While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On dealing with historically mean elders, Part 1: My cruel stepmother outlived my father. When he died, I thought I would be done with her. But I just couldn’t do it.
My decision while she was living and as she neared the end was a version of warm civility. I called her on the phone to chat monthly, sent birthday and Mother’s Day cards and visited when I was in her town. Did I really want to? No. Am I glad I did? Yes.
I realized years ago that she was who she was and that she was largely oblivious to the collateral damage of her behavior. It wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t about me either. So I just let it go.
Part 2: It would be very hard to forgive. What I always think about, however, is that when you are dealing with an elderly or dying parent or in-law, you are teaching your children how to treat you.
Part 3: Why do young women put up with cruel treatment?
Bullies often crumple when faced with resistance.
In my own case, my husband’s parents were vile (his word) to me before we married. I made only one token visit to them after we married and said, “Never again!”
I know this might be too extreme for most young people to pull off, particularly if children are involved. But they will have, sooner or later, as children come and their relatives age, the power in these relationships.
Don’t Tread on Me
On people who don’t say, “Thank you”: I used to be “quirky” like that. My problem was that I felt overwhelmed with guilt if anyone gave me something because I believed I was unworthy – low self-esteem – and because I felt paralyzed by the sense that a mere “thank you” would be woefully inadequate to compensate the gift-giver for her kindness.
Basically, I felt enormous anxiety at receiving a gift, and responded by freezing.
Perhaps this will help people with normal self-esteem speculate why recipients of gifts can have a hard time looking at their givers in the eye, and expressing gratitude.
On the power of attention: A friend with three siblings told me this story: When her father arrived home from work each day, he and his wife immediately retired to their bedroom for “alone time” for one hour. The children were told not to disturb them except for a genuine emergency because this was Mommy and Daddy’s special time for themselves. They might have cocktails along with conversation of the day’s events, just sit and cuddle or whatever … but her parents were “off limits” until that hour was over.
I heard this story after my own husband died but had I known, I would have tried it. The most precious gift you can give someone is your undivided attention; unfortunately, we spread ourselves too thin and waste our chance for true intimacy.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.