you to it," then I do think you're the one who's going to have to cancel, even though they changed the terms. It's just the gracious thing to do.
My husband was doing something similar. I finally told him that I knew he was doing it out of caring, but was actually making my life more difficult. I also pointed out the way that what HE was doing was the same as what he was accusing them of doing. Not a fun conversation, but effective.
The employees should take that up with their supervisor or HR. The employee is creating a hostile work environment and needs to be addressed.
If there is an HR, then, yes, I can see it as an HR matter, thanks. In taking it past humorous deflection, though, the messenger needs to be sensitive to the possibility there's some social anxiety or disability in play here.
Or you're a closet Southern Californian. I'm 47 with a high salaried professional job, and those words are used all the time. Are things awesome out here or what?
Hi Carolyn -- I am also the adult daughter of a mother who was very abusive in my childhood. She is quite old now, and quite frail, and still an appalling narcissist. My rule of thumb in coming to terms with our relationship, and making decisions about how to interact with her, is this: what sort of person do I want to be? I want to be someone who is nice to a needy, frail old woman -- so, I'm polite and responsive to her needs. I also want to be someone who has healthy boundaries and other relationships, so when her demands are unreasonable I explain that I'm not available. It has taken a lot of practice, but I'm getting better at being kind to her because I want to be a kind person, and not because she's manipulated me. As someone once said, the true definition of maturity is the ability to do something even though your parents want you to.
"what sort of person do I want to be?" This, yes. Applause, and thank you.
I was the child in a similar situation. My mother was always the least favored child in her family, and when we were growing up, me and my sisters were the least favored grandchildren. The good news is that I didn't realize this until I was an adult, because my parents took care to limit our exposure to grandma and were very caring and nuturing on their own. My mother, however, still has a large reservoir of resentment toward her mother for her behavior towards us (as well as herself). So, my two cents is to limit exposure to grandparents as best you can, and try to do your best not to take this personally. It pains me to see how much my mother still burns over things that I barely remember.
Another great contribution, thanks.
The LW left home at 18, then moved to the other ocast at 25. She gets a divorce and moves cross country again. Now her parents, and her sibling by deafault, need help and she wants to move again. Seems to me she should ask herself if she really just misses New England, or is this the latest episode in a pattern of running away from problems? She also needs to ask herself if not seeing the sib and daughter is a sacrifice she is willing to make to avoid said problem.
This is an excellent point, and I get it, but she's also 54 now; if she spent 20-ish years in New England (after the flurry of youthful moves), then calling this part of that continuum might not be entirely fair. Still worth considering, if only because any conclusion she comes to, even, "I really miss New England," would be more solid for it. Thanks.
I have a similar issue with my parents sharing personal things with my sisters b/c "we're all a family." I told my mom in confidence that I had a miscarriage only to receive a call from one of my sister a few days later where she told me that I probably caused it by eating non-organic foods. Now I just talk to my dog.
Sounds like a wise choice. Sorry about the events that pushed you to it.
My sister-in-law had a similar situation and she kept bringing the kids to the major events alone. Occasionally one of her ex's siblings would offer to bring the kids to give her a break, but the kid was always there. The general consensus is she looked like the bigger person in the divorce, her kids never heard a bad thing about their mother from their father's family, and her ex didn't look good.. at all. When ex remarried she offered his new wife the option of bringing the kids, and now we all miss her!
A lot of responses that include some of these observations, but this covers it all, thanks.
My husband and I have a toddler who has never been spanked. We have differing views. He's old school and thinks kids need a spanking (not anything resembling a beating) occasionally. I both abhor the idea of hitting my child and also am afraid of my own temper that I might take things too far if I don't draw a bright line in the sand that our family doesn't hit (I'm not a violent person and I have never gotten in fights but I used to really take my younger sibling to task when she got on my nerves). We did discuss this pre-child but we remember the outcome of that conversation quite differently (which probably signals its own set of issues). Any advice? He's not someone that finds "the research says" compelling.
That in itself is cause for concern. "The research" is an idea that warrants skepticism, certainly, because it has pointed to and been used to justify all kinds of contradictory things over the years--and what drives research anyway besides skepticism of past customs and research?
Yet, still, taking a dismissive position is different from being skeptical. That has a whiff of his thinking his way is right and everyone else--science, the village, you--can stuff it. And I think that can be a problem when it comes to raising kids, for a lot of reasons but particularly these two huge ones: 1. He is not a sole parent, he's a co-parent, and he doesn't get to act unilaterally. If he won't take anything you care about into account, then he's starting out your child's emotional education by undermining half of his/her emotional world. Thanks, Pops.
2. Kids personalities, temperaments and needs aren't one-size-fits-all, and an arrogant or overly certain parent is going to miss the fact that being flexible can sometimes be more "right" than being right.
I realize this is all warning and no advice so far, but I think it's time to respect the warning enough to say that you feel very strongly about the spanking issue in particular, and the need for compromise, flexibility and mutual respect as co-parents in general, that you'd like to reopen the topic with him. Try it as a sit-down conversation when someone else is watching your toddler.
This isn't about getting your way--parents will disagree on things--it's about getting your due respect.
If you don't believe you're getting that, then comes referee time, be it with a parenting class or a marriage and family therapist.
Two last things to consider, now that I've taken forever with this answer ... (more)
It's your job to make her feel welcome in your family, and if you don't, she will not make space for you in the household she is establishing with your son. Even if it is hard, it's a good idea to offer her kind inquiries as demonstration of interest, an effort not to be instructive or directive, statements of support of her autonomy and wishes about how her wedding/marriage will be. She might warm if given reason to think you are going to support rather than undermine her marriage. My inlaws believe that I am cold and rude, but I started out timid, received criticism and instruction instead of hospitality, and have in 10 years had little reason to try to make space for people who are unkind, uninterested in me, and try to control how my husband and I live, work, travel, and raise our daughter. You have a role in nipping this in the bud, and you are most likely the ones who stand to lose out on a close relationship with your son if you fail to find a way to make her welcome.
Very illuminating, thanks. I agree with you that the in-laws are the ones in a position to welcome in a new son/daughter-in-law--and I have nothing but a standing O for the parts about criticism and control--but I still advise people with "little reason to try to make space for people who are unkind" still to try to warm things from their side, just because, before completely giving up.
Can't we just talk about shoes? It's Friday.
But it's always Friday when I'm here (except when it's Thursday).
Time to go. Thanks all, have a great and shoey weekend, and hope to see you here again next Friday.
What's wrong with the truth? "I don't like answering all these questions. Please stop."
Nothing wrong with it, but you've got to back it up by not answering and walking away. In a similar situation, I found that going the light n silly route worked just as well and was better for my mood. A matter of taste.