DEAR AMY: After 19 turbulent years of marriage, my mom divorced my dad and embarked on the “independent” life she always wanted. I was 12, the youngest of three girls. Fast-forward more than 20 years and Mom’s struggle for stability persists. At many times over the years, my sisters and I have blamed this on mental illness, but she will never stay on her prescribed medication. Currently, she’s holding down a teaching job, nevertheless, she continues to move from one dump to another (she can’t get along with roommates and can only afford rat-trap hovels). She carries tremendous financial debt and her lack of disposable income is completely confusing — where does it go? She lives across the country from me, which happens to be right near one of my older sisters. This sister and her husband have chosen to foot the bill for all of Mom’s incidentals (cellphone plan, security deposits on housing, car repairs, etc.). My other sister sends $200 a month. I send nothing, call infrequently and feel no obligation to be a benefactor. This physical and emotional boundary is the best method for helping me lead a more “normal” life, trying to make a successful marriage (of 15 years) and raise three young kids as a stay-at-home mother. We live a comfortable lifestyle because my husband works hard. We give 10 percent of our income to charitable causes. So when my middle sister texts me that it’s high time I start “supporting” (i.e. paying for) our mom or else be branded the coldhearted daughter, what do I do? She said she’s “done” with me now that I’m unwilling to follow her lead. Am I missing something?
DEAR PIGEON-HOLED: What you seem to be missing is the desire to be helpful — in any way — to your mother or sisters.
It may be frustrating to see people essentially throw money at a problem when you see their assistance as “enabling” rather than “assisting,” but because you decline any involvement at all, you shouldn’t pass judgment on your sisters’ choices.
There are ways to be helpful that don’t involve spending your family’s hard-earned money, but this would require you extending yourself to your siblings and a willingness to engage — even a little bit.
If you wanted to repair the relationship with your sisters, you could reach out to them and ask, “Short of donating money to ‘Mom,’ are there other ways I could step up and be more helpful to you?”
DEAR AMY: I love my wife. She was a cheerleader in high school and college, and was always thin and attractive. When we had our first child 15 years ago, she put on probably 40 pounds, maybe more. She has never lost this weight. That is OK, and not the point of my plea for some guidance. For whatever reason, my wife still wears tightfitting dresses and T-shirts that highlight her stomach rolls. It is very unflattering. She often complains about her weight (I never have) and how she doesn’t have anything to wear (I’ve always told her to buy things if she wants to). I’m torn. Should I tell her that she should maybe wear something less form-fitting OR should I just keep quiet and let her wear whatever she puts on, even though it highlights her figure in ways I know she would not want?
DEAR WONDERING: You should never assume that you know better than your wife does about how she wants to look.
She is not dressing in the way that you want her to dress. But — if she has access to a mirror — she probably knows how she looks.
You could try to inspire change by praising a look you think is flattering to her, not by pointing out her “stomach rolls” in a particular outfit.
If you want her to buy new clothes for herself, don’t tell her to “buy things if you want to,” but give her a gift card for a store you know she likes and encourage her to splurge.
DEAR AMY: Your response to “Hurt Grandfather” (he was part of a same-sex married couple suddenly denied access to their grandchildren) brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for advocating for the rights of everyone to be in a family, and for doing so with so much compassion.
DEAR TOUCHED: Thank you very much.