This is the second in series of posts showing how several of the issues I discuss in this blog show up in letters to newspaper advice columnists. Advice columnists must bring us problems that resonate with a fairly wide readership, and they therefore provide us with another source of information about human behavior and cultural trends.I follow Jeanne Phillips (Dear Abby), Carolyn Hax, Amy Dickinson (Ask Amy), and Marcy Sugar & Kathy Mitchell (Annie’s Mailbox).I will highlight each theme with a title preceding each letter to the columnist that I've reproduced, reflecting the blog subject that seems to be discussed. The title will also be a link to a related post. I am not including the columnist’s responses to the letters.
"In relationships, if you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got." ~ Amy Dickinson.Whenever a family member has somewhat compulsively behaved in a certain manner for a very long time, and then decides to change, the change often does not go over well with the rest of the family. The others seem determined to force the changer to go back to his or her old ways. In this post, I am emphasizing the above process rather than the particular role described in these letters, which I have not previously discussed directly as a separate entity. In the following three letters, the writers all had served in various incarnations of the same role, and complain about the reactions of the rest of their families when circumstances changed. The role might be called the “family support person,” or in a more extreme form, the “family servant” or even “the enabler.” 6/7/13. Dear Carolyn: I’ve always been the one in my family to give whenever possible. When I went to college, I took on student loans so my sister wouldn’t have to. A few years later, when her car died, I purchased a new one and gave her mine. When family needed help, I was always there. Now I’m trying to purchase a house, and no one seems the least bit interested in helping me. I swallowed my pride and asked for financial assistance, even if it was a “loan,” and was told tough toenails. Would it be wrong for me to cut my family out of my life? I feel as if I was the great son whenever I went out of my way to help, but now I’m just some annoyance. - Always the Giver 6/18/13. Dear Amy:
I've spent most of my life being a support system for various friends and relatives through one crisis or another. I've always been proud of the fact that I'm someone they can rely on when they need to. Recently, I learned that I may have a debilitating disease for which there is no cure. No firm diagnosis has been reached, but at this point it doesn't look great. Since I received the last batch of test results, I have witnessed my friends and relatives pull away from me, dismiss my symptoms and change the subject if I bring it up. I understand that everyone has their own lives and problems, but I desperately need some support right now. — Lost
June 24, 2013. Dear Annie: My husband and I both work 18-hour days at a hospital. When we get home, we are exhausted. Since our schedules are irregular, however, our siblings seem to think it means we are always available for free babysitting. My husband's sister (a stay-at-home mom) is forever dropping off her toddler, saying she needs to "de-stress." She never calls ahead. We've tried locking the door, but she has a key. My brother has dropped off his young sons multiple times without warning and with no indication of when he'd be back. He stopped when I told him I was going to start charging him $12.50 an hour. The last straw was when my oldest brother's wife arrived one weekend in a van with seven little girls and stated that these kids were staying overnight with us because she and her girlfriend were going to a spa. I was just getting off a 24-hour shift, and I told her politely that since she hadn't checked with me beforehand, she'd have to make other arrangements because I was too exhausted to care for her girls and those of her friend. She became angry and told my nieces that I don't love them. Her girlfriend, whom I had never met, screamed at me from the passenger window. After they left, I got nasty phone calls from my brother and parents. The friend sent me an itemized bill and asked that I reimburse her for the spa trip they missed. Instead of responding, my husband and I sent our family members an email outlining that we love them and our nieces and nephews, but we would no longer be available for babysitting unless it was an emergency. We apologized for being rude or for causing them any trouble. The email was much kinder and more polite than they deserved, but we hoped it would allow us to start over. It was not received well. Currently, the only person speaking to us is my father-in-law. We considered moving in order to have boundaries, but I resent being forced out of a house I love. I miss my family. What can we do? — Not the NannyYour Spouse’s Secret Mission Wherein one’s spouse plays the villain to take the heat off a husband or wife who cannot stand up to his or her own family.8/19/12. Dear Annie: My daughter-in-law tends to go to her family. She says she is uncomfortable with my son's side. She has been rude to us since she married my son, and she controls him. She threatens him if he does not do what she wants. My daughter had a fight with my daughter-in-law four years ago, and I just woke up to the fact that my daughter-in-law blames us for my daughter's actions. My husband and I tried therapy with my son and daughter-in-law, but it made things worse. I left, saying that I am not happy with either of them and I just want to see my grandchildren. My son said that if I don't continue with therapy, I won't see the kids again. They are using the children as weapons to control us. I told her she didn't like us from Day One. She told me she doesn't trust me. My new granddaughter had a baptism, and my daughter-in-law told us it was an occasion only for her family. We were insulted and hurt. I'm thinking of going to court and suing for grandparents' rights. — TrustworthyTag, you’re it Despite the protestations of heritability study authors across the universe, parents do not treat all of their children the same.9/21/13. Dear Annie: I'd like to add my two cents about whether parents treat their children the same. Mom, Sis and I live equidistant from one another. Sis still lives near the place where we grew up. Mom moved to a warmer climate. We call each other every weekend to catch up and stay in touch. Sis and I fly to visit Mom about once a year. Mom visits Sis and her family a few times a year. But despite the many invitations I have extended, she will not visit me. When I had heart surgery five years ago, Mom did not come. When I was hospitalized for pancreatitis, Mom did not come. Of the 25 stage plays I've appeared in, Mom came to see exactly one. She will never see the home my wife and I remodeled. It seems the things that are important to me don't matter much to her. I suppose there is a certain amount of validity in her excuse that there's nothing that interests her in my city, but when we visit our son and his family, we don't care whether there is anything to do. We are simply glad to be with them. Does Mom love me? Certainly. Does she love me as much as my sister? Probably. Does she treat us the same? Judge for yourself. — That's My Lot in Life