Dear Margo: Making a Choice Work

Juggling a live-in mother, demanding job, and husband. Margo Howard’s advice

Making a Choice Work

Dear Margo: My 71-year-old mother moved in with my husband and me several months ago. We invited her to do this so we could help with financial issues and also take care of her. She has an advanced cancer but is stable. She moved from another state to be with us. I realize I’m lucky to have a supportive husband who encouraged my mom to move in with us. She has no mobility or dementia issues; however, our house is small, and this is starting to take its toll.

We have no children, so we’re used to having our own space. My husband, who loves my mother, is becoming frustrated that she is here all the time. We rarely get time to be by ourselves unless we leave the house. My mom is also prickly. She can be mean and belittling — although I think she is working on that. My husband’s mom is the most generous, loving person, so my husband does not have the same skill set that I do for dealing with her.

I feel I must be the buffer between my husband and my mother and am turning cartwheels to keep them both happy. I shuttle Mom to and from her treatments, as well as some local classes and events to get her involved in the community. I also have a demanding job. I’m starting to become shrewish and don’t know how to stop. I do not like the woman I am becoming, but I don’t know what to do. — Discomfited

Dear Dis: I hope you take some pleasure in being a good daughter, especially with a mother who is not easy. The time, space and privacy issues can be improved. Hunt up a senior center where there are both companions and activities in the evening for her. Encourage her to live her life. Keep praising your husband for his generous instincts concerning your mother, and remind him (and yourself) of a saying common among surgeons: All bleeding stops. With advanced cancer, I suspect that you, your spouse and your mother will not be a threesome indefinitely. — Margo, philosophically

Favoritism Can Leave Lasting Scars

Dear Margo: I am writing about my 13-year-old nephew. He is being ignored by his mom (my sister) and dad due to the fact that he is not my sister’s husband’s child. When they got married, “Mark” was wonderful to the little boy. Then they had a child three years later. I’ve been noticing that the youngest is treated less harshly and more lovingly than “Jake,” who gets in trouble for even minor things. My sister lets “the baby” get away with a lot of things, like staying home from school even when she knows he’s not sick.

Jake has been acting out in school and is a very angry child. I go out of my way to be extra nice to him. I did learn part of the problem from my mom. My sister thinks that Jake is going to turn out like his biological father. How can I help my nephew? — Sad Bystander

Dear Sad: Jake is (predictably) acting out in school because he is a victim of what’s going on at home. And of course he is angry. Your sister and her husband have to be made aware of what their favoritism is doing to this young boy. If your sister fears he will turn out like his father, she is certainly, along with his stepfather, doing everything to make that happen.

You could try explaining this, but I’m not sure your opinion would matter much. There needs to be an intervention by a professional to explain to the parents what is happening, because they display zero insight. Try the school psychologist (if there is one). If not, there are child service agencies that can help. Good luck. — Margo, remedially


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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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63 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Brenda S says:

    I feel for the nephew who is being neglected.  I have a cousin that went through the same thing and he is in his 60s.  He is still very angry for his parents never seeming to really wanting him.  He was the baby and had an older brother that was mentally challenged.  His mother seemed to dote on that son.  She seemed to never have time for him.  I don’t think the others did either.  Parents don’t realize how lasting their neglect lingers on an individual.

  2. avatar Amy says:

    When will people learn you never, EVER allow relatives to move in with you, under any circumstance! There is always another way!  I’ve seen far too many relationships fall apart because an in-law moved in, and countless other siblings, cousins, etc. who are no longer on speaking terms after being roomies.
    For the poor child in L#2, my heart goes out to him. I agree with Margo that her words will probably fall on deaf ears, but her nephew needs help, even if it means reporting your sister.

    • avatar mayma says:

      Never, EVER???  Under any circumstances?  I’m so lucky my family doesn’t feel this way.  And “report” the sister?  To whom?  Social services?!?!  

    • avatar Toni T says:

      Under any circumstances? Well Amy, I was the relative who moved in–because my parents were both diagnosed with terminal illnesses–and took care of them for two years until they both died. I don’t think they had any regrets about getting me as a “roomie.” I don’t know whether I should feel sorry for your relatives or that they dodged a bullet, but by all means–you shouldn’t live with anyone who requires compassion.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      Miss black-and-white logic strikes again. 

      Things rarely work like this in the real world. 

    • avatar K HG says:

      My mother-in-law lived with us for ten years, and when we could no longer keep her safe due to her dementia, she moved into a memory care unit where she lives now. 
      You write “…never, EVER allow relatives to move in with you, under any circumstance…”.

      Really? I would agree that one should not enter into this type of arrangement lightly, but there are some instances (such as ours) in which it really is the best solution. It was not easy for us, but I would not change a thing. It was the right thing to do under the circumstances. And our family is still intact. 

      Just offering a different perspective.  

    • avatar sdpooh says:

      I disagree about never letting a relative move in.  I actually had my ex mother-in-law as my room mate for several years.  She was living near a relative in Mississippi, my ex was in California and Betty was very unhappy in Miss.  I told her to move on up to South Dakota and live in my house with me and my son.  We had a very nice family situation for a few years, until she was no longer able to negotiate the steps up to the house and moved to a senior apartment building.  My son, his friends and I all took turns helping her out by shopping, visiting and going to lunch with “grandma” on a regular basis.  Eventually she made the choice to move back to California and entered assisted living near my ex until she passed away last year.  She was a lovely lady and she always said I was her other daughter, even tho her son and I were divorced. 

