minoanmiss: (Default)
[personal profile] minoanmiss
Dear Carolyn: In my childhood, criticism from my parents was the constant theme. My grades were never good enough, my room was never clean enough, whatever. As a result, I feel little to no affection for my parents now that I’m an adult, and I don’t spend much time with them or talk to them much. I just don’t like them very much.

However, some people who know this say I’m going to regret distancing myself from them when they’re gone. Do you think that’s true? Should I make more of an effort to spend more time with them now so I don’t regret it later?

— Criticized

Criticized: Your friends would regret distancing themselves, if they were in your position. That doesn’t mean you will.

So, no, I don’t think that is universally true that distance equals regrets.

However, I do believe that seeing parents as people, instead of just as parents, is a more useful way to determine how to adapt your relationship with them over time.

What you describe of your parents is a child’s view of people who, apparently, thought that being a parent meant being strict and teachy all the time. I agree with you that it’s a cold way to go, and tough to forgive, but there are other aspects of parenthood that could provide a fuller and fairer picture. Were their parents that way with them? Was the culture around them one of “seen and not heard” and “spare the rod” orthodoxy? Did they tend not to question things about life in general, their parenting views among them? Was one of them softer but not strong enough to counteract the other?

And: What did they become after their active child-rearing years were over? Did they remain locked in a cold orthodoxy, or did they bloom a little when the weight of responsibility was removed? Are they trying to get to know you now, or are you still 12 to them?

Do you know them all that well as people, or did you distance yourself effectively enough that your last real impression of them was formed as you fled their home after high school?

I ask these questions entirely without judgment. People have their natural, even reflexive ways of looking out for their own health, and kids of unhappy childhoods can even have this need as their central motivation. It makes sense.

But when you get to the point where you’re asking whether this is the right way to go, my inclination is to suggest that you keep asking questions and see where your inquiry leads you. If you don’t feel up to digging all that out, that’s reasonable. Your prerogative. It might also make sense to spend a few sessions with a skilled therapist.

And it might be liberating just to try, once or twice, with no great expectations, to talk to your parents with a different image of them in mind as you do it.

They’re people. Possibly kind of stunted people who meant no harm but had no clue. People who might have interesting things to say if you asked them different questions, and/or with a different objective in mind. Not “I want them to say they’re sorry” or “I want just once for them to be warm and welcoming,” but maybe “I want to see them how their friends do,” or one of my favorite suggestions from a long-ago chatter, “I want to approach them as an anthropologist would and see what I find out.”
cereta: Laura Cereta (cereta)
[personal profile] cereta
Dear Carolyn,

I am at my wits' end with family drama. I will spare you the very long and ugly details and start with the most recent heartache.

My husband's daughter from a previous marriage invited our son and his wife and 2-year-old to spend the weekend with them since they were going to be in town for a wedding. His wife accepted. My husband has been estranged from this daughter for over two years. She lives down the street from my husband and me.

When my son and his family arrived, they went to lunch with my husband and stayed through the evening with us. It was a lovely time. Our little granddaughter even went into "her room" and told her dad she wanted to sleep in her bed. It was cruel to see her cry when she had to leave and go to my stepdaughter's house.

My husband is furious. His feelings are crushed and he is angry they would subject her to such nonsense. My husband feels they have been disloyal to him by staying with his estranged daughter.

I have expressed to my son how I felt about his staying with his half-sister. Not because of her so much as how wrong it feels to me to not stay with us. After we are dead and gone, he will have time to stay with his half-sister.

My first thought was to leave town before they got here so I could avoid the whole ordeal. Now, my husband and I have hurt feelings, plenty of tears to go around, and lost sleep over this.

Heartbreak seems to follow wherever my stepdaughter is concerned. I don't want to alienate my daughter-in-law because she will cut my granddaughter out of my life. How can I manage to keep the peace and not "betray" my husband in the process?

-- C.

Your argument, recapped: It's your stepdaughter's fault that she wants to spend time with her brother. Except the part that's your daughter-in-law's fault for saying yes.

