Dear Amy: About two years ago, my mother initiated a falling-out with her siblings (after their mother’s death). I supported her in this decision, because she described them as being emotionally abusive.
I can’t personally vouch for all of these behaviors (they have always been kind and generous to me), but my mom obviously had a long history with them from before I was born. She has expressed relief in separating from those relationships, and I have applauded her in cutting negative relationships out of her life.
On the other hand, I have been struggling with my own relationships with my aunts and uncle. If I speak to them, my mom insists that I tell her about it, lest we discuss her “behind her back.” She seems unable to handle me having my own relationship with them.
I love my mom deeply, and don’t want to betray her, but I also miss my family and want to have a relationship with them.
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Over the past two years I have taken the course of least resistance, by not attending family events. I’m starting to resent my mother for her involvement in my own estrangement, and would like to begin the (long) road to fix this. I grew up with my aunts and uncle, and I honestly miss them very much.
My mom becomes so emotional (and self-centered?) about the issue when we discuss it. How do I explain to her the effect it is having on me? I don’t think she wants to reconcile with them, at all.
Is it wrong for me to want a relationship with them? Is it possible to have functioning relationships with both her and them separately?
Dear Torn: You have been understanding and supportive of your mother’s efforts to free herself from these negative sibling relationships. That’s what “good” children do.
However, your mother doesn’t have the right to then insist that you engage in this estrangement, alongside her.
Without question, some sibling relationships are toxic, but she does not report that these family members are an emotional danger to you -- only that she is protecting herself.
You should attempt to climb onto the tightrope that many children of acrimonious divorces (for instance) tiptoe across. This involves you letting your mother conduct her relationships the way she chooses, and you making your own choices.
You should assure your mother that you never discuss or gossip about her. If either party asks about the other, you should offer polite but non-revealing responses.
If she becomes emotional whenever you discuss it, you should comfort her, but not let her manipulate you.
If she can’t handle a conversation about these relationships, then you shouldn’t engage in one.
Dear Amy: As we approach another holiday, I’m wondering how to handle a situation with a single dad who is part of our family. We routinely include him and his two kids and tell him what time we will eat. He invariably shows up almost an hour late, sometimes without his kids, when the table was set for them.
We used to hold dinner, but don’t anymore. This has been a pattern for years.
The late arrival disrupts the family togetherness and upsets the host.
How do we fix this so that holidays are enjoyable for all? No one wants to say anything when it happens because it is a holiday. But is there a tactful way to address it before it happens again?
Dear Annoyed: First of all, this reluctance to offer a gentle correction to a family member “because it is a holiday” contributes to this pattern continuing.
Understand that his lateness, or the kids’ absence, might be the result of challenging holiday negotiations with his ex. Holidays can be a nightmare for divorced parents.
Yes, you should set the table and eat at whatever time the host decides. The host should always warmly welcome any family members, even if they are late. But it’s also OK to say, privately, “We love seeing you and the kids. But do you realize how disruptive it is when you’re late?”
This year, if you’re sitting down at 3 p.m., you could contact him and say, “We’ll plan to see you at two.” This social trickery might work, at least once.
Dear Readers: Sometimes people who dispense advice run out of answers. If you’ve ever been curious about the life behind my advice, read my new book, “Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home” (2017, Hachette).
Email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.