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Annie's Mailbox

Mother's insults are cause for alarm

May 4, 2011

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Q. My mother is in her late 80s and is becoming increasingly difficult. She’s always been rather critical, but now she is downright rude and insulting. It’s as though being old gives her the right to say anything that pops into her head without consideration for anyone else’s feelings.

I know she isn’t going to change, so somehow I have to find a better way to respond to her. Please give me some strategies to control my instinctive defensive reactions — without starting an argument, being “hateful’’ (her word) or walking away, which would be tantamount to declaring war.

DUTIFUL DAUGHTER

A. Your mother may be exhibiting early signs of dementia, one of which is the inability to censor what comes out of her mouth. Ask if you can accompany her to her next doctor’s appointment. That will give you an opportunity to mention this possibility to the doctor and request an evaluation. Perhaps if you can keep in mind that her insults are not entirely within her control, it will help you be less defensive and respond with sympathy.

Q. Now that my own children are adults, I am constantly being asked by family members to watch their children on evenings and weekends. But I have a full-time job and need my downtime. Plus, my home is no longer kid friendly. I like their children, but they are all under age 3, and it’s a lot of work.

Every week, I’ll get a call asking whether I can come to their home or they can drop off their child at mine. They never offer to pay, and even if they did, I still don’t care to baby-sit. I have managed to come up with some excuses, but I’m tired of lying about being busy. Is there a tactful way to let them know I’m simply not interested in spending my free time running a day care center?

NO DAY CARE

A. You’ll have to risk a little fallout if you want this problem to go away. Tell your relatives, “I love your children dearly, but I simply don’t have the energy to run after toddlers anymore. Sorry.’’ If you want to be especially nice, you can offer on rare occasion to baby-sit when the kids are already asleep.

Q. This is in response to the letter from “Jennifer,’’ who is troubled by her safe-but-boring marriage. Her words tugged at my heart.

I am also in my mid-40s and in a dull marriage. My husband is a decent but self-centered man. At his hands, I was the victim of a single incident of marital rape, which he claims to not remember. I sought therapy, and my counselor said my husband, not a violent man, may have been in a dissociative state and unaware of his actions. I insisted my husband also have therapy, but he discontinued treatment.

I have chosen to stay in this marriage because divorce would cause a great deal of emotional pain to our children. We are no longer intimate, and there are days when I feel so empty I can’t even cry. I want Jennifer to know she is not alone.

CAGED

A. We appreciate your words of solidarity, but your situation and Jennifer’s are not the same. Her husband doesn’t excite her. Yours attacked you. A more understanding counselor might be able to help you move forward with a different therapeutic approach. Please try.

E-mail your questions to anniesmailbox@comcast.net, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 5777 West Century Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA 90045.