Dear Amy: I have been estranged from my mother for a little over a year. She was mentally and occasionally physically abusive to me while I was growing up. She herself was abused and neglected as a child.
I have tried to repair our relationship, but she crosses any boundaries I set and places me in difficult situations to prove my love and loyalty.
For example, she asked me to disinvite my brother, who had been estranged from her for years, from our wedding and then refused to attend a celebration with my in-laws in an attempt to embarrass me.
The relationship has been fraught for decades. She refuses contact when she’s upset.
Now I’m pregnant with our first child. We are currently not speaking (which is a relief), but I’m torn whether to tell her about my pregnancy.
On the one hand, our baby will be her first grandchild. On the other, if I reach out to tell her, it will be impossible for me to set boundaries without another extremely stressful blowup at some unclear point in the horizon. My husband and I are unsure: What do I owe her? What is best for my new family?
Dear Torn: Let’s start with what you “owe,” and to whom.
You now owe everything to your child. Everything. You and your husband will make your share of mistakes – as all parents do – but you will give your child a different and better mother than the one you had.
You will break the legacy of abuse your mother inherited. She was a hurt child, and she hurt her children. That stops with you.
Important life events may trigger your mother to act out. I won’t attempt to diagnose her (I have some theories), but you should assume that regardless of how you behave, she might not ever behave within bounds.
For instance, you tell her about your pregnancy, and she blames and shames you for not telling her earlier. She may then punish you by initiating an estrangement – and blaming you for it. Expect this.
The difference now is that you will be more in control. The way to do this is to be prepared to always say a calm and swift “no” whenever her manipulation or behavior crosses the line. You say “no” and you (figuratively) show her the door.
I believe it is possible to have your mother somewhat in your life – if you want – but the relationship will only be stable if she is stable. Urge and encourage her to get professional help.
Dear Amy: My father has been asking what should become of a model railroad set he gave to me as a kid.
I’ve never been passionate about the hobby, and the set has mostly remained in its original packaging at my parents’ house in Texas.
As my father enters his mid-70s, I think he’s seeking closure on some of these memories. I don’t live nearby or usually visit for long enough to build it with him. (It’s more like a few starting pieces than a self-contained set.)
Even if I did have the space in my California apartment, I’m not sure my interest in model trains extends beyond the connection to my father.
Is there a way to have him feel appreciated for the gift without accepting the equipment? Is there an opportunity to connect with him over this without committing myself to a hobby?
– HO Scale
Dear HO: My first suggestion is that you consider making a trip to see your folks that lasts long enough to actually get this train up and running.
In 10 years’ time, you might wish you had spent an entire week with your parents when they were in their 70s, where all you did was hang out and play, with no particular agenda.
Another idea is to tell your father, “I’m sorry this hobby never ‘took,’ but there is another fun way to play with this train set…” and show him the magic of selling these collectables online. In the original packaging, these pieces could bring in a nice profit.
Dear Amy: Responding to the question from “Feeling Helpless,” why should this child’s grandparents bear the financial responsibility for his mental health treatment? What are his parents doing?
I have multiple grandchildren and I love all of them, but I would not be able to pay for that kind of treatment.
Dear Disappointed: I assumed that the grandparents were asked to pay for this residential treatment because the family was tapped out.
You can email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068