Baggage Check Live: This isn't "laughingly basic"

Jul 02, 2019

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior will be online to take your comments about her advice column, Baggage Check, and any other questions you might have. These comments may appear in an upcoming column running in Express and online.

She’ll discuss her recent columns and answer any questions you may have about relationships, work, family, mental health and more.

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Welcome, all. How are you doing on this holiday week?

In today's column, we've got a Grandma hoping to take her grandkids for an extended time each summer — but not everyone is on board. And, in Letter 2, what do you do when your grown child has put on a significant amount of weight? To bring it up or not to bring it up, that is the question!

For those of you following Detox Your Thoughts, I am happy to announce that I turned in the completed manuscript yesterday! And it wasn't just full of doodles of my dog. It is slated for release in Spring 2020 and I promise I won't likely bring it up again for a long time, now that the first big milestone is out of the way.

So. What have you got?

I have a friend who does Camp Grandma (although I do not know how long her camp is) and she is a raging success. My grandchildren are still a little young (a lot young) for this sort of thing, but I am looking forward to Camp Grandma, too. *However,* to start out (at whatever age) with an entire summer is a really big ask, for grandma, the parents, and the kids. I was thinking maybe a short week to start and see how that goes, and if I can handle it and the kids enjoy it, maybe go on from there.

Also, just because I like shopping, restaurants, and movies, does not mean that I plan to do any of those things with young children. (Well maybe an age appropriate movie, and eating out at a child friendly place.) I was thinking more like going to the zoo, the children's museum, a local playground, the swimming pool (with lessons), arts and crafts I will plan for, and I don't know what all. So mom, back down, talk to your MIL about starting small and working forward from there, and asking her what kinds of things she had in mind for her Camp Grandma. (I spent my entire 10th year summer with my grandparents in another country, my sister was 7. My grandparents lived in a one bedroom apartment in the city. We learned to swim, played with the neighborhood children, traveled, and had a great time. I am still pen pals with one of those children.)

I love this. Thanks.

I do think they need to have a real conversation about it. I would hate for them to assume that Grandma is going to just take them to Cinnabon and the multi-plex all day when that wouldn't at all be the case.

I feel pretty optimistic about this situation, honestly. There seemed to be enough love on both sides that if they can just be open with what they want from each other, they can meet somewhere really nice in the middle.

Long live the many forms of Camp Grandma!

Some of my happiest childhood memories were the three weeks that my brother and I would spend each summer with my dad's parents. No enrichment, as they lived in a town of 800 people and only had high school degrees themselves. We spent leisurely days gardening, reading books, watching tv, talking together, going to the local soda fountain, cooking new recipes, and whiling away the afternoons at the town pool. We felt so loved and cherished there. One of my most prized possessions now is my "Spaghettios bowl" from their house. Please let your kids have this time. I barely remember any camp that I did but these memories of time with my grandparents (now long passed) still live so fondly in my heart.

This is so lovely, and a helpful perspective. Thank you!

I have a friend who must be very uncomfortable with silence because as soon as a conversation comes to a lull, she asks the first question she can think of. If I have to be asked one more time what my dad does for a living or what sports I played as a kid or remind her that my grandfather died in the time since we've been friends (always to the same "Oh my God, I'm SO sorry" reaction) again, I'm going to scream. I thought she would become more genuine after nearly a year but every conversation is like we just met again. How do I tell her that I'm tired of re-answering questions? Is it worth it to be friends with her when it looks like she'll never get less superficial?

This sounds like two different problems, honestly.

People who fill nervous silences with questions aren't necessarily always the same people who don't take in information about what you've already said. It's the latter that seems more of a death blow to this relationship than the former. (In other words, it's not that she's asking and talking so much. It's that she's NOT LISTENING and completely disregarding the answers.)

My gut instinct here is that whether from lack of ability or lack of interest, she's not going to go deeper.

Chatters?

Hi Dr. Andrea, thanks for your chats! I'm wondering how other people manage the constant flow/expectations around communication these days. I'm a millennial and I still can't figure it out and it's a constant source of stress for me. I work a full time job, have a spouse and young child, go to school part-time at night, and try my hardest to read books/cook dinner/exercise/do fulfilling life things. I dearly love my friends too, but often it feels like replying to random (non-urgent) friend texts, emails, phone calls is just one.too.many.things. Then a few days go by and I feel worse for not replying. I am that person constantly behind on her friend communication (let alone actually getting together) and I hate it. I resolve to be more responsive every year, but I also really hate to be tethered to my iPhone texts 24/7. What's a better system? How do other people manage all of this without going berserk??

Ironically, the better system involves communicating about the difficulties of communication.

Actually, it might involve a larger step back and something of a friendship audit-- is this just about communication expectations, or is this about some friendships that are generally wanting more than you give, or demanding a closeness that you're not really into?

Priorities change, free time changes, life transitions by definition can change everything. And friendships can change too — it is natural and human. The only thing you can do is be realistic and honest about what you can offer, and not string people along. Give some real thought to what you CAN offer (or, as I should say, what you actually WANT to, because you are the one who gets to draw the line here), and then communicate it. It may feel awkward, but the overall awkwardness and guilt of not meeting their expectations is already doing a number on you. You say you're under constant stress about this — it really shouldn't be that way.

