1. You do not have my permission to ruin my day.
2. No matter how juicy it might be, I will not join you in gossip.
3. Sloppy manners do nothing positive for our relationship.
4. If you want to be insulting you will have to choose a willing victim.
5. Is there anything that might have pleased you today? I’d rather hear about that.
6. Please keep your complaints to yourself, or share them directly with people empowered to assist you.
7. I am sorry you are upset. I will remind you it has nothing to do with me. Your emotional well-being and your attitudes are completely up to you.
8. How do you find it possible to be so negative when such beauty surrounds you?
9. Could you please avoid swearing and cussing when I am around you? I’d rather not be exposed to your gutter-talk.
10. Are you aware that blame and resentment are the fruit of anger and unresolved issues? I’d suggest you talk with someone who can be of help to you.
1. You do not have my permission to ruin my day.
“My stepmother is nicer to me and to my children than is my biological mother. My dad married her when I was a teenager and I resisted her being in our family. My father told me that I’d better get used to it and that I’d better do all I could to get along with the new arrangement. I still kicked against it for a while but things settled down and we ‘found’ each other. Now my problem is I find her easier to relate to than my own mother! While I do not detect any jealousy or bad feelings, it is a little uncomfortable for my family when my children enjoy my stepmother a little more than they do my own mother. My mother is not a problem; she is simply less people and family-orientated. What do you think?” (Lifted, with permission, from face-to-face conversation)
Sounds like a “normal family stuff” to me. You (understandably) resisted. Someone (your father) stood up to you. The whole family apparently learned a lot. Essentially, you gained from the strong messages received from your father – and, as a result, you grew up. You are probably more aware than most people seem to be of how long it can take for a family to adjust and grow and learn to love. Drop the “step” label. It seems to serve no purpose, and I’d give up using it completely. Of course, I appreciate you needed the label to relay your story to me, but you probably don’t need it in daily living. It is an unnecessary term which is quite loaded with negativity for many people.
“My husband is 16 years older, and his daughter is 12 years younger, than me. She is 22. She told her father she doesn’t feel part of this family and gets hurt every time she sees me. I’m kind to her but she takes ‘shots’ at me, which I have mistakenly shrugged it off. I don’t confront well. I’m hurt that she always finds fault with me. I have to bite my tongue around her, which isn’t working. When she visits I put on my ‘parenting hat’ and listen to how she feels but I really want to blow up at her for walking all over me. It’s my fault for not setting boundaries. She’s bright, immature, narcissistic, beautiful, funny, and emotional. I love her, and am unsure of my role and how to do myself with her. I don’t want to hurt her or be hurt by her.” (Shortened)
This young woman appears to have too much power over you. Remove and discard your “parenting hat.” She’s a fellow adult who is not behaving very well while a guest in your home. Until you challenge her, and until she learns to stand up to you (as opposed to manipulate you) neither of you will realize the full joy and potential of being in each other’s lives.
My son (19), although he does work, gets a lot of money from his grandparents on his father’s side. Although we are divorced, and it his father’s parents, I still feel some responsibility and that my son should not do this. They can’t seem to say no to him and I just heard he ran up his grandmother’s mobile phone account to an astronomical amount. I recently got an indirect message from my husband that my interference was not appreciated. Please advise. (Letter edited)
If I were in your shoes, I too would feel overwhelmed with the sense that your son is being inappropriate. I would find myself wishing my former in-laws felt more empowered to refuse to give my son money, and I would most certainly desire he did not ask for it.
But, we are dealing with autonomous adults. Your son and his grandparents are free to engage in whatever dance they wish to enjoy. At some point, and probably without your help, someone in the mix is going to begin to insist on a change in behavior, and it is likely to happen without your having to interfere.
“A family member has utilized emails to catastrophic ends in our whole family. In particular he aimed them at a person who has repeatedly saved him in financial difficulties. Added, he has a destructive relationship with his son. The son left home and cannot see his way clear to reuniting with his father. Any conversation result in lengthy emails about out how badly the son has behaved. Why does he use emails as his method of communication? He criticizes and abuses and ends the email on a loving note assuring his love despite the wrongs he is blaming others for. When a reply is sent he cleverly twists and changes the meaning. It’s almost as if the emails fulfill a need for him. Our decision to delete all further emails has now been made. I put an instant stop to it not wanting to enter into his mind-control emails.“
Destructive hobbies are hardly a new phenomenon. Irrational behavior escapes rational explanation. Don’t even try to understand it. As you have already done, encourage other family members to delete all of his emails without opening them. Declare the family will only engage in face-to-face communication, in the presence of several people, when this relative declares he has something to say.