Maybe you won't like it in those words, but that's what you're saying -- and it's impressive that you're able to present this without attributing any drama to the man who was "crushed" and "angry" and suffering "tears ... and lost sleep" at the "ordeal" of witnessing the "cruel" and "disloyal" "nonsense" of a child "subject[ed] to" ...

[theatrical pause]

A planned visit to her aunt's house.

After spending an entire day with you two.

Drama, thy name is Grandpa.

I can understand your powerful incentive not to see this; even thinking it opens you to accusations of betrayal from your wounded husband, no doubt. And more tears and sleepless nights and garment-rending and whatever other tactics he uses to keep you emotionally at his service.

But the longer you remain faithful spokesbot for your husband -- or for Stockholm Syndrome -- and declare with a straight face that your son can't sleep at his sister's house until you're dead! (you really said that!), the more soul-rebuilding you'll need when you see the view I've got from here: that you've been devoured by your husband's narcissistic fantasy world.

Even if I'm way off, your family dynamic is still way off. Please find a well-recommended family therapist and go. Just you. Unspool those "very long and ugly details."
cereta: "Candid" shot from Barbie Princess Charm school of goofy faces. (Barbie is goofy)
[personal profile] cereta
Dear Carolyn: I am a stepparent to a teenage girl who has recently moved in with us while her mom works in another city. So last week I got buttonholed by another kid’s parent for one of those, “You’re not a real parent, so I just wanted to let you know . . . ” talks. This other parent’s son had asked the Kid out to a school dance, Kid said, “Thanks, but no,” and asked out her crush. (He said yes, my door hinges thank him.)

According to the other parent, if she didn’t want to go with the first boy who asked her, then she can’t go at all and should stay at home knitting her nun’s habit or something.

Is this a thing? Or is this other parent just being a tool because her son got his feelings hurt?

Dance With the One That Brought You?: No, it’s not a thing, she can dance if she wants to.

Also not a thing: “those, ‘You’re not a real parent, so I just wanted to let you know . . . ’ talks.” Even if they are a thing, please treat them as if they are not, because the surest way to alienate your fellow parents as you negotiate this newish role is to approach them as if you are the eye-rolling rebel to their monolithic sense of superiority. They’re doing their thing; you’re doing yours. Take each exchange as a conversation unto itself.
xenacryst: Peanuts charactor looking unimpressed (Peanuts: isn't impressed)
[personal profile] xenacryst
Dear Carolyn: My husband tries to be helpful around the house. But he seems to have rather large blind spots. I’ve learned he truly doesn’t see the packages piled up on the porch when he walks inside. He cleans up the kitchen, but misses the pots on the stove and the countertops with spills and crumbs. He doesn’t remember when trash day is so he never gets the can to the curb.

I have tried to point out some of these in a gentle way, but he gets upset that I don’t appreciate how much he does around the house.

But when the job is half-done, I feel resentful that I have to always remember — and finish — the household jobs. He will do anything I ask, but I’m tired of asking. I want him to recognize and carry some of the load with me.

Half-Done Household

Half-Done Household: He is carrying some of the load. He might even argue he’s carrying more than his half — because you have to ask, half of what whole?

If he were expecting to live in a sparkly clean environment on your labors alone, that would be one thing. But from what you describe, he’d be content to live amid his crumbs and spills. That’s a different problem for you, for both of you, altogether.

So before you envision a fair division of labor, you need to reconcile your way to a fair vision of the outcome. Your standard of “clean enough,” his, or somewhere in between?

Another discussion point: If you insist — for the sake of argument — on surgical cleanliness, does he still need to do half of whatever that requires? Or is the one with higher standards responsible for the aboves-and-beyonds?

With housekeeping, the tendency is to think vertically: You do dishes, I do laundry; I vacuum, you take out the trash; each job done to completion.

Maybe the answer here is to agree to think horizontally instead: You tend to dishes, laundry, vacuum and trash to your standards, and I finish them to mine. He cuts, you style.