  3. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Re LW#1: It sounds like, with the best of intentions, you and your husband did not think this lifestyle change through before committing to it.  Unfortunately, caring for an aging and ill parent is a hard, demanding, and emotionally draining experience under the best of circumstances for all parties involved including the parent.  When one is living in your house, as opposed to on their own or in an assisted living community, you have no respite, as you and your husband are learning.  If it is not too late, and it is doable financially, you might consider an assisted living facility…one in which you can rent an apartment for your mother on a month to month basis (not one of those places which require a huge upfront fee of $50 to 100K).  This would give your mother a community where she can make some friends and the staff will see she gets her medicines, is well fed, provide housekeeping services (and may even provide transportation to doctors visits to some extent).  You can always visit, bring her home for weekends or overnight visits.  If this is not affordable, I’m afraid you will just have to gut it out.    You are fortunate that she does not have mobility or dementia issues.  And while I understand your mother has a difficult personality, it cannot be easy for her to leave her home, have cancer and treatments, and know that she is a burden.  Hang in there…as Margo says, this situation will not last forever. 

    LW#2:  Sadly, I believe it is not uncommon for the child of a prior relationship to be shuffled aside somewhat when the child of the new marriage or relationship arrives.  Not only that, a cute little child is much easier to love than a pimply, smelly, hormonally charged adolescent.  Before going to authorities, I would sit down with your sister and have a very frank discussion which may or may not do any good.  I’m not certain going to the authorities will do any good either unless there is proof of active abuse as opposed to emotional neglect or unequal treatment in favors or discipline and a visit from SRS to your sister’s home will irreparably damage your relationship with her and her husband and may result in their cutting off your access to Jake.  A talk with the school’s counselor may yield better results but eventually, it comes down to your sister waking up and smelling the coffee as Margo’s mom would say.  I would make an effort to spend time with him on your own, encourage him, and try to mentor him.        


  4. avatar Briana Baran says:

    L#!: “I hope you take some pleasure in being a good daughter…” –Margo
    Really? I must say, does no one understand the notion of responsibility, including Margo? Not everything you do as an adult brings pleasure or personal satisfaction. Sometimes you just have to do what is necessary, even if it is stressful and unpleasant. Yes, a senior center or some activity would be good for LW1’s mother…and the LW and her husband…and yes, moving a parent into the home often a recipe for disaster. But, as Margo so succinctly points out, with advanced cancer mom ought to be out of the picture before the War of the Roses commences.
    Or not. It’s somewhat irri…surprising…how long someone can hang on in relatively good health with advanced cancer at a relatively “advanced” age. My husband had an uncle-by-marriage who managed 16 years of it…Stage 4 cancer for the last six, and up on his feet and abusive and mean as ever. Margo should well know…Man plans, “god” laughs…
    L#2: There just is not enough information here to justify such a strong response. Is the older boy’s bio-dad involved in any of this? Is he, or his family, promoting negative attitudes about the mother and step-father, and is the son acting on those? Did he begin acting out at home when the younger child was born? Have his mother and step-father already talked to school professionals such as a counselor or psychologist about his behavior? How old was he when they chose to have their own child? Have they sought any help for them, and him? How do they behave toward him in the privacy of their own home? And is there a substantive reason for your sister’s anxiety…has something happened that has caused her antenna to twitch, and is there something in her ex’s past or present to be truly concerned about that her son’s behaviors are currently pointing toward?
    And the most important question of all for LW2, the concerned aunt…do you live in his and his mother’s/step-father’s home, have you ascertained all of the facts, or are you having a sympathy reaction based on a few phone calls, and observations at family gatherings? Before you get confrontational, you would do well to establish facts, and ask your sister how her son is doing, how she is doing, and if anything is troubling her. Did you even ask her why she would worry that her son might be coming to resemble his bio-father? I would. Maybe Jake is “acting out” in school for a lot of reasons…and maybe he is acting out in other ways as well…that have nothing to do with “abandonment issues”, and everything to do with whoever he is “hanging out with”, whatever is being said by bio-dad’s family, by being thirteen (that is the hardest age of all, 13-15), because he is, and always has been, jealous (not even a weird reaction) of his younger sibling…and not necessarily because of his parents’ ignoring him, because he’s trying out drugs or alcohol (perfectly happy kids do this…trust me…even at thirteen…and I am not self-referencing), because he’s rebelling without a clue…you just don’t know. 
    As for calling in child protective services in a case in which a child is rumored to be treated unfairly and ignored because a younger half-sibling is getting more attention…Margo, you need to drink another cup of coffee, preferably with a shot of espresso in it, and a lot of sugar. I don’t think so. Let’s just put our best efforts into a situation that lacks any clarity or factual information at all because of a case of rumored favoritism. If that is all it is, yes, it is terrible, that’s something I do know all too well. But the LW doesn’t even state that anyone is abusive toward her nephew…no put-downs, no neglect, obviously his mother is expressing worry (I have my doubts that she said, “I’m ignoring him because I’m afraid he’ll be just like his bio dad”), just he’s “ignored” and the other child “favored”. Of course potentially breaking up a family based on this is an excellent idea.
    No projecting here…mom emphatically did NOT like me best. There is something off in this letter, and a serious lack of information. Sister, take a full step back.

    • avatar martina says:

      “Really? I must say, does no one understand the notion of responsibility, including Margo? Not everything you do as an adult brings pleasure or personal satisfaction.”

      Briana, I believe that what Margo may be trying to say here is that knowing that you are being a good responsible daughter and doing the right thing can keep you going when it gets difficult taking care of them.  It gives peace when they are gone because you know that you did all you could for them.  Yes, they can live a lot longer than expected and then they can also pass away and be gone before you know it.