So. The next time you have the ability to have a real conversation with these folks, do it. "Mary, I noticed how I left you hanging on several texts there. The truth is, I find myself putting my phone away in the evenings a lot, as the dinner/kid/exercise rush takes over. I don't want you to feel like I'm ignoring you, but I did just want you to know that I realistically can't respond in the evenings as much as I used to."

If you actually WANT to prioritize a monthly brunch or Mom's night out or occasional longer phone call or whatever, then offer that. But again, realism is key here. You have the right — and the responsibility — to establish the parameters that work for you. And they have a right to adjust accordingly with their own preferences, which may mean anything from taking a step back to letting go — but that's how friendships work. Finding a way to match each other for who you really are, not who you're supposed to be —  is what it's all about.

My husband and I just celebrated our child's first birthday with a small party of immediate family and close friends. I have been overwhelmed in this past year with how amazing and supportive my friends and family have been. It was a tough year. My husband, on the other hand, has friends who have all dropped the ball. We're all in our early 30s and most of his coed group of friends from college are married. This is to say they are not emotionally distant frat boys (stereotype I know). Most live in the next major city an hour away. My baseline level of support would be them texting or calling him every once in awhile to see how being a dad is going. Not a single one has done that, and celebrating her first birthday really put that into stark contrast with my friends who consider themselves honorary aunts. We sent out e-vites for her party at our house, and most did not bother to RSVP and the two that did RSVP yes didn't show up. I texted them, turns out they each thought the other was telling my husband they could no longer make it, and forgot. They apologized to me and said they would call my husband. So my problem is that now they promise to visit at some point this summer, but I no longer wish to be civil to them. I've known them for almost a decade and I don't think they're nice people. I was always friendly because they are my husband's friends. But my husband was so hurt that they didn't bother to show up, and he's too conflict-avoidant to ever call them out. He knows that I texted them and is okay with it. If they come to my house, I will have to sit on my hands to keep from launching into a diatribe about how they really f***ed up on being a friend, with the party no-show as the last straw. I've been stewing over this for a few days and I know it's not particularly healthy or productive.

I am sorry. The truth is, not all college bestie groups are created equal. And your husband's maybe just wasn't necessarily meant to stand the test of time, at least when it comes to emotional intimacy. (They may still be good for a rousing round of  "YMCA" at people's weddings, though.)

There's a middle ground here between telling them they effed up versus sitting on your hands. And I would urge you to have this conversation before they come, so that they don't feel that they were led into the visit (if they even come) under pretenses that they were not aware of.

Something along the lines of "Hey, I know you apologized about the birthday thing and I appreciate it. But there seems to be a larger issue here. I think we had expected a bit more emotional support during this time, for you guys to be more involved in this stage of our lives. I know that just might not be how things are, and that's okay. But I wanted to talk about it because it's hard for me to turn my expectations on and off, like getting excited about your visit, but then not hearing from you for long stretches of time. It's not just about RSVPing but even a lack of checking in every once in a while has been hurtful. I'm not sure what to do with this, but I couldn't not bring it up any longer."

How is that as a conversation opener? Hopefully it won't be a fire-starter. (And I should mention — just to play devil's advocate here — is it possible that they feel that your husband has willingly dropped out of their lives as well?)

I am the bereavement coordinator for a hospice, and talk to many older people who are in the place where they should consider moving. Many times, the idea of sorting through and getting rid of a lifetime's accumulated possessions is incredibly daunting, and keeps people from moving forward.

Such a good point. That can be such a psychologically hard step for someone, even if they didn't have any previous hoarding/accumulating tendencies. It's a big deal.

Probably why the concept of "Swedish Death Cleaning" has taken hold.

Thanks.

You might remember that I posted several months ago about my father in law coming out to visit, extended his stay, not putting things away he uses, breaking furniture, acting like a babysitter, etc. I just found out he's coming out here again in 2 weeks for his birthday. My husband told me last night that his dad called saying he's coming out and to "tell me" so I'm not surprised. He didn't even ASK to come out, just told us he's doing it. My husband called him and passed the phone over to me so he could let the dog out (who was crying to go out). I politely asked when he was coming and if he'd like me to recommend some good hotels close by. He was taken back and gave my husband an earful when he returned to the line about how rude and insensitive I am. I'm not out of line am I? He made me feel like a prisoner in my own home last time. My husband and I had a good talk about it and he said he's on my side but I know the minute my FIL arrives he'll back down and have no backbone to stand up for himself or me. My husband absolutely can't take off of work (he tried). Is it wrong of me to suck it up and pay for a hotel room for my FIL and not give him an option? I'm tempted to say I have a business trip and spend the 5 days relaxing in a hotel room, with a pool and let my husband deal with it.

I do feel like your husband dropped the ball here. He had to take the dog out? Seriously?

He is either going to support you in this or he's not, but I feel like the answer to that is the crucial piece here of what your plan should be. Is he willing to be a team? Or is he really going to make you go this alone?

