DEAR AMY: My mom is nearly 90 and is in great health. She is living with my husband and me — and we all get along well in our small home. My older sister had been taking care of her but called nearly two years ago and proclaimed that Mom had to move in with us, as she could take no responsibility for her because she had her own life to live. Big Sis moved across the country to be with a man she met online — one in a long line of “soul mates.” She now hates this man, but is scared to leave due to ruined credit, no job and nowhere to go. She calls Mom daily with tales of how awful her partner is, but how she can’t leave. All of her friends and her counselor have advised her on ways to exit, but she seems to prefer to stay and whine about her life. I understand it is scary to start over. These calls are very stressful for Mom; and when she is stressed I am stressed, as stress for her often leads to illness. Should I ask Sis not to call, or if she does call, just pretend everything is fine? Mom’s radar regarding her children is legendary and she would then worry about why Sis is no longer talking about her miserable life. Is there a middle ground?
Trickle Down Stress
DEAR TRICKLE DOWN: You cannot ask your sister not to call your mother.
Instead, you should do two things: Ask your sister to be aware of the impact her daily narration has on your mother. Tell her, “She worries excessively about you and ruminates on your situation. This is affecting her health. Can you be more mindful of this when you talk to her?” She needn’t pretend that her life is perfect, but she could change her tone if she wanted to.
Your second focus should be on helping your mother to manage her own stress. Continue to reassure her that your sister has options, and that she is just blowing off steam. Simple meditation techniques could help both of you: Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and visualize releasing these stressors as little balloons or butterflies that flutter skyward.
DEAR AMY: My husband and I have been friends with two other couples since we were all young parents. Twenty years later, we are in our early 50s and our children are busy tackling college and careers. The problem is that one couple seems to be aging less gracefully than the others. They have become increasingly judgmental, self-righteous and hypocritically condescending. They are like a bad caricature of spiteful old curmudgeons, constantly finding fault. Our adult children are regular targets of their barbed comments. We enjoy getting together with the other couple. But with such a long history, meeting without the grumpy couple (even if they have been invited and declined to attend) leads to hurt feelings, and they then express even greater levels of bitterness. Is there a way to address this without exacerbating their behavior? I am afraid that bringing it up will just add fuel to their negative feelings. I can’t see moving into the next decade, if being with them means constantly feeling judged.
DEAR FLAWED: Why do these people hold so much power over you, even to the extent that you worry about their hurt feelings when they themselves have declined an invitation?
They are responsible for their own feelings. They are responsible for their own behavior.
Some friendships simply run their course. It sounds like you need to break up with these people.
Breakups are hard. Feelings do get hurt. If you have tried mightily to have a positive friendship and these people can’t play, then you should stop spending time with them. The other couple might choose to maintain the friendship, but you will feel liberated if you exit, respectfully and deliberately. You can say to them, “We’re at different points in our lives now, and we can’t seem to find a way to spend time with you that is positive and enjoyable.”
DEAR AMY: “Perplexed” described a familiar dynamic for people who write to you. Her (adult) daughter was being a pill, but Perplexed didn’t know what to say to her! Why are people so afraid of their children?
DEAR UNAFRAID: It can be very hard to offer criticism to people you love. And yet, when you really love someone, that is exactly what you have to do.