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         Parent / Adult Child Conflict

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Pride Goeth…

My boyfriend's daughter (I'll call her Mary) got married six months ago.  She is 19 and pregnant.  My boyfriend (I'll call him John) didn't go to the wedding because he disapproved of her husband and the marriage.

The reason he gave for not attending was it would make him a hypocrite in front of his other children if he went.  This caused a huge rift between John and Mary, and they have not spoken since the wedding.  Before this they were very close, talking almost every day.

Mary's baby is due any day now.  I told Mary it would be a shame not to allow her baby a chance to know its grandfather.  She said John could see the baby if he wanted, but she is unwilling to make the first move.

I talked to John this morning and told him I think they are both stubborn as donkeys.  John is firm on his stance, saying it is a matter of principle.  He says by not compromising he is able to sleep at night.  I am not sure John is using the term "principle" correctly, since I don't understand what principle this involves.

The dictionary defines a principle as a rule of conduct, or something which is important. In my opinion establishing communication with Mary wouldn't compromise his principles, since it seems his objective was not alienating his daughter but boycotting the wedding.  Is there some principle involved here?

Trina

Trina, when you are a parent, all you can do is get your children to a certain point.  After that they are on their own.  Parents are not like pear trees, putting out only pear seeds.  Humans are free to follow a different course.  Wisely or not, Mary can decide who she marries. 

She married a man John dislikes, and she is pregnant.  That's a fact, not a principle.  As a parent, John punished Mary by not attending the wedding.  It was a harsh punishment.  Girls dream of walking down the aisle on their father's arm, and Mary has no wedding pictures with her dad in them.

After you punish a child, you move on.  You don't punish them again and again for the same offense.  Whatever John's pride required should have been satisfied.  All the rest is revenge.  The only principle here is anger.  John is angry his authority over Mary was undermined.

For the sake of vanity he is ready to create a permanent rift in the family.  On birthdays, holidays and other occasions the family won't be together as a unit, and in a short time, the repercussions of his actions may be too far advanced to reverse.

If John cannot behave himself around Mary and her husband, it is best not to be around them.  But the principle he violates is placing pride above love.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

 

Just Say No

I seem to be in an impossible situation.  I am 31 and never married.  I work as a software developer and am quite happy in my current living situation.  But my family is pestering me to at least consider marriage, even saying they can find me girls. 

I don't want to get married.  I've never had a girlfriend or even dated in my life.  I've learned to be content without any romantic relations, and I don't want to start.  Even though I live a long way from my parents, they talk to me on the phone about it every day.  This affects my ability to enjoy life, which is a big part of being single.

I enjoy my freedom and don't want to give it up just because everyone expects me to get married and have a family.  Is there any way out of getting married?  I know I can be happy living by myself, and don't like to consider marriage and children.

Dev

Dev, we are not the property of our parents.  At some point, our lives become our own.  When your parents urge you to marry, remember it is not a wish for you.  It is a wish for themselves.

Sometimes it is easier to stand up for someone else.  It would be a great injustice to any woman if you marry her against your will.  Every day your mom and dad can ask you to marry, but they cannot stop you from saying no every single time.  When the immovable object meets the irresistible force, nothing happens. 

Wayne
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

 

I Love Lucy

My mother is making dinner for the holidays, and she invited my mother-in-law who is undergoing chemotherapy.  My mother-in-law is very upbeat about her condition, but she constantly talks about the details of her illness.

The problem is this.  My dad died from cancer 10 years ago.  He and mother were very private about his illness and never brought it up with company unless someone asked.  Mother was devastated by his death and has a hard time listening to other people's cancer stories.

My mother told me she is going to call my mother-in-law and tell her a guest, who will be at the dinner, had cancer before and does not want to talk about cancer or have it discussed.  That isn't true, but mom said the guest will play along. 

I feel uncomfortable with this.  I told my mother, but she said it's her dinner and she is going to do it.  I always treat my mother-in-law as a second mother, but my mother and my mother-in-law have a standoffish relationship.  Since my mother is making an issue of this, it seems to be my problem, or is it?

Jennifer

Jennifer, a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay contains the lines, "There are a hundred places where I fear to go,--so with his memory they brim."  That is where your mother is.  But your mother-in-law is, as another poet said, raging against the dying of the light.

Your mother's scheme reminds us of the sitcom "I Love Lucy."  Each episode involved a ruse, and when the ruse was discovered, all was forgiven.  In real life subterfuges blow up and cause bad feelings.  The guest's "cancer" may be all your mother-in-law needs to helpfully suggest support groups, books, and treatments.

The real problem is two mothers who don't get along.  Go to the dinner, but don't be a party to this ruse.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

 

The Queen's Court

Five years ago my father left my mother for another woman.  I wish my father could have remarried a nice, decent person, but unfortunately he didn't.  His wife is a manipulative, money oriented woman who shows no love for my father.

Of course this is his problem, but unfortunately his wife went on a hate campaign against me.  I tried to smile back and be pleasant, but she uses every opportunity to insult me.  She won't let my father do me any favors.  At Christmas he gave me a present but said not to tell her. 