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        I suppose that in my case, I am already at peace with my mother. My responsibility now is to ensure she doesn’t become a burden soley for my sister, or, horribly, my 71 year old cousin and her 78 year old husband…in any way.
        I also suppose I wouldn’t want anyone to fall down a flight of stairs and break something and potentially lie there in the heat and die of dehydration or pain/shock…with a few definite exceptions. Or die and lie there in the heat. No one else in the family accepts these very real possibilities. Oddly, for the family bull goose loony, my reality check can always be relied on to go through without bouncing. I don’t like my mother, and she doesn’t like me, but this is the way it is and everybody has to be somewhere.
        So it is hard for me to quite accept that notion of, well, now she’s dead, and I did everything I could and was the Good, Dutiful Daughter and my Just Reward is Peace and Quiet now that the old w….now that she’s gone to rest. Feh. It’s like the whole idea of not being bothered by suffering or privation on earth (particularly that of someone other than one’s self) because of the Promise of an afterlife and Paradise and Forgiveness. Not so much. I’ll live for now, which I’m fairly certain exists…even solipsistically. 

    • avatar Lila says:

      Briana, I do think these days we are a bit too selfish as a society… too much emphasis on feel-good and not enough on that dusty old notion called duty

      • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

        Why do you think that doing your duty and taking pleasure in the fact that you are doing your duty, especially when it is difficult to do, is mutually exclusive? 

        • avatar Briana Baran says:

          I didn’t say anything about mutual exclusivity. I thought that Margo’s comment, as a preface or opening statement for her reply, had a very real ring of sarcasm to it. It is clear that LW1 is not taking any pleasure in being a “good daughter”, and I sincerely hope that’s not why she’s taking care of her mother, because being a “good daughter” and feelings of guilt, unhappy obligation, resentment and shame all too often go hand-in-hand.
          There is a vast difference between “doing your duty” and being accountable. Obligation breeds misery…willingly accepting responsibility does not. You don’t have to take any pleasure from the latter, or suffer from it…just roll with it and move forward. Just the phrases “good son” and “good daughter” are cringe-worthy. How about responsible person who knows what needs to be done, whether you owe any debt, obligation or fealty to a parent or not?
          Hope this clarifies my undoubtedly unacceptable view of Margo’s comment.

          • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

            Implicit in Margo’s statement was that the daughter was doing her duty, which is why she is a good daughter.  I read into it that Margo hoped that the woman could see that she was doing the right thing, even though it is difficult, and take pleasure in the fact that she is the type of person who does not shirk her obligations because those obligations are difficult. 
            People do not feel just feel one thing at a time in many instances.  Things that make them miserable can give momentary pleasures even in the midst of misery.  It is the proverbial silver lining. 
            We have different definitions of obligations, if your definition includes anything relating to an emotional response.  I see an obligation as something that is ethically required of someone.  It certainly makes it easier to perform if it also makes you happy, but it does not change the ethics of whether to perform the action or not.  A person does not have to take pleasure or find misery in any action, but inevitably it seems to happen in many cases.
            I would suggest that a responsible person knows what needs to be done because they know what their obligation is.  If they did not fulfill their obligation, then are they really being responsible?  I don’t think you can separate the two because responsibility is often defined based upon performance of duties and/or obligations in this context. 
            No one said anything about your view or anyone else’s view being unacceptable.  It was a legitimate question.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            To me. “duty” and “obligation” are inextricably bound to “indebtedness”, the concept of “owing”, and have extremely negative connotations. This is not just a semantic issue by any means. If a child survives without, or even in spite of her parents, why should her choice to be responsible have anything to do with indebtedness and the societal concept of Duty? Duty and Obligation have to with socially and culturally imposed rules of fealty when it comes to parents and children.
            A responsible person will act regardless of whether there is duty or obligation. I have no sense of either toward my mother, or for that matter, my family. Abandoning my sister, who had grown into a truly emotionally incapable person, with the task of seeing to our mother, who is a wretched human being, would just be cruel, but she is an independent adult, with a fine and kind husband, and I have no duty to her (especially given her refusal to even rationally discuss mom).  My elderly cousins have their own lives, children and grandchildren. My other sister is mostly interested in what little material gain she can get from our mother (which I don’t care a thing about, and never have). Sadly for her, all liquid assets and the house will either go to pay for care, or to pay off a poorly planned reverse mortgage, and in order to collect her inheritance, in the form of mother’s abundant stuff, she will have to figure out, within a reasonable time frame, how to get it from the USA to England without my assistance. Otherwise, my other sister and I will estate sale the lot and give the money to charity. Perhaps a decent rehab facility, or fetal alcohol syndrome research. 
            Ethics don’t play into this at all for me. Ten years ago, mom could have broken her hip falling down her stairs, and I would not have gone to see her, or made any arrangements for her care, or picked out her casket no matter who begged or pleaded. Having learned the better part of wisdom is to not expend a lot of energy on rage, I know that I am the only person in our remaining family who has the grasp of reality, stamina, and perhaps detachment to do whatever needs to be done…but it isn’t because of my ethics. If I was acting on my sense of duty and ethics, I would have found a way to put my mother away years ago. She’s a hazard to humanity. 
            Perhaps I don’t feel a great sense of duty to Society as a Whole. In fact, I doubt that I do. I don’t associate responsibility with unspoken Law. It’s just what you do when it needs doing, not because you have to, but because you know what is right.
            As for the comment about acceptability, I am so accustomed to being attacked that I add disclaimers to my posts. Please, it wasn’t meant personally.

          • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

            I don’t understand your post.  I see it as a contradiction.  I do not see how you can say that it is not about ethics but also claim that it is about knowing what the right thing to do is.   
            I did not take your statement personally. I was letting you know that my query is a legitimate one to seek an answer, not to criticize.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            Sometimes the “right” thing is not the ethical thing. My sister believes it is completely unethical, and morally bereft to “rob my mother of her independence and dignity” by forcing the issue of placement in a facility, even one that provides excellent care, if she (my mother) doesn’t “want”, or feels she doesn’t need to go. This is an opinion shared bu a lot of people regarding morality, the ethical treatment of the elderly…particularly one’s parents…and Duty and Obligation. Very few seem to think about accountability.
            However, I very well know that my sister cannot handle even two hours with my mother, let alone living with her, and that all of my mother’s care-givers live near her, and that if she did come to Texas from Illinois at this point, she would be living in an assisted living facility. If she were in any worse condition, cognitively, responsibility and accountability wise, or physically, it might be a nursing home, ethics be damned. This is also what I think should happen in Illinois. The entire family considers this unethical, and a breach of Duty/Obligation.
            I am in no way being contradictory, in that I see Duty/Obligation as social constructs enforced whether they make sense or not…and responsibility/accountability as personal choices made based on situation and actuality.

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            “Hope this clarifies my undoubtedly unacceptable view of Margo’s comment.”

            You have a tendency to overreact to differences of opinion from yours.  

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            David: People have a tendency to go on the warpath every time I disagree with the consensus. Some of the replies have been seriously apoplectic, others, amazingly specious. I was not “over-reacting”. I simply added a disclaimer. How about you ease off the throttle a bit yourself, hmmm? Why are my comments so bothersome to you?

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            It’s a simple observation, and again—you’re making an assumption about the intensity of someone else’s (namely my) feelings.

            I don’t find your comments in general to be bothersome—it’s your “I’m under fire for having a different opinion” attitude of late that is incredibly tiresome. Just like Amy, who 99.99% of the time wants to see the absolute worst in someone’s intentions, you have this ongoing struggle with accepting the least bit of criticism towards anything you post. Case in point: “Hope this clarifies my undoubtedly unacceptable view…” with a follow-up of “I am so accustomed to being attacked…”. 

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            And like I posted in another thread—this also manifests itself in your other assumption that posts are referring to you and your situations, when that is not necessarily so. 

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            David, when a reader addresses you by name, their reply is indented and immediately follows yours, and then specifically addresses, in either a specious or extremely aggressive manner (you’re sick, you’re crazy, you’re stupid, you’re a slut…I was once actually a polite person on these threads before all of that started) the content of your post, particularly with a quote of said content…I think one can safely assume that the individual was indeed referring to you and your situations.
            I have no trouble accepting criticism (this from someone who often becomes terribly offended when anyone questions his opinions, and then bows out with a snippy, “Whatever”) when it is intelligently given. I do not like being called crazy, stupid, evil, slutty, hateful, un-American, racist, sick, retarded or any of the things that have been blithely tossed out in random attacks lately after I’ve given considerate, even unbiased, but alternate replies. That isn’t criticism…that’s flaming.
            I’m replying to you because it’s obvious that you directed your comments to me. If I am somehow being dim enough to be mistaken, please disregard.

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            Again, you’re making a blanket generalization. Not all posts are directed at you, and not all criticisms are personal. No one has said that you haven’t been attacked before—what I am saying is that you act as though you are being attacked all the time. There is a difference. 

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            So, are you talking to, commenting about, responding to me or not? Your posts appear to be replies to me. When I reply…you say don’t take it personally, not everyone is replying to you (despite the whole indent, appearing immediately afterward, etc., indications that they are, indeed, replies to my posts). so, if they aren’t responses to me, why not comment randomly? In thread formats…well, anyway.
            I am not acting “like I am being attacked all of the time” and since you are generalizing freely with that particular comment, I think I’ll just take a pass on the “generalization” bit. I don’t know a thing about your feelings, I do know that your comments are a little intense, and I don’t know why you’ve chosen to push at this. If anyone is taking this “personally” and far too seriously, it is you. I went through a very recent period of about three months, during which every post I made generated a somewhat astounding variety of unwarranted attacks. Not “criticisms”, not differing opinions,  stupid, senseless, nasty, WTF sort of attacks. Off topic, childish garbage.
            I don’t take it “personally” in the sense you mean. I also am not the sort to say “O, gee, sorry”, or hide under a rock. I can disagree with a person, have a fascinating debate, and manage opposing opinions quite well. When I get tired of asinine behavior, I call people on it. Hence the remark about “unacceptable” opinions.That was sarcasm, and it was not directed at anyone specific. I just figured I’d get the usual from someone. If my posts offend, if you don’t like my opinion, fine…but don’t call me “sick”, or a pervert, or crazy. 
            I’m pretty much done with this conversation…not because I’m offended, or taking it personally, but because you just don’t seem to see my point of view…and that’s also fine with me. You can be pretty damn scratchy yourself.

        • avatar Lila says:

          State, it need not be mutually exclusive.  I was focusing more on what I see as a growing tendency to avoid one’s duty / responsibility if one does not derive pleasure or satisfaction from it.

          • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

            Okay.  I can understand that point.  I think that is exists as you say, but  I disagree that it is a growing tendency.  I think that it was always there but it appears to be growing due to the changing norms regarding what duty entails.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Briana, you beat me to it on LW2.  We don’t know how much or why the older kid is acting out.  In the absence of better information, it’s completely possible that whatever situation is going on  has nothing to do with the fact that he is the child of a failed marriage.  Normal adolescence, normal sibling rivalry, his inborn personality, peer pressure, or any combination of things could be at work.
      That said… this is one reason why my Dad never remarried.  He did not want to deal with a new wife wanting “her own” kids, which would then create an automatic us-vs.-them division.  Add the fact that we were adopted kids, and he worried that we might end up really feeling like we didn’t belong at all.  Would that have happened?  Who knows?  But hey, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White… the theme of unwanted children of previous spouses is an old and enduring one in the human psyche…

  5. avatar Shortyblueyes says:

    Driving a cancer patient to and from treatments can be costly and time-consuming. There is a national program that has volunteers who pick up patient wherever he or she lives, drives them to the appointment (no matter how many miles away it is or how long it will take), waits for them, and then returns them home again. The resulting companionship is beneficial to the patient AND the driver. If the patient generally doesn’t want to make conversation or prefers to use that time to reflect, they are lined up with an appropriate volunteer who will respect that.  I can’t remember the name of the program (Sorry!) but a google search should find it pretty quickly. This will save wear and tear on the adult daughter’s psyche and car, as well as free up her schedule so she can get back to work. I understand, I have been there myself.

  6. avatar Shortyblueyes says:

    I was the least favorite of three children, I was the “baby.” Mom and dad split up in 1970 when I was just 7 years old. I took care of my mom for three years before she died in 2008, and her best friend gave me all the letters mom had written to her from the various places mom had lived (Caribbean, Central America, FL) when she retired in the 1980s up until mom came back home in 2000. Mom was a prolific writer. Turns out, my gut instinct was right, mom didn’t really like me very much. I couldn’t do anything right and she was often critical of me to the point where I couldn’t wait to leave when I was done helping her out for the day. The letters unfortunately proved it. However, I’m pretty sure she loved me to a degree – after all, I WAS her natural child (and my father’s, no doubt about that). But I believe she was planning on leaving him or throwing him out when my brother was young and she didn’t get around to it, or hadn’t saved up enough money or courage, and then along came me. I hope but suspect that my dad may have actually forced himself on my mom, resulting in her becoming pregnant with me. I wouldn’t put it past him. So yeah. I know what it’s like to be the Not-Favorite Child. It hurts.

    • avatar Shortyblueyes says:

      Revising: I hope NOT but suspect…

    • avatar B.eadle says:

      Good grief!! Why would this woman give you those letters?!  Obviously, she did you no favors, and she certainly didn’t honor her friendship with your mother by doing so.  

      • avatar Kriss says:

        I agree Beadle, it was a bad move to give the letters to shortyblueyes, but the friend may have forgotten what was in the letters or maybe the friend did remember & possibly based on conversations w/ shorty, thought s/he would want the confirmation that her/his mistreatment wasn’t imagined & get some kind of “closure” from that.

        • avatar Briana Baran says:

          @ Kriss and B.eadle: I wish someone had once had the guts and determination…and caring…to actually say, “Yes, your mother always detested you”, and then give me some sort of physical proof of that so I could hand it to her…she’s still alive…and say, “Isn’t this enough to make you just quit hurling the bovine fecal matter?”. I’m not paranoid, and I know what she did…but the only persons left alive have bought into The Story.
          Now, it doesn’t matter, because it’s a matter that I’ve dealt with, but there was a time when the pain and bafflement were smothering. Why would my own mother want to give me downers so that she could sleep when I was a newborn? Why did my father say he was going to take me away from her? Why is every story she tells about me negative? Why did she allow me to be abused, bullied and threatened and even sexually assaulted, by anyone and everyone who came along? Why did she refer to me constantly as fat and ugly, and hate the fact that I read books? Why did I get blamed for my sister’s poor grades? Why has she never taken an interest in her only grandchildren (no, I didn’t have them for HER)?
          These are questions I’ve now answered: she loathed me from birth. The “why” is not important. But it would have been good, in those ago times, to have someone validate my pain, and my hurt, and say, “Yes, she does hate you” rather than trying to make me believe I was stone cold crazy.
          And B.eadle, I’m not certain that shortyblueyes’ mother, being deceased, warrants being “honored”. This comes back to the whole social construct revolving around the Duty to the Dead, Duty to Parents, and Obligations to those who made life hell for those still living. “Shorty” deserves to have her beliefs validated…because it gives her a reality to let go of, rather than something still nebulous and vague that only haunts, but unproven, can never be disproved. The dead are just that, and if we owe little to the the living when all they do is cause us pain, then what do we owe to their empty husks?

  7. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #2: Speak up to the parents. Suggest intervention. Keep suggesting it.

  8. avatar A R says:

    LW1: I’ve seen a number of people, including my own mom, go through this with an ailing parent. My advice is to keep open communication with your spouse, go away for the weekend from time to time (hire someone to check on mom), and remember it’s not personal. Your mom is struggling with the reality that this be the last year of her life…she’s not exactly living in happiness or hope. Take comfort that you’ve done the right and just thing to help her. You won’t regret it one day.
    LW2: I really, really wish folks would pause to plan before having babies with each subsequent spouse they have (whether it be one, two, or three spouses later). Yeah, that sounds awful to those who like to marry and remarry, but that’s how I feel.  When I married my husband (I had a baby from a failed marriage) I explained that I would not have any more children, and if it was a dealbreaker for him to get out then while the getting was good. He agreed, and 13 happy years later, we are a solid family of the same three we started as. Just because we didn’t have a child “together” biologically didn’t mean we didn’t have a child together. Seems to me the world would be a lot better off if folks would raise the kid(s) they already have instead of making more.
    This of course is just one perspective, and I don’t imply that all who have mixed families are evil, selfish humans. I just think human egos get in the way sometimes, and make folks think that their new marriage isn’t “real” if they don’t have a biological child together. I’m not advocating telling the new spouse you will, then changing your mind later—just having an honest upfront look at what you’ve got and who you will be raising, and what the future might hold if you add to the brood, and what your individual track records are for relationships.
    I’ve got a childhood friend who had three kids with his first wife. His second wife had two by her first marriage. They are talking about having one “together”. I wonder at what point the two of them will realize that there are five kids already in the world who really need each of them to be the best parent they can be? Doing that will be challenging enough without adding a “together” baby into the mix. I wonder if they know it’s okay to just be married with what they’ve already got?

