While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On recovery from bullying:
The biggest bully in my life was my own flesh and blood – my father. He terrorized us as children and loved to pick at us just so that he could get a reaction and tell the recipient how stupid she was. Thankfully, we got away from him when I was in my teens.
When I was a young adult, he contacted my mother and asked that she contact each of us to see if we would meet with him so that he could have a relationship with us. It will be no surprise we all said no. What might be a surprise is that I wrote him a letter, to be delivered by my mother to the address she had, and told him that I forgave him for all that he had done.
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No, it was not something he appreciated. He, I understand, was livid. But it was one of the most healing things I ever did in my life.
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Dad took his rage and impotence out on my mother and me, and she savaged me while presenting a caring, devoted, maternal face in public. Old ladies at church and teachers at my school told me what a “wonderful mother” I had, but they never saw her violent rages and flying fists or heard the hurtful names she called me at home.
I was the verbal bully at my school, the lonely kid who didn’t have any friends. I sneered at pep rallies and laughed at “school spirit.” When someone gave me what I thought was a dirty look, I responded with a barrage of cutting comments. I lived the definition of prickly.
It took years to overcome the damage my primary caregivers did, and I’ve never truly forgiven them. But I hope the kids I went to school with can forgive me for being a horrid, bullying brat.
Our culture’s idea of a “good home” doesn’t guarantee a healthy place for a child to grow up in. Bullies may be born with the inability to empathize, but they’re also made by other bullies they can’t escape.
On taking offense when grown kids choose a hotel over staying with you:
Please don’t see your kids’ personal preferences as something at which you lose. That sets up a competition where none exists, and where “losing” means letting others live as they choose, and “winning” means making others submit to your narrow definition of a close family.
Wanting independence to decide when to leave an event and where to sleep with a spouse – these are perfectly reasonable, non-insulting, grown-up choices.
My parents own a huge house that could comfortably fit my whole family. We never stay with them because we can never satisfy all their demands on our time and attention. We stay at my mother-in-law’s tiny bungalow because its lumpy beds and tiny bathroom all come with a free pass to be ourselves, come and go like adults, a genuine interest in our lives, and our favorite ice cream. Please, please be inviting to who your kids are and not what sacrifice you think they owe you.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.