1. If you feed it, it will grow!
2. You cannot reason (successfully) with unreasonable people (yet reasonable people try to do it all the time!).
My spouse has “checked out” of our marriage. What can I do? (Prevailing theme of three letters received in the past 24 hours)
1. Relax. While it might seem impossible, the first thing to do is live a “relaxed life.” Don’t go off in a flat spin of activity. Do not presume the breakdown is about anything you are doing or are not doing. Assuming blame will send you on a wild goose chase and you will only end up more exhausted than you probably already are.
2. Hold your tongue. It is in the early or the “desperate” phase, when it seems as if a relationship is failing, that impossible promises are made and many hurtful things are said.
3. Get some distance. Try to see “the whole” rather than spend your energies focusing only on what is painful. Acquiring some distance or gaining a new perspective might only be possible once you have vented everything you are thinking and feeling to a close and trusted friend. Do not be afraid to do this. A good friend will be willing to hear you out.
Of course there is so much more to say, but a good place to begin is with SLOWING down so you have time to THINK! Hurrying to “put things right” or to re-vitalize your relationship will prove to be most counter-productive in the long term.
“Please tell me why my husband can’t talk to his parents even about the most little things like saying happy birthday to them or inviting them over for a meal. I have to do it all. I make all the plans for everything and he just fits in. I am so tired of being the center of all the plans for everyone and when things go wrong I am blamed when someone in the family could help. We have been married almost 20 years.” (Letter shortened)
I cannot tell you why your husband is the way he is, and I doubt it would be something he himself could articulate, even if he himself did know. In the unlikely event you did reach a convincing diagnosis about why he is the way he is I am not sure you’d have anything useful or helpful. [Gaining understanding or insight does not necessarily lead to change in behavior.]
What I do know is that while your husband has a spokesperson in his wife (and life) there is little reason for him to see the need to have a voice of his own. People tend to fall into roles that most suit them, and I doubt very much that you’d find it very easy if your husband did begin to direct the family traffic.
When one writes an advice column it would be easy for readers to be under the illusion that I am on top of things. Of course this is not true. It would be no surprise to you (if you have lived a year or two!) to know that my life is often as much in disarray as yours probably is.
Today I feel scattered. Anxious. My one son (6) is not well. On top of that, I feel terrible for forgetting that he was the scheduled “star student” in his class at school yesterday. My son arrived at school without a poster reflecting his life and interests, or snacks for his class when all the other children, on their “star student of the day,” come to school with designer posters and personal caterers in tow! (I exaggerate, of course.)
Nathanael arrived at school with nothing because I didn’t read something he brought home. This gets to me. It really does. He wandered through to me in the middle of last night, and before I sent him back to bed, I hugged him again and I apologized for the tenth time about forgetting his big day. As sleepy as he was he voiced again his forgiveness. Thank God children are so resilient.
You have frequently written that live-in boyfriends or girlfriends or even step-parents, ought to avoid disciplining the children of a significant other. I have never really believed you as it seems counter-cultural to think that one adult be left with the load of guiding and disciplining children when there is another in the house who may be able to help. Please clarify. (Question “lifted” from tone of a longer letter).
When an adult moves in with a mother or father who is already parenting children, and begins to exercise authority, while this might be a welcome relief and a great help to all involved, it is a disturbance (small or large) of a deeper and more fundamental invisible loyalty.
Someone in the original relationship will begin to resist the intrusion even if the intrusion is helpful and benign. This is one of many reasons even good and kind stepparents are often rejected.
[Of course, this is not the “whole truth” or even meant to suggest there are not many factors and variables that influence such relationships — it is merely one, partial view.]
For three years my son (12) and I have been alone. Now his dad wants to start weekend visits again. He is a very nice man even though he has been unreliable in the past. This new thing about visiting comes because now my son is getting older. I don’t want him to let my son down and it just seems like we are in a pattern that he will now start to disrupt after all these years. My son is very excited to know his father wants to see him again. Please help. (Letter revised)
I suggest you support any attempt the father makes to be with his son. Be a consistent listening ear to your boy and help him to navigate his relationship with his father. If the dad becomes unreliable, then your son will quickly learn this about his father – and your son will learn to trust and love his father while keeping this in mind. No one is perfect, and your son will benefit from knowing his father despite his father’s imperfections.