Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I have a mother-in-law like the one in Monday’s column.
She has in the past made me feel smothered.
Over the years I have realized that she is pretty much acting on “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — that is, she is a huge extrovert, hates being alone, and would love family dropping in to see her, lots of people around, someone throwing a surprise party for her.
Unfortunately, what she doesn’t realize is that I don’t love those things. I am pretty sure she has never realized that I am an introvert and like alone time a LOT (and particularly treasure it now that I am a mom), and also she may possibly not even know that such things as introverts exist. She means well but is utterly exhausting to deal with.
To others dealing with something similar: This behavior may not be a plot to drive you insane. Some people really have a very hard time understanding personality types that are very different from their own.
This is a great point about any two people trying to reconcile different social preferences and energies: If it’s going to work, then you have to know, accept, embrace the reality of different personality types.
Or body types, or gender expressions, or approaches to chores, or seat-reclining preferences, or politics, or religious beliefs, or anything else, if we’re going to go off on a rant: If you’re stuck on One Right Way of Being, then you’re picking the steepest of uphill paths through life.
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I was wondering if you had any feelings about stepchildren getting some alone time with their original parents. For the past 10 years, I’ve had very little time with my dad on his own, and now he’s moved very far away, so I’ve asked if we could do get-togethers with just us once per year. He doesn’t want to hurt stepmom’s feelings. Thoughts?
I always have thoughts, but they’re not always relevant.
I’m with you here, that sometimes people with an old bond enjoy seeing each other without partners acquired after the fact. This can apply not just with families of origin, but also buddies from childhood, school, military, sleep-away camp, especially anything that involves immersion in a particular experience.
I also think it’s a mistake to bring hurt feelings into it. It’s not that you don’t like or care about 1 / 8person added later 3 / 8; there’s just a different chemistry with others present.
But: This is only relevant if your dad agrees.
You can try spelling out that you like Stepmom just fine, you merely want a little original-family-only immersion. You can make sure you schedule, say, three visits that include Stepmom for every one that doesn’t; you can make the just-family time a smaller part of a group visit; you can even enlist Stepmom as an ally, since she no doubt has been in a similar position herself. (Now, will she admit to that when doing so might go against her own immediate interests? Dunno – depends on her integrity.)
Those are my thoughts. Good luck.
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