In answer to your question, no, it is most certainly not "wrong" of you to establish the fact that he was never invited to your home in the first place, due in part to behavior that he has already been given the chance to correct, and that if he wants to come and visit, he needs to stay in a hotel. Nor would it be "wrong" for you to extract your own self from the situation and get to know your own hotel pool really well.

I've come to realize I am resistant to connecting with people/creating deep friendships because I'm worried about being "too much" for someone to handle, especially when I am most in need (there's a long history here of family/friends emotionally "ditching" me when I reached out for support). I want to try and reconnect/connect better with past and current friends — but I'm fearing rejection. Should I just tell these friends "Hey, sorry I've been so distant for basically ever. I don't trust people but am trying to do better"? I'm so conditioned to fear coming off as "crazy"...

I like the way you put it. I think that is a perfectly acceptable way of putting it. Be empathetic about what their reactions are to your having been distant, but also know that we all have our own stuff, and you have been bruised in the past, so it's understandable that this is a hot button for you.

Then, learn to label that Fear of Abandonment voice as an unreliable narrator (at least, as long as the friends that ditched you before are not the same ones you're talking about now.) Acknowledge it, breathe through it, and nudge yourself to see if you can prove it wrong.

You can even reframe the whole idea of rejection as something that tells you even more about the other person than it does about you. If someone is prone to abandoning you when you are most in need, then it isn't that useful information that you would want to have? Part of this whole process is learning about someone in order to get closer — or not. And when things go south, it doesn't necessarily mean that you had a misstep, but rather that people are revealing parts of themselves that make them a bad match for you.

Of course, I don't know the deeper history here, about just what your past friendships have looked like and what the various definitions and perceptions of "too much" are. But it all boils down to this — you can continue to wall yourself off and never try, or you can take some risk — and open yourself up to the payoff. 

[Last week's question] I'm actually quite content with my life — or at least I would be if not for assorted professionals over the years telling me I ought to do "more." With my most recent therapist (whom I initially saw for grief counseling after feeling overwhelmed following the deaths of people close to me), we got to a "what's next" moment once I got to a better place with the grief. My response was that I'd really just love to take it easy on myself and enjoy the little things in life for a few years, to which I got a hard "NO, it doesn't work that way" and the feedback that I wasn't being goal-oriented, was in denial about how much more I could achieve if I truly applied myself, etc. Maybe it's just a product of being in the DC area, where we have so many Type-A, goal-oriented people?

Honestly, this is appalling.

I've been a DC-area therapist for two decades now (minus one gloriously bizarre year in South Beach) and honestly I cannot fathom that there are therapists out there whose response to your insight about wanting to take some time to enjoy the little things is "That's unacceptable." I mean, what in the world? Especially because you were coming off of grief and loss!

I really don't even know what to say here. I don't like to condemn other therapy situations without hearing both sides of the story and I know that there can be all kinds of nuance about how things are interpreted, but my two cents is: that was total bollocks!

I'm not saying goals aren't important, but it does sound likely that that therapist was seeing things through a lens that simply did not make sense for you. (And it's hard for me to imagine how it would make sense for anyone.)

I am 50, have a career, married, 2 kids, etc. Kids are both in middle school and the 6th grader has depression and anxiety, which is hard for him, but also for me. He's in therapy and I think we do a good job supporting and listening to him. This life has me often exhausted. I do self-care, lost a good amount of "baby weight" this year on WW, and eat well, but did I mention exhausted? Here's my question/confession: I don't often go for the gold at work. I do a good enough job, but I could be making more money, work more, go for the next step in my career. But, the whole thought makes me tired. I was raised to do my best etc., etc., but now I just want to do "pretty good" and try to gather myself for dealing with these big emotions and big schedules of the kids. Husband does his part, no complaints there. I am just tired of the guilt of not achieving more myself or making more moolah. Is there even a question here? sigh ... I do love this chat, so thank you!

Please, please, please don't ever go to the Overachieving-Yardstick therapist that that other chatter had!

Doing "pretty good" is sometimes better than going for the gold, honestly. People who burn themselves out with someone else's expectations often end up on my couch. You need to be able to learn to listen to your own voice, the one that says that right now "pretty good" is pretty damn optimal. It's working for you. Making more moolah might improve the quality of your coffeemaker or the freshness of your house's paint, but — are you willing to let yourself prioritize what YOU want?

Taking care of children — especially adolescents with emotional struggles — is back-breaking, mind-wringing work, even on a good day. Can you give yourself credit for how important that is?

Do you/other chatters have a script or advice for how to discuss your anxieties around your relationship with your SO? My BF and I have been dating since December, and things are going great. However, I noticed recently that I feel like we're talking to each other less, even as we spend more time together. Most of me thinks this is a good thing, that we are comfortable with each other so we don't have to fill every silence. And for me there are very few people that I prefer to be around than by myself if we aren't actively doing anything. I know it's mostly likely just my anxiety issues talking, but how would you recommend checking in with him that he's still happy and getting what he wants from our relationship as well? (I know this is probably laughably basic, but this is my first real relationship so I have "training wheel" moments)

This isn't "laughingly basic" (can I name my next band that?) at all! It's great that you're asking it, and it's a classic conundrum.