My brother and I went on a weekend trip with them and walked on eggshells the whole time.  My father said not to make any noise because "she needs her beauty sleep" and "she noticed you always lie in the best deck chair."  I'm the sort of person who looks for the best in everyone, but this is terribly upsetting.

I am lucky my father lived abroad, and I didn't see much of them.  Now he's moved back, and she came back with a big bang!  My baby was sick so I couldn't pick them up at the airport.  They took a taxi.  She told me I was a horrible person and scolded me like a small child.

Enough is enough.  For the first time in five years I exploded.  My father apologized on her behalf, and asked me to do the same for not picking her up.  He said she's never apologized to anyone in her life and "if you don't apologize we won't be able to have a normal relationship."

I didn't cede.  I thought if I don't stand up for myself she will keep acting like this.  She told my father, "It's her or me."  Although my father drops by to see me and his granddaughter, he's never invited me to his house, and true enough, she never apologized.

This is the first time in my life I have experienced such behavior.  Sometimes I wonder if there is something wrong with me.  Do I have to accept that this woman has damaged my relationship with my father forever?

Allison

Allison, your father isn't this woman's husband, he is her chief of protocol and her emissary to the rest of the world.  He thinks his duties include telling others how low to bow or curtsey in the presence of this regal personage.

Like any good protocol officer, he smoothes ruffled feathers, deflects blame, and maintains the famous protocol smile no matter what happens.  But just because your father has elected to serve in this woman's court is no reason you must.

Understand the nature of the beast you are dealing with.  Your father's new wife views the world solely in terms of what is helpful or unhelpful for herself.  You can't apply your way of thinking to one who thinks only of herself.  She is so determined in her egocentric behavior she can make good people start to doubt themselves.

Your father has dropped out of his fatherly role.  In trying to make you accommodate yourself to her, he robs you of your free will.  He is trying to ensnare you in a life of lies and deceit.  That will work only if you consent to it, but if you consent to it, you've lost yourself.

You can't successfully serve your father and this woman, but you can successfully serve yourself.  Live your life from your own sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair, just and unjust.  Then act and react to others from that sense of who you are, not who someone else would like you to be.

Giving into your stepmother is the strongest signal you can give her that you are another person she can use.  You don't give respect to anyone incapable of respecting others.  You stand up to them.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

 

Go Between

I enjoy reading your column every week.  I want to tell you about a family problem I am having at present.  Recently our youngest daughter divorced after 22 years of marriage and two teenagers.  This was a great shock to all the family as she never told anyone of her unhappy situation.

Now she is living with her high school sweetheart, who is also divorced.  She says she is very, very happy.  My big problem is that my husband of 54 years will not accept the situation and refuses to speak to this daughter. 

I am not happy either, but have accepted it as I want to keep communication open with my daughter.  How should I handle this problem with my husband? 

Adelle

Adelle, we live in tornado country, and a few weeks ago several small towns near us were almost totally destroyed.  Many people lost their home, their possessions, and their livelihood.  The next morning some people were clearing rubble and rebuilding their lives, while others were wandering around stunned by their loss.

We vary enormously in our responses.  Some people heal faster than others, and some adjust to change faster than others.  Your husband lost a part of his life, and a son-in-law, he never expected to lose.  Perhaps he is like the tough old oak not easily bent.  You are more like the willow which is flexible and bends in a storm without breaking.

For now, you need to give your husband the time he needs to adapt to the change and be the flexible connection between father and daughter.  You are like the old-style telephone operator making connections between two people.  As long as you are in touch with both, keeping each aware of the other, you keep the distance between them from getting too great. 

That is a positive, not a negative.  There needs to be a little time for healing all around for everyone in this situation.  Perhaps in time, or in a crisis, the connection can be made more direct.  Your husband and your daughter may only be one incident, or one holiday, away from coming together.

Wayne and Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

 

Somebody Knows

Help!  What do we do?  We have a 40-year-old son, married, children, lovely wife.  He has stepped away from his parents.  Why?  He cannot explain it to his wife or family.  We visit when he is at work and just go on with our lives.

We have always been a close family, there for each other no matter what.  His wife will not get involved as she feels it is his baggage.  His father spoke to her to let her know we are getting up in years.  I am sure she has tried her best, but our son doesn't seem to care.

Dixie

Dixie, the first thing to be grateful for is that you are still in touch with your grandchildren and your daughter-in-law.  She has done what she can and probably feels reluctant to align herself against her husband's wishes.

There are reasons for everything.  Sometimes small resentments are nurtured until they result in extreme behavior.  Sometimes a diagnosed mental illness is present.  But we have to tell you that in our experience the origin of the problem is usually a family secret.

This secret could involve sexual or physical abuse, alcoholism, or the constant belittling of one child.  You haven't provided any details, but if that is the case here, you should realize there can never be a resolution without shining a hard light on a very dark corner of his life and your family life.

Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

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