    • avatar mac13 says:

      Oh, APLAUSE APPLAUSE. Standing ovation! That is my mantra, you don’t need his hers and ours.

    • avatar Lila says:

      AR, I second the standing ovation.

    • avatar mayma says:

      Not possible to judge other people’s baby-making.  There is no way to know what motivates people — maybe it’s not to solidify a marriage, maybe it’s just the way things unfold, or love.  What works for one party should not be the litmus test for everyone else.  It just doesn’t work to tell other people what they need and don’t need, particularly with something as personal as procreation.

      • avatar Davina Wolf says:

        Too many people have kids just because they can when they aren’t prepared to take care of the kids to adulthood and be decent to them after they are grown.  There has been a lot of destruction from the “everybody has to have kids” school of thought.  There are many, many people who were raised and damaged by inadequate parents.  

        • avatar Lila says:

          Oh, Davina, so true, and even more:  those people who have kids and clearly didn’t want them, should give them up.  You see so many horrible stories about mothers doing awful things to their infants – there was a recent one about a mother intentionally burning her baby with a hair iron, and another who was too busy getting high with her friends to notice that she left her baby on the roof of her car, nor to notice that he fell into the road when she drove away.  Then there was the mom who thought it was OK to allow a pedophile to rape her infant.  Some years ago, there was a single-mom soldier at our base who was going home on leave just after giving birth, but left the newborn in a closet in her quarters, and the baby died.  The list of similar stories goes on and on, and this is just the infants.
          Okay, so you got pregnant and didn’t really want the baby, he cramps your fun, you hate the responsibility – give the child up.  Why the hell would anyone keep a baby they don’t want, only to abuse and kill him?  Whatever happened to adoption?  

          • avatar G T says:

            Two reasons:  One, apparently it’s not easy to give your child up for adoption unless you do it right at birth, with the very few exceptions where you can take your baby but not older child to a hospital no questions asked.
            Second, if you are a teenager or student and give your child up people will nod in agreement about it being the best thing to do, but if you are say 30 and therefore presumably working, people will judge you as the worst human being ever if you give your baby up for adoption.  Nevermind that finances alone shouldn’t determine if you should raise a child.  And heaven forbid if you are married, didn’t want children and gave a baby up for adoption.  You will be viewed as scum of the earth. 
            So even though everyone SAYS adoption is preferable to abortion, not so much in the real world.  For older people and married people its either quietly get an abortion or be a resentful crappy parent because you believe abortion is murder.  You’d never hear the end of it from family, co-workers and friends if you were married and put the baby up for adoption.

          • avatar Lila says:

            GT, I see your points but Davina’s remark had me thinking mainly about parents who so detest their children right from the start, that they end up killing or maiming them.  I can see the fear of causing family rifts or of being seen as a bad mother, but that’s preferable to eventually going to jail for damaging or killing the baby, and one’s family and friends will be even more horrified by that.  
            Why did the soldier intentionally leave the baby in a closet to die, instead of giving the child up?  Why did the mother intentionally, repeatedly burn her child instead of giving him up?  Why did the mother allow the pervert to rape her infant, instead of giving her up?  It makes no sense at all.  If giving children up for adoption is so stigmatizing, maybe we should work on de-stigmatizing it for the sake of the unwanted kids.  There was a time that practically any out-of-wedlock pregnancy led to adoption; I don’t think keeping unwanted kids with their resentful, abusive or neglectful bio parents is an improvement.

        • avatar Carib Island Girl says:

          So true Davina, I think people should have to pass a psych test before being allowed to procreate.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            Ahem, Carib Island Girl, about that psyche test…some of us have invalidated the MMPI-2 and are really reasonably decent, and very loving, caring, responsible parents…cough, cough. I’m not certain how you’d go about testing for appropriate parenting traits…but here’s a clue:  If the persons involved unequivocally state that they’d be the Best, Most Perfect, Awesomest Parents Ever, and that Baby will love them, and that Baby will be Perfect…there is probably trouble.
            Because “Baby” is not a baby, it is a human being, and an individual, and no one and nothing is perfect, and those parents rarely say, “I don’t know s**t from shinola, and I’m having a person, not a pet or worse, a toy, and I am flawed and not ready, and my expectations are ridiculous, and I was an idiot. Help!”. And, most damning of all, they don’t say, “I am determined to do what I need to do, and own what I’ve done, and understand that this will be no cakewalk”. You see this in everyone from 40+ rich people to 14 year old little girls pregnant on purpose cuz it’s the bomb by some jerk with a double handful of baby-mamas to his name cuz that’s all right too. All races and ethnicities, everyone.
            I am pro-choice. We had a 14 year old girl give birth in a school, in the bathroom, and choke the baby with TP, then drown it in the toilet. She knew she was pregnant, she was hiding it, and she’d complained of cramps that day. The school’s hand were tied, school nurses cannot lay hands on a student without parental consent unless it is an emergency. The girl’s own parents didn’t know she was pregnant, even at full term. Women wrap babies in plastic bags, beat them to death, smother them. I’d rather see them aborted.  Better, the schools graphically teach birth control, starting in elementary school…with films of natural childbirth. No painkillers, not the easy, clean, clean, clean variety. Don’t let them proudly bring their babies to school when they’re in middle and high school, or behave as if they’re privileged. They screwed up. They made a mistake, and there are consequences for mistakes. Learn to own that sooner, and maybe they won’t just keep repeating the pattern of failure and entitlement.
            And make birth control, including sterilization, a cheap easy option…and force all of the fundamentalist Christian dogmatists out of government and out of their ability to influence medical and human rights decision making.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      When I married Rusty, I already had my son from my second marriage. I had wanted another child, but had very wisely not gotten pregnant by my son’s bio dad when I saw how he reacted to our much discussed, agreed upon, carefully planned pregnancy and the birth of our son. He regressed to toddler-hood, I-want-I-need-I-gotta-have status, and treating me like a blow-up doll with a pulse (I think he knew I had a pulse…but he might not have cared…).
      We waited 3 years before trying for another child (Rusty and I). Our first attempt ended in a second trimester miscarriage. We gave it one year, only one, and also looked into adopting as a perfectly viable option (how wrong we were…between bizarre questions and hesitations regarding our lack of a religion, and the brutal expense…even though our only specifications were toddler and healthy, it was clear it wasn’t going to happen). We had Morgan. Rusty treated Ian as his own before Morgan’s birth, and after. He loved and loves him. It was Ian’s bio-dad’s family that poisoned the well, and Morgan who suffered due to his brother’s increasing problems with violence and fixation with “evil characters” in media he never watched in our home, jealousy because his brother was “smarter” and better behaved (we should have told Morgan to punch out students in school, or call them the N-word, or become obsessed with Neo-Nazism…he learned the last from kids in his Methodist Youth Group, and his racism from his paternal grandmother…or tell teachers they were m***rf****rs”?). Morgan suffered because of the time I had to spend attending psychiatrist and therapist appointments, ARD and emergency meetings at school, because he couldn’t have friends over because of his brother’s increasing unpredictability. The severity of Ian’s problems didn’t become apparent until just after Morgan’s birth, when he was well into kindergarten.
      We had been going to push for adopting a girl toddler from China…we had the means and the way by then. We changed our minds. Had we known what Ian would be like, we would never have had another child. Not only because of the risk of another autistic child, but because we knew it was going to be a long hard haul for our new son. We didn’t know how hard.
      Ian still visits, but he doesn’t live here. He lives with his bio dad and grandparents in a sick environment. He is 21. Morgan is almost 15, and is now doing extremely well, but I still feel sad and regret the hurt he had to go through. I do not feel guilt…there was no malice in what we did, and we had no idea what kind of horror show he was going to have to live with. He is a very loving, compassionate, loyal and gentle person, with good friends, and a full life. He doesn’t like his brother, and I don’t blame him a bit. 
      We stopped at two children. Had we adopted another, it would have been to give an orphaned, unwanted child a home. We changed our minds because of our situation. We had no baby hunger, societal or family pressure, or ticking biological clocks. For us, having a baby was more practical and less invasive than adopting (blame the US system…it sucks, to put it mildly)…but we set our limits and set them firmly. We could not have predicted the outcome, nor would have not having Morgan have made things better for Ian (every therapist, psychiatrist, school professional, specialist…everyone…has agreed that Morgan’s presence in Ian’s life helped him immeasurably…which is NOT why we had him).
      There is sometimes more to these stories than an outsider can possibly fathom. Sometimes life just happens in a way no one would have ever suspected.

  9. avatar Malasha Martinez says:

    For LW2:  Definitely let the school know what is going on and if they are involved in a Mentor program such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters see if they can recommend he get a mentor (If the school does not have a program recommend to the parents that he may benefit from a mentor). Talk to your sister and give her a list of behaviors that you see them engaging in. It is harder to deny things if you give a concrete examples. I don’t know how far away you live from them them but maybe have him come to stay with you for weekends. Let him know that you love him and that he is a special human being. Without badmouthing his parents talk to him about being firstborn and how parents tend to make lots of mistakes with the first. My sister’s and her husband’s first child is still treated the worst and he is biologically both of their’s. In my sisters case they expected things that were way beyond what a child of that age is capable of and once certain behavior patterns are established they can be hard to break.

    You might also want to recommend family counseling as a way of haveing better communications with there kids especially if the 13 year old is already acting/reacting badly.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      What is she going to tell the school? That her sister and BIL favor “their” child over “her” child? There is no abuse, and no neglect. Everything she has is hearsay.
      As for talking to an already angry 13 year old about how parents make a lot mistakes with the firstborn, that’s a lot like throwing gasoline on a fire. The LW is already purely going on assumption as to the cause of his anger and acting out at school. Let’s give him an excuse to really hate the world (yes, many teenagers “hate the world”. And it, and everyone in it, “hate” them too. It’s emmis. Ask one. Pick one off the mall corridor. He or she will tell you) and to act on his angst, hormones and need to rebel. His parents will truly thank you. So will his school.
      O, by all means give his parents a “list of their behaviors” that they really must correct in order to be better parents. Don’t first ask if there is a situation brewing that is causing difficulties, don’t even entertain the notion that just possibly you don’t completely understand the mechanics of the family dynamic. Just start with the firm accusations and clear examples so that there will be no rational, solid basis for denial. 
      Once again…I am the oldest of three children, mom detested me from birth (wanted to give me downers when I was two weeks old because I, wretched ungrateful monster that I was, wouldn’t let her sleep. Her doctor was properly horrified, and this was in 1959. she also took lots of amphetamines to keep her slim figure while she was carrying me…might have been why I wouldn’t sleep), abused and berated me and made my life utter hell (this is anecdotal n nature…I am not kvetching, just stating for the record. “Kay?), and still would treat me like a bloated, road-kill possum if it would only bother me. It doesn’t, and this leaves her too baffled to be able to come up with much more than Mom’s Terminal Illness and Tragedy of the Week Review. I get the favoritism thing. But come on, people. The letter is empty, vague and a little off. What gives?
      I suspect my mother of killing hobos with her cooking and either sinking them in her farm pond, or stacking them in her derelict barn. That may even be what she’s feeding the new crop…