It's about vulnerability, really. Letting your partner in to some of your deeper/messier/more anxiety-provoking thoughts. Ultimately, that's what true emotional intimacy relies on, so this can be a very positive step. But it feels risky because it's scary to put yourself and your feelings on the line there.

So, you say it in your own voice! That's part of it. (As much as I love giving script advice, I think in this particular case part of the whole point is that you open up to putting things in your own words.) The general gist should be just as you said it here. "I'm happy. It seems you're happy too. Sometimes I get nervous that you're not happy since we're settling in to a more day-to-day relationship where we're in silence more. It's hard for me to bring this up but I just want to check in and I know communication is important. I'm learning as I go here."

PSA - I don't know if you were nine or ten, but in your tenth year - you are nine. Just like after you are born you're in your first year (and maybe six months old). Thanks for letting me go off on one of my favorite pet peeves and you sound awesome.

Hahah!

I thought I was the only person who skews anal about this.  I even found a way to put it into my previous book (before Detox.)

Once you start noticing this mistake, it's everywhere. But we will officially assume that OP is not an offender!

I think we need more information. I don't understand what part of the weeks with grandma LW is objecting too. The kids must have every week of summer filled with camp and structured activities? The kids would (presumably) get the same grandparent-bonding time in the burbs as in the country. And that seems like the most important part, not whether the kids are running through the woods vs. drawing with sidewalk chalk. It has a hint of LW just not wanting the kids to go to grandma's. Is this because LW doesn't like her MIL?

Thanks. As with most letters in the print column, a lot had to be cut, unfortunately. I didn't get the vibe there was any dislike there, just a worry that Grandma tends more toward the air-conditioned-consumerist fun side of things and LW doesn't. I am guessing also, reading between the lines, that "summer in the countryside" has more of an active lure to it that made sense for kids to stay for weeks at a time, whereas if it is summer in the burbs it feels like less of a destination in and of itself, and maybe more like she was unduly dumping her kids on Grandma without good reason to? I'm just speculating, though — LW, are you out there?

Not quite clear on whether this has already started happening? Have the kids already spent weeks at a time with Mall Grandma? Just asking because that could make it harder to break the cycle. I totally agree with the LW; my summers with grandparents were on a farm or in a village in the country where we ran wild and ate berries and fed the chickens and went to the butter-and-egg lady with Grandma. Shopping and restaurants would have bored me stiff at that age.

I think the headline jumped the gun a little — in my understanding of the full letter, the Camp Grandma Summers had not yet begun, but Grandma was talking about them as an expectation.

Thanks for this personal insight, too, which I think is an important counterpoint to some of the others!

So you're saying that there are at least SOME doodles of your dog in the book??? (Animal lover here)

Hahah! I wish. Though there was definitely plenty of dog hair on my computer as I was writing it, if that counts!

Hi Dr Bonior: I (F, 40) am foreign-born, and my parents are still across the pond. I am their only child, and my kids are their only grandkids. I excitedly shared my U.S. life successes with my parents through visits, Skype calls etc, but our relationship soured for years, until two years ago we had a big fight and reduced communications to "happy birthday's." The core of the problem is my mother's relentless negativity, criticisms of me and lack of respect for my decisions as a parent, as a homeowner, as a professional etc. She sees herself as a matriarch whose opinion is always The Only Correct One and must be heeded. She also has a touch of narcissism, so when I try to discuss this, she gets offended and then it's all about her hurt feelings and my being a disrespectful daughter. It took me years of living thousands of miles away, months of counseling and an extremely supportive husband and in-laws to recognize the problems and to be able to express my wants and needs. I am still on anti-depressants stemming from dealing with this situation. Mom has not visited in 3 years. Last year she asked to accompany my daughter and me on a college tour. I told her I am happy to have her, if she can keep her mouth shut and not interfere with my daughter's decision-making. She then said she wasn't coming, and on other occasions she explicitly said that she was not interested in changing her behavior. Now she is asking to visit again — the kids are growing, she is getting older, traveling is getting harder. I sympathize. She clearly misses the kids, but since she has not been willing to accept my boundary of "my house, my rules," how can I proceed with this possible visit? How can I set expectations, if she gets offended at them and never acknowledges that anything was wrong in the past? Should I just continue saying no and is this a non-starter? How do I make the decision of whether to allow her to come here? (My father is very aloof and decoupled. I get along with him better, but he can be neither helpful nor involved in this discussion.)

I think in this case, it's been long enough that one could make the argument (if one WANTED to), that a fresh chance could be reasonable. You want to strike that sweet spot between keeping your sanity with appropriate boundaries versus not giving her any chance to actually show that she is willing to heed what you've said. (Sometimes people are too proud to actually TALK about the fact that they know they need to change their behavior — especially if they fall into the narcissism side of things — but they also get the picture that they need to make changes or else, so they do make the changes. We can keep our fingers crossed that that is the case.)

You can try to set expectations accordingly, with an extra helping of respect and love thrown in. "Mom, I know how long it's been since we spent real time together, and I know some of the difficulties we've had in the past. This trip means a lot to me, though, and I hope we can both really try our hardest to respect and be supportive of each other so that we can be on the right path."

Has your friend had a routine medical check-up lately? Could this be signs of early-onset dementia?