You can also close any resentment-breeding gaps with professional help. And, a smartphone: His can ping him weekly on trash night. Marriages have been rescued by less.
cereta: Danae, Squee (Danae)
[personal profile] cereta
Dear Carolyn:

My household received a written invitation to a birthday party for a 1-year-old. It reads, “Not every child is lucky enough to have a birthday party like A. In lieu of a gift, we are asking that you consider making a donation (of cash) to a nonprofit that claims to ‘help poor children.’ ”

What are they trying to say? That their child doesn’t deserve gifts because she’s “too rich”? Logically, does the child even “deserve” a party in the parents’ belief system?

Are the parents (middle-class liberals) having some sort of contest with their neighbors to show who’s the most enlightened, sophisticated liberal — class warfare? No gifts for A in the class struggle?

I looked into the nonprofit mentioned — the director pays herself well out of the “donations.”

I told someone the parents should turn off the leftist TV channel they watch because it’s causing them mind rot — denying their toddler presents. Your thoughts?

— Pittsburgh

Dear Pittsburgh: Thanks for the proof that people who want to get their knickers bunched will find reasons to in just about anything.

Are these parents playing by the etiquette book? No, because using the invitation to direct your guests’ gift-giving behavior is a well-established “Don’t.”

It is, however, a matter of degrees. These parents aren’t ordering you to bring them cash because they don’t want whatever you pick out. Instead, they are acknowledging their child was born into a life of plenty whereas many babies are not, and (if I may project a bit) are using this opportunity of a birthday when the kid is way too young to understand what a birthday is — much less notice or care what people bring — to do something decent for needy families.

Again, is it strictly proper for them to recruit their guests as do-gooding proxies? No. Is it sanctimonious? Certainly possible. But at least at the end of their faux-pas rainbow, some needy families get diapers and a few guests are spared from figuring out what to bring.

What’s at the end of your angry rainbow? Hosts who are blessed with your complaining about them behind their backs, by your own admission (that’s not in the etiquette books, either), and showering contempt on their beliefs in general and their attempt at generosity in particular. Within five paragraphs of self-congratulation you manage to deride them as liberals, leftists and class warriors who are — you outdo yourself here, putting words in their mouths — “denying their toddler presents” because she “doesn’t deserve gifts.”

How about doesn’t need gifts and won’t even notice their absence? An ideal gift for a 1-year-old is a chance to make a racket with your pots and pans. And since when is it wrong to value presence over presents? It’s not unheard of for children themselves to agree to, even spearhead, parties that serve as charity drives and not gift grabs.

There’s also this: When a party is for a child too young to understand birthdays, it’s safe to assume it’s just an excuse for the parents to welcome in the village. Many such hosts are very concerned their invite-the-village impulse will be mistaken for an excuse to collect gifts, and so reach for ways to discourage them. Ironic, isn’t it.

As a villager who apparently thinks your untouchable authority-given right to buy stuff is being trampled, and who apparently doesn’t think much of these parents, I suggest you politely decline the invitation.

Whether you accept the invitation or not, please do — if you can keep the relish out of your voice — notify the hosts of any published record of impropriety in their charity’s use of donations. That’s a kindness no matter what color onesies your politics wear.
cereta: Barbara Gordon, facepalming (babsoy)
[personal profile] cereta
I thought I might break the rhythm with something I suspect we will all more or less agree on ;).

Division of labor is not QUITE equal. )
cereta: Prairie Dawn (Prairie Dawn)
[personal profile] cereta
Hi, Carolyn: I've got a problem with my fiance and partner of 4 1/2 years.

The good: He’s brilliant, creatively resourceful, outgoing, easy to talk to, wonderful at supporting me with my health issues, and aligns with me on so many of the big-picture goals that really matter. Kids, money, sex, family, etc. The bad: He’s stubborn, opinionated yet strongly influenced by the opinions of others, and sometimes unable to empathize. I’m no doctor, but we both believe he may have a touch of narcissism.

The problem we’re having is about my name. I’m just not sure I’m comfortable assuming his name, I don’t like hyphenation, and I don’t want to lose my middle name (which holds a ton of family history) by putting my maiden name there. I’m also a feminist and don’t think I like the tradition I would be supporting by doing this.