  10. avatar Malasha Martinez says:

    sorry about all the apostrophes

  11. avatar A D says:

    Is it just me, or was the answer to LW1 kind of a non-answer?  “I know you’re suffering and turning into somebody you hate, but enjoy it and I’m sure it won’t last.”  So . . . what does she do if Mom–who the LW says is stable–hangs in there for years?  I don’t think the LW should have to risk her marriage and sanity, even if it is her mother.  Even if Mom isn’t around much longer, LW and her husband need some relief.

    • avatar mayma says:

      They should take advantage of their local area Agency on Aging, or talk to AARP to get a list of resources, or call the Family Caregivers’ Alliance.  She should also talk to a social worker at the place where her mom is getting treatment, to see if that person knows how she can get relief.  Also call the American Cancer Society, because they will surely have resources, i.e., support groups (even online), ideas, experience, etc.  Ideally, husband (who has incentive to change the current dynamic) would help with all this.

      No question that the mom could possibly live for many years.  

  12. avatar Pinky35 says:

    LW1: I think what you are feeling is torn between wanting to be a good daughter and helping out your mom every way you can, even if she is hard to deal with at times. And, you want your husband to be happy, too, but he’s obviously not getting along well with your mom. This is a stressful situation and would make anyone feel “shrewish”. I think Margo’s advice to help your mom find more activities and people she can associate with is a great start. Then, I would go a step further and take time out for YOU! You’re like the referee at times and you need a break from the game, too. Plus, with all this caring for others that you do, you probably just need some “me” time away from it all. If you have any other family that can take in your mom for a weekend that would be ideal. Then, do something for yourself or with your husband. And yes, this situation is only temporary, but it can feel line an eternity when people don’t get along. So, if it gets really stressful, then think about having your mom live elsewhere. One thing is for sure, you don’t want your mother to destroy your marriage.

    LW2: I can’t imagine that talking to your sister would help her see what she and her husband are doing to her son. And, even talking to a therapist or psychologist, they’d probably tell you there isn’t much you can do except to continue to be there for him. What he needs is love and attention. So, be that person in his life he can go to and count on. Just open the door for him so he knows he has a place to go when he feels lost.

    • avatar Deborah Key says:

      Pinky, I suspect the success of that conversation will depend on the relationship that the sister have.  If its a good one, the mom in question may take the LW’s concerns seriously.  If they don’t have a good relationship, not so much.

      My own mother really regrets not confronting my aunt about a not-so similar situation with my cousin. 

  13. avatar mmht says:

    LW#2:  I disagree with Margo’s advice because I doubt there is anything anyone can say to make them see how their neglect is causing his behavioral issues.  But there is something you can do to make his life a little easier, spend as much time with him as you can.  Take him out on special outings, just the two of you.  Have him come over to your house for a sleep over, just him so he’s getting undivided attention.  These are simple things but they are things that will mean the world to him.  Plus, he’ll always know there is at least one person out there he can rely upon and he can turn to if he needs help. 

  14. avatar dcarpend says:

    Am I the only one who thinks that LW1 needs to learn assertiveness techniques?  She says her mother is prickly, mean, and belittling.  I see no reason why LW1 shouldn’t call Mom on that behavior, every single time.  “I’m so sorry you’re not happy with my housekeeping, Mom.  If you’re uncomfortable here, we could look into other arrangements.”  “Gee, Mom, I don’t tell you how terrible you look, I’d appreciate it if you kept your insults to yourself.”  Etc. 
    This elderly woman apparently does not have the excuse of dementia for her nasty behavior; I gathered from the letter that she’s been like this all along.  I see no reason why she shouldn’t be called on it.

    • avatar Carib Island Girl says:

      I thought that too.  Tell her if she doesn’t put a sock in it, she can find other accommodations.  Ungrateful b*tch.

  15. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1: Clearly you didn’t think this through. Did you not realize she would be around 24/7 and that your house wouldn’t suddenly grow a third floor or a guest cottage out back? If she doesn’t feel well, don’t push her out of the house to a bunch support groups or other make-do fests for seniors. Instead, get yourselves out of the house, to movies, to dinner, for a walk in the park, to Home Depot. With cancer, you can bet this won’t last forever. Try to be compassionate until then.

    LW2: You or a professional needs to have a major confrontation with your sister. Meanwhile, treat your nephew like the special guy that he is with all the attention and affection you can generate.

  16. avatar R Scott says:

    Both of these letters make me grateful that I was raised by wolves. L#1 because wolves don’t live much past 14 so I don’t have the elderly parent issue (although they could certainly live with me).  And, L#2 because my wolf parents were better than these two miscreants.

  17. avatar bamabob says:

    “I don’t know the person who wrote the letter.  I don’t know any of the people she wrote about.  Nevertheless I will now write a novel proclaiming the letter writer a liar, and will tell in great detail what’s REALLY going on with the people she wrote about.” 

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      How about this scenario as well: A given letter has a serious lack of information, things are rarely exactly as they seem, letters only give one side of any story, and sometimes people have experience that allow them to see possibilities in a given situation that may help clarify it, or offer alternatives to a very narrow point of view?
      I am NOT referring to myself, just making a general reply, because there have been some very thoughtful responses to both letters from many readers on this thread. And a few that were just as bamabob stated.