Oh, good point. It did sound a little strange.

Texting seems to me to call for a quick response, while e-mailing, to me, is like writing a letter: I can ponder an answer and write a longer response after waiting a few days.

True.

And probably why email is quickly becoming seen as the "old fogey" way of communicating, sadly.

I’ve been told that my mother-in-law has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. This makes her playing favorites with her sons and outbursts more understandable, if not less hurtful. She recently started an argument between the two sons. She said one son was talking about the other in a negative way, but it wasn’t really true. Are there any recommended resources for dealing with family members with this diagnosis? She makes me furious sometimes, but I’m not sure what reasonable expectations should be for her. Thanks!

It's tough, no doubt. I am sorry. Part of what you will need to acknowledge, though, is your own limits in the situation. It's not up to you to save your brothers-in-law, for instance. But it is up to you to establish your own boundaries about civil and respectful and non-undercutting behavior, even if some of the things that cause that behavior are mental health issues.

The book "Stop Walking on Eggshells" comes to mind. Chatters?

Well, you could also climb Mount Everest in your spare time, but what would be the point? Please try to focus on the fact that you're there for your child (I had a nervous breakdown at the age of 11 and the understanding and support of my parents was a godsend) and that you are succeeding at Life.

Thank you for this. So true.

There is NO END to what one "could" be achieving. Where does it stop? Who needs sleep when they can be doing X, Y, Z, for instance? Who needs quality relationships when they could be conquering the stock market in their spare time?

In my late 30's I was the single parent of a teen-ager who "lost his mind" when he turned 16, working full time and going to school part time but taking full load of classes each semester. I decided that I couldn't be great at everything and only did enough to get by at school. For me this was a B and sometimes a C but something had to give. I decided that it could be my family or work but I could just do OK in school and It worked. So pretty good is fantastic!

Your last line says it all. Thank you — and bravo!

Hi! A few years ago I caught my ex cheating on me with a coworker of his. At the time, there were no obvious signs of trouble in our marriage, but looking back, there were plenty of red flags. We got divorced and, while it took a while, I have moved on to a much healthier and functional relationship. I recently made the mistake of doing some online sleuthing and found that my ex is still with the girl he cheated on me with and they're living this lifestyle he had always talked about wanting with me, but never did anything to achieve (he blamed money, but that wasn't a problem). Seeing him live this life with a person who helped blow up my life — and doing so with seemingly no consequences — has really thrown me for a loop and I feel it affecting my current relationship — both physically and emotionally. I've been very honest with my boyfriend about what happened in my marriage, but I haven't shared the sleuthing part because I know it would hurt him. That's the last thing I want, especially since it feels so selfish for me to have been creeping in the first place. I don't want my old life back on any level — I love who I am and who I'm with — so why am I so bothered by this?

I can understand it would be hurtful for your partner to hear that you were sleuthing an ex, but I also think that keeping something from him that is significantly affecting your emotional state can do damage in its own right. What's to keep that from incrementally adding to a wall between you? Who's to say that even if he were hurt that it wouldn't help him understand the real you better to actually know what is going on?

So, I would consider being honest. Or honest-ish. You don't have to show him a time sheet of your google or social media searches. But you can say that you heard that he is still with the person who blew up your life and that they are supposedly (though we all know that looks online can be totally deceiving) living the high life and that it stung and brought up some anger. You can reiterate that you don't want your old life back on any level, and you can emphasize how much you loved him. But it was the reopening of an old wound. I do think that that could actually help you feel better, especially if you use it to gain insight into why you may have been poking around int he first place, and how you may better withstand that urge in the future.

What do you think?

"...and most of his coed group of friends from college are married. This is to say they are not emotionally distant frat boys (stereotype I know). Most live in the next major city an hour away."

So you only expect women to have an interest in or be involved with your child's first birthday party? I think it's rude to not RSVP promptly, but people who do not have kids are unlikely to come to a baby's birthday party. What does your husband do to stay in touch with THEM? Is he supporting them through their trials? Does he even know what's going on in their lives? I think you are getting WAY too involved in his friendships and should let him deal with them as he wishes.

I can see this side, but I do think at some point if this is Husband's Main Group of Peeps, it's unfair to assume that their actions (or inaction) shouldn't affect OP personally. I'd say the same thing about in-laws.

I agree that it's worth looking at their perspective in terms of whether it's possible that they feel like Husband has dropped the ball as well.

I don't want to make too much out of the gender thing. I think OP was preemptively explaining that gender was NOT an issue — trying to prohibit me from making the assumption that Women's Friend Circles automatically act differently than Men's Friend Circles, for instance. (And realistically it is true that there are some broad-brush, general differences.) 

Part of me wonders if there's also a gendered response going on here. It might be more apparent to friends on the wife's side what she needs (relaxation time, "Let me hold the kid while you eat," and other kind of straightforward assistance), whereas the husband's friends might not be so quick to adapt to his "dad" needs. This isn't to excuse their bad behavior, but rather to suggest that maybe part of the problem is that they're intimidated, unaware, or not mindreaders.