My understanding after several unsuccessful talks is that it matters to him because it matters to his family and society as a whole. I want to value what matters to him, but admittedly I struggle to not see that as a really stupid motivator. He is unwilling to change HIS name in any way, and refuses to even discuss alternate ways we could satisfy his needs here.

Last week we had our biggest fight yet about this. His demeanor was the embodiment of every unattractive quality within him, and none of the good. He told me that I WOULD take his name one way or another and that he wouldn’t discuss it further. This is not the way we speak to each other.

He had a real chance of talking me into it if he had come to me thoughtfully and lovingly and stated his case. But he went as far as to imply that he would not marry me unless I caved on this. (Note: Children are not in our future.)

His whole handling of this argument is making me think maybe this is a mistake. I mean, this is MARRIAGE we’re heading for. We’re planning a WEDDING. I’m feeling bullied and totally misunderstood and disrespected. We’ve been through some major trials, but we’ve never been so unable to communicate. This fight really scares me. Meanwhile, we have appointments with caterers and photographers coming up and I don’t know if we should cancel this whole thing or what. What are your thoughts?

What’s in a Name?

A “touch of narcissism” = only somewhat impressed with oneself?

I keep starting answers that break this issue down to its component parts, such as this false start: “His good traits seem to make him entertaining to know while the bad ones make him hell to live with.” Or, “This issue alone has foiled you because it’s one on which you’re both emotional and deeply invested, so you can’t fall back on having one of you (as in, you?) just care less about it than the other.” Or, “Your equivocation — ‘I’m just not sure,’ I ‘don’t think I like,’ ‘I struggle to not see that as . . . really stupid’ — leaves you particularly vulnerable to someone stubborn, opinionated and/or narcissistic.”

Or just, “Cancel or postpone every distraction — caterers, photographers, even the name argument — so you can bring a clear mind to the question of whether you’re making a mistake.”

But every time I start one of these answers, this thought overtakes it: You’ve got your hand on the doorknob, poised to exit a relationship with someone who behaves badly enough for the word “narcissist” to be in play. Can I in good conscience suggest anything, even a thought exercise or schedule adjustment, that might keep you inside?

You don’t need a medical degree or diagnosis here. If you’ve been fair in your depiction of what you’ve witnessed over the past five-ish years — that, for whatever reason, your fiance is either unwilling or unable to put anyone’s interests above his own — then you know exactly what you’re signing up for with this marriage.

So is this what you want, yes or no? How people in such a marriage would answer this question, I know without knowing — but you need to come to it on your own.
cereta: (bert and ernie)
[personal profile] cereta
Dear Carolyn:
I don't want my 6-year-old son going over to his friend's house to play because the friend's parents are gay. I am not homophobic and have nothing against gay people -- I just don't want my son exposed to this unfamiliar lifestyle at such a young age. I just think he's too young to understand. If he was older, it would be different.

We've had my son's friend over to play several times already, and it's getting awkward not sending our son over there. How can I explain my feelings without making it seem like I'm homophobic or without offending my son's friend's very nice parents?
-- Wanting to be tactful

Why does he have to understand? Or, more specifically, what is there for him to understand at this stage beyond, two people who love each other have created a home together? If he really presses you on it, you can point out that the majority of couples are male plus female, but like anything else, it's normal to have some common things (like brown hair) and variations (red hair). Sexuality is no different -- though "sexuality" is my word for you. For your son, all you need is "couples," or "families."

Meanwhile, the best way not to "seem" homophobic is not to be homophobic. Keeping your child away from his friend's home because his parents are gay is a homophobic choice: You're treating this couple as an undesirable "other." The best thing you can do for when your son is older is treat this very nice family, now, as you would any other very nice family.

Also, not for nothing, I have a hard time believing your son, at 6, isn't already fully aware that his friend has two mommies/daddies. My kids were on to that well before age 6, and were naturally accepting of it. Kids are open to the world as it's presented to them; it's adults who teach them to start filtering it all in arbitrary ways.


Agony Aunt

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