Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: My mom is extremely strong-willed and until recently, I always saw this as a good quality in her -- it was one way my siblings and I learned to stand up for ourselves. My oldest brother married a strong-willed woman and they recently had a baby. Mom and my sister-in-law, "Tess," do not get along, and they never really have. Mom calls her names (she recently called her a "witch"), and questions her parenting choices, but she's never said any of these things to Tess' face -- just to the rest of our family -- as far as I know. Tess is not really a warm or friendly type, but my mom is being extremely sensitive and I believe she is totally in the wrong. She admits that her anger strains her relationship with my brother and that he may someday cut off contact with her, but, she says -- "That's the kind of power Tess has over him." I've told her this will only end badly for her and for the rest of us. I've told her how much it hurts me to watch this all happen. I've told her that hearing her talk behind Tess' back makes me question what she says about my own family and life choices. I've told her she needs to be the bigger person and end it to keep our family whole. Yet her behavior has not changed. What else can I say to show how childish and hypocritical she's being? I believe she's putting my brother in a no-win situation, and I want to do everything I can before she estranges herself from her son and grandchild.
DEAR SAD: It is very kind and loving of you to try to protect your mother from herself. You have done an admirable job of responding to her honestly and attempting to intervene.
And yet -- nothing changes.
I'm going to lay out the worst-case scenario: Everything you fear happens. And after she has run through your brother's family, your mother may decide to take you on.
You should work on detaching from this. Concentrate on building and maintaining your own healthy relationships, but do not intervene or mediate -- unless either party asks you to. You and your brother are going to need one another.
DEAR AMY: My father's longtime partner of over 30 years, "Vivian," has started to make mean remarks to my 3-year-old son. For instance, she makes fun of his speech (he cannot pronounce "L" and "S" yet). She will imitate him in a mean voice and then laugh. She has never been mean to my older daughter or to me, so this has really caught me off guard. In the moment I'm so at a loss for words and emotional that I don't respond, which may be for the best, since my children are present. Now I am angry. I don't know if I should refuse to let my children around her. My father is nonconfrontational and will not get involved. Should I sit down with her and tell her that her behavior is unacceptable (which I doubt will go well), or is it best to let this go?
DEAR ANGRY: Teasing young children over their speech patterns or physical issues is mean, bullying and can poison relationships in the longer term. Start by assuming that your father's partner is acting from ignorance, and during a private moment give her a more neutral-sounding heads up (you can react more strongly if this continues after your admonition).
Say, "Vivian, I want you to know that lately I see you mocking our boy over his speech issues. He really likes and trusts you, and this is confusing to him. It hurts his feelings and I don't like it, either. You never did this with the older child, so it took me by surprise. I'd like you to stop doing that."
DEAR AMY: Today you really made me laugh with your advice to imagine a dump truck taking away the two noncommittal men in "Torn's" life. Great visual and so funny!
DEAR DEB: Thank you. I'll be here all week.