It's true. Even in a group of mixed-gender friends, there may be different assumptions that are made about what a Dad needs compared to what a Mom needs. Thanks. And I agree — the more they can communicate respectfully, the less they'll be felled by the whole "You Weren't A Mind-Reader" death blow that has killed many a relationship.

Two of my granddaughters, who are now 26 and 23, spent a week or so with me — 250 miles distant — every summer for about 15 years. There were times they did not want to come, but, to be honest, my daughter desperately needed the break. Now, as adults, the girls entertain me with their memories of those summers. To hear them tell it, our visits were the major highlight of their summers, to say nothing of the lifelong bond that the visits generated. It was only a week each summer, but it was also everything!

I love it!

It did seem like LW may be willing to consider a week — sounds much more manageable than a larger chunk of the summer. Thanks!

My kid used to go to camp Grandma, and I would have never dreamed of discussing an agenda with my mom. Her house, her rules and activities. 24-7 mall time won't kill anyone for 2-3 weeks (but who does that, in reality?). But you know what's great? Getting a break from parenting and letting your kids figure out what they do and don't like on their own. Seriously, running back and forth to camp every week of the summer gets exhausting, for parents and kids alike. Downtime is valuable too. Camp fills time, but grandmas are special.

Very true.

Families do come in all different styles, though. And I wouldn't judge anyone who didn't necessarily want their kids spending 2-3 weeks apart from them every summer, no matter what the experience.

My mom, sister and I take my now 8yo nephew for 4-6 weeks over the summers, going on 4-5 years now? We are near a small city but we go to the parks, the science centers, the museums and all those good things. And every other free minute is in the pool at grandma's apartments. He LOVES it!

Urban Grandma! I love it too!

Things have changed with kids using technology all the time etc., but when I was 13, I stayed at my grandparents country house for the summer. While we did most things outside (yard work and swimming at the lake), one of my all time favorite memories when he invited me into the den and we watched the Godfather together. Wasn't really about the movie (but a great one!) it was sharing something with my grandfather. Every soccer/baseball/swimming/STEM camp can take a hike to that memory.

Love it!

Yup, it seems the Grandparent Relationship is the thing to prioritize here, no matter what the setting. And I am hopeful that LW wants to do that as well, so they'll find a way.

A colleague at work who has been having trouble at home and work jokingly said, "It's a good thing the Golden Gate Bridge is so far away." Do I take this as joke? Do I take this as a call for help?

I think you give yourself permission to follow up more. It certainly could be either, or anything in between.

Pick a private time to run it by them. "You know, I've been thinking about what you said, that comment about the bridge. I'm not sure what you meant by it, and maybe it was nothing, but I did want to follow up. Are you having thoughts like that? I know there's a stigma about asking for help or talking about suicidal feelings and more people need to talk about this stuff. And if you are, I'd really want to help you get connected to help. I wouldn't want to be left in the dark if you were hurting in that way."

I'm 35 but I feel the same way. Everyone in my life (except for my wife) is telling me to move up in my career, which would require more travel and longer hours. I've delayed pursuing these opportunities because I'm positively wiped out from life. In return friends/family chastise me about not making as much money as possible. I wonder if these people realize they're going to die one day.

Who are these friends and family chastising you about your income?

I may be really naive here, but the fact that so many of you seem to have these folks henpecking you about whether you are living up to THEIR version of "goals" makes me really sad.

I am very glad your wife is not among them.

I think you just described every working person with kids, job and spouse/partner. I know I feel that way pretty frequently - either I’m not giving 100% at the job. Or not giving/getting 100% at home. Or letting friends down. Or something else. Nobody can do it perfectly all the time on every front. Even the people you think look like they must be doing that. They aren’t. They are human. You are too. Give yourself permission to find balance at different times and at different points.

Yes.

I think the danger in this whole shebang is comparing how one feels internally with what everyone else is presenting externally. God knows it's even more tempting to do that in the age of social media. But it's not a valid comparison at all, and unfortunately, it usually brings people down when they're the one doing the comparison.

I don't mean to pile on, but I think it's worth reassessing (possibly with a skilled therapist) what you mean by being "ditched" by friends and family. Did you ask for basic support and they weren't supportive? Did you ask for specifics that they didn't deliver or actively undermined? Did you seek support from the friend that is affectionately known as the "flakey" one and maybe can't meet your needs? Did you ask too much of them, outsourcing too much of your burden onto them? When you're suffering, it's hard to keep perspective, but remember that these are fellow humans who are the stars in their own shows too. You deserve support, but they deserve their realities too.

This is a really insightful bigger picture question, and worth considering. Thanks!

Andrea has the friends side covered beautiful but I wonder ... Is there something here for you to think about? This history makes me wonder. I've had to break up with a couple of friends who were intense in their needs. I'm someone who nurtures my friendships —they're very important to me. I'm also very good at setting boundaries and I got shouted at by one friend, who always had a 'crisis of the day' because after telling her I only had ten minutes, I prepared to put the phone down after said ten minutes. Her constant need for hours of my time to parse something was emotionally draining and above my pay grade as a friend. There's also the possibility that you don't reciprocate when the friend is in need. I am reaching here, you might not be like that at all — but that line made me wonder. This whole situation sounds like something to take to a therapist to unpack.

