DEAR AMY: My siblings and I are all middle-aged, married and live relatively close to our parents. I was the last to marry, so during my single years I bore witness to my parents' continued hurt that my brothers and sisters all "forgot" about them in adulthood. My parents were hurt that my siblings only contacted them when they needed money or a favor. They complained that the only times they saw their children was when the spouse was in tow, or for holidays. Through the years, it seems my parents "take turns" being furious and not speaking to one sibling after another. After I got married, I went out of my way to make it a point to call them, have them over for dinner or stop in on occasion without my husband, with absolutely no agenda beyond saying hello. After a few years of being "the good daughter," I realize that my parents have never called my home or invited my spouse and me to their home. Maintaining contact has fallen upon my shoulders. During my visits, I still hear how upset they are with my siblings. Now, I am on the "receiving" end of the silent treatment. I do not want to be like my siblings and write them off, but I am at the point that I can understand how the relationships became this way. I have tried to say something, and it just makes their attitude toward me worse, so I have let it go. My parents are getting up in years and not in the best of health. I am really in a no-win situation here and have no idea what to do.Still the Good DaughterDEAR DAUGHTER: The dynamic your parents have established requires that one child after another must be punished. You now realize that your behavior doesn't really make a difference in their treatment of you, and so I suggest you only need to make one change. This will be internal; no one else is likely to notice it, but you will feel completely different.
You need to start to do what you want to do. If you want to visit your parents, then do so -- with joy. If you want to stay away for a while, then do that. Your folks may fuss and blacklist you, but they are already doing that. Your attitude will help set you free. It also will make you less susceptible to your parents' machinations because you will see that it takes two parties to engage in emotional blackmail -- one to blackmail and the other to tacitly agree to it.
The goal is to liberate you enough to be authentic in your own life, while also being accepting and forgiving of them -- because you cannot change them at this point. I recommend the book "Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You," by Susan Forward (1998, William Morrow).
DEAR AMY: I really saw myself in the letter in your column from "Emotional." She said she was frequently criticized by family members for her "nasty tone." I've often been told that I have a certain "tone." I feel I'm saying fairly neutral things, but it's not the words that seem to offend people, it's the tone. I'm not sure if I have the guts to ask my family members to impersonate me on camera, the way you suggested in your answer, but the mere thought of it makes me eager to pay more attention to my own tone.
DEAR TOO: Tone is everything (she said through clenched teeth). I give you credit for trying to change.
DEAR AMY: I wanted to give some holiday gift ideas for people living in nursing homes. Photo albums or scrapbooks are always appreciated; these should be labeled with who is in the photo and also the relationship to the person (helpful for those with memory problems and for reminiscing). Greeting cards are helpful when they are addressed and ready to send. CD players with favorite CDs. Playing cards, lotions, ChapStick, gripper socks, soft blankets, smaller lap-size blankets, fresh flowers every month for the year, a magazine subscription or a treat of live musical entertainment. I hope these ideas are helpful.
Long-term Care Nurse
DEAR NURSE: The giving season doesn't stop today -- these suggestions are great.
DEAR READERS: I want to wish everyone a very merry Christmas. This time of year can be challenging, sad and stressful for many -- but it is my fervent hope that each of us can reach down deep and recover some of the hope, light and joy this season represents.