You and the other chatter saw this and addressed it in a way I didn't. Well put. Thank you!

I don't understand why parents think that their group of non-parent adult friends would want to come, and I think it's setting a gift-grab precedent. Have a few relatives over for cake if you want, but I've been roped into too many of these "Oh, we'll just have a party for the whole neighborhood for my baby's birthday" that ends up lasting for years.

But I think that's just the point — this was the opposite of the "whole neighborhood" party. They were inviting people that they considered to have a pseudo-sibling relationship with.

A couple of things struck me about this question. Has your husband reached out to these friends in the past year to see how they are doing? I think it's reasonable to expect them to check in on him during the new parent phase, but is he doing the same during whatever phase of life they are going through? The question struck me as ... entitled, myopic, not sure of the adjective ... in presuming that friends an hour away will shower you with support during the first year of parenting and without mention of how she and her husband have been friends in return to these people and shown them support.

Yup, you weren't the only one. It is worth flipping the tables and imagining their perspective. I got the feeling that OP had a particularly hard year — maybe even beyond the run-of-the-mill emotional chaos of a newborn — and that maybe there was the expectation that friends should have taken that and run with it more? But as you bring up, we have yet to hear what kind of stuff is going on in friends' lives, too, to be fair.

No offense, but I would not drive an hour for a 1 year old's birthday either.

But wouldn't that just make you RSVP no, rather than ghost on the day itself?

Therapy for the sons would be helpful too, because patterns learned at home can be unconsciously repeated. One of my sisters had a MIL like this and the damage done to her children and grandchildren was lasting.

Worth thinking about for sure. Thanks.

I mean, not everything is a crisis. I took it as more that this friend just might not value their friendship as much. I have friends I see 6 times a year and, yes, I forget that their grandfather passed away. It's probably somewhere in the back of my mind but we're not always the center of someone's attention even if we think we are ...

Understood.

I think this friend is seen much more often, though. Am I remembering right that it was a workplace relationship as well? (We've had a lot of friendship questions today!)

Maybe your friend is on the spetrum. Or just awkward? It sounds like she's trying to connect but may not know how.

Yeah, I'm not sure. Trying to connect over and over but not actually absorbing any of the things that OP has said that would make a connection. It's like constantly revving the engine and not actually driving the car.

My friend and I are in our early 20s, so I doubt early-onset dementia is the case here. It really is strange. I just really can't tell if she's repeating questions every week because she can't think of new conversation topics or just plain doesn't care about anything I have to say.

Thanks for this update.

It certainly isn't out of the question to ask her. "I notice you've asked that a few times.... " and just see what she says. The tone would matter immensely here, and it'd be awkward to just let that comment lie, but if you did it in a "curious," respectful way, it could be telling to see what she does with it and whether she has insight into it.

I'd wait until the person says something of a similar tone again. Pursuing a one-off venting could cause more trouble than it heals.

I don't agree.

How exactly could it cause more trouble? It is ALWAYS better to bring up concerns about suicide directly compared to not saying anything. The myth that you can "put the idea in someone's head" is just that. A myth. And it leads to too many people staying quiet.

Suicide contagion is very different — and that involves glamorizing the idea of suicide, making it seem positive — and it's a real risk. But that's the opposite of what you are doing if you express concern.

Is there an APA department that you could report this to? I don't mean like filing a complaint such as one would do for sexual harassment, but give the local authority feedback about such inappropriate "advice." In the meantime, drop this crazy therapist and find another one.

I got the feeling it was many years ago, and again I don't want to pretend to know the totally full picture, but it was less than ideal therapeutic behavior, for sure.

My sister is borderline and it's very challenging. OP, I sympathize and empathize. My suggestion is that you and two sons consider family therapy and develop strategies to cope and support each other. People with borderline are can be extremely manipulative and vicious (through no real fault of their own - it's part of the disease) so having a family "plan" for dealing with your MIL can be helpful. Also consider support groups. If a borderline or narcissist support group isn't available, consider something like Al-Anon. In my experience, there is a lot of behavioral overlap between addiction and BPD. Also remember: nothing your MIL says or does is a true reflection of you as a person.

Really helpful advice. Much appreciated.

The kids will come home spoiled brats. Ask me how I know this. Now if Grandma is willing to not do 24/7 mall time, that's another matter altogether.

Uh-oh.  My condolences if you've seen a little too much Orange Julius in your time!

Thankfully, I don't think we can assume that Grandma would be all about the mall with grandkid, even if she may be when she's left to her own devices. Communication, as I am prone to blathering on about at least seventeen times per chat, is key.

I have to disagree with this. 24/7 mall time is not good for ANYone.

I am guessing it was kind of a broad-brush point about a blip of time being just that, but thankfully I don't think Grandma necessarily has that in mind anyway.

I replied to the OP in today's column. DH and I started GP's Camp 12 years ago. My grands are now 12, 14 and 18. But, we started with the two older ones and add the third once she was past naps, and had great times. We had a plan for each of 5 weekdays, and I still have the itineraries for the years we did this. We are now 72 and 82, so we don't have the stamina for more than a couple of days with the two granddaughters over the last 3 years, but we have wonderful memories, and I would recommend to grandparents to do a "camp" for their grands if energy and circumstances permit.

So many wonderful memories of time with grandparents in today's chat. I am so glad it worked for you and your grandkids!

I just want to than you and all who weighed in with words of advice and understanding about moving my parents. Re-reading my question, I did see how demanding I sounded about what they need to do. The good news is they're coming around now on their own, and realizing this is a good thing, with gentle encouragement from me and my brother, and also more listening on our part. It's just so hard, this shifting of family roles. And inevitable, as so many others made clear. Also, I want to send my sympathies to the person who's father committed suicide rather than leave his home. That's heartbreaking. I hope his family has found some peace.

Thank you for this kind note and update.

I am really glad that they are beginning to come around to it on their own. That is truly the best-case scenario!

You do have a lot on your plate right now, but as someone who is single, childfree, and lives far from my family, my friends are my local lifeline and I would be beyond sad and hurt if one of my close friends just dropped out of my life because they were "too busy" with other things. OK, you're super busy now, so figure out who you still want to have stuck around when you get done with classes and maybe aren't chasing around a toddler. Who would be there for you if something happened to your spouse or in the event of divorce? Make sure that you don't lose the really important people in your life just because you feel overwhelmed right now. Put a reminder in your phone for once a day and just answer the texts of the people who are important but that you maybe don't have bandwidth for right now.

I do think it's hard to be black-and-white here. She certainly shouldn't just drop off the planet, especially if her friends were struggling. But I didn't hear much about their struggling, it just seemed more like a different style of friendship communication, maybe one that she just isn't suited for. Some friends text each other 37 times a day just to talk about their new moisturizer or the fact that their new boss looks like Alan Alda. And that's okay but only if it works for both parties.

Everything Andrea said — and also. Set aside times to check texts / email and respond. This should not be your most creative times. Put your phone on do not disturb so that if your phone goes off it's likely something you should attend to — like your child. Take email off your phone. Be present for the half hour or whatever to respond. Tell people you'd doing this so they're not surprised. They will know that if it's essential they'll call. Those that call anyway - well friend audit ... 

This could be an option. Thanks!

DEFINITELY tell your husband and FIL you have a business trip. Your husband has managed to not have to deal with any consequences of his dad's visit. He may grow a spine if it all falls on him for a change. And if FIL extends his visit, your business trip should be extended.

I will admit I am disappointed by husband's behavior here.

Here's hoping the spinal regeneration will occur at some point. Thanks.

Go on that "business trip" and relax at that pool! I understand your husband may be extremely conflict avoidant but at this point he is blatantly disregarding your preferences and your mental health. Tell him you hope he and your FIL have a wonderful time together!

That seems to be the sentiment!

OP here. To provide context, the "history of ditching" surrounds a sexual assault that was disbelieved by both family and friends. In retrospect, some people just couldn't handle the magnitude of my situation. Chatters provided excellent perspective and don't worry, I have a therapist. But not sure how to explain to friends (both new and old) why I'm so fearful without coming off as needy and crazy.

Got it. Thank you for the update.

I am so terribly sorry that happened to you.

My original advice stands — nudge yourself to take the risk of seeing whether these friends are a good fit for you. Closing yourself off to that leaves so much possibility on the table.

If I vented that to someone in a state of mere exasperation, then they followed up the way you described, I'd be really ticked off at them for butting in. Of course, I'm not suicidal.

True. And that's my point. Better to have a false positive than a false negative in this case, by far.

(And I'd argue that most people wouldn't be as ticked off as you may be.)

Hi. Single mom of a 21-month old here. That mentality is kind of sad to me, actually. I have a few really lovely non-parent adult friends who were thrilled to come celebrate bambino's first birthday with me (mostly because it meant we were both still alive). Good friends are good friends, and give care and attention to people they care about even if their lives are different.

I lean toward this, for sure. If a person who is important to me has a milestone important to them, then it's not a totally unimportant milestone to me. The Mathematical Law of Transference of Importance, Milestone Subtype!

Manic laugh - I'm guessing you don't live in the D.C. area. An hour drive here for just about anything is run of the mill.

I drive an hour to get to my mailbox!

I would call it a gender thing and I don't care if this is generalizing. Women are more inclined to call themselves "honorary aunts." Men don't usually think of themselves as honorary uncles.

Could be.

But to be clear, OP's Husband's friends included women as well.

Yes, I was exaggerating because I doubt this is really what Grandma has in mind. Like I also said (roughly) — "who really does this?" I personally hate the mall with a passionate hate. But I wouldn't actually DIE if I had to be there for a few weeks.

This sounds like the premise of the next hit reality show.

That flew, as always. Thanks so much for being here! (Even if some of you made it unbearably clear that you would not accept my invitation for Buster's birthday party if it was offered.) 

I wish you a relaxing long weekend (if you get one!) and a Happy Fourth of July (if you celebrate it.) I'll look so forward to seeing you next week, same time. In the meantime, I'll be on Instagram and poking around the comments.

Take good care!

 

In This Chat
Dr. Andrea Bonior
Dr. Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and the voice behind Baggage Check since its start in 2005. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University and is the author of the Publisher's Weekly best-seller "Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World" and "The Friendship Fix.”
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