family, lessons learned, love, modern problems, sex, slut shamers, social media

Kids don’t owe their parents anything… do they?

This morning’s post comes courtesy of a recycled article on The Atlantic’s Web site. Therapist Lori Gottlieb, who once wrote a very entertaining book about her experiences with anorexia nervosa, has an advice column. Because I read her book about anorexia, and because I’m a sucker for advice columns, I read Lori Gottlieb’s advice somewhat often. The article I’m writing about today has appeared several times on Facebook, as The Atlantic has an annoying habit of recycling its content, even when it’s woefully outdated, as it often is during the COVID era.

The Atlantic also attracts a lot of obnoxious commenters, one of whom is prompting me to write today. I ran into one of them after reading the 2019 era letter Gottlieb responded to in June of that year. Have a look at this letter from Lynne, of Oakland, California.

Dear Therapist,

My daughter gave a child up for adoption about 25 years ago. She already had one child, and although I offered to help her raise both children, she felt it wouldn’t be fair to us or to the baby, so she gave her up to a very nice couple, whom we both interviewed and liked. The couple has kept in touch with us both over the years, sending pictures and updates on their daughter.

My daughter always felt that in time the child would want to get in touch with her, and in fact, her adoptive parents have encouraged this, but the girl has always said she didn’t want to. This is very painful for my daughter. Can you give us an idea as to why the young woman might not want to meet her birth mother, or offer any explanation that would make my daughter feel less rejected? She has even tried contacting her on Facebook, and the response was that Facebook was not an appropriate place to discuss this relationship. But no reciprocal contact has ever been made.

Lori Gottlieb points out that perhaps Lynne’s daughter hasn’t thought long enough about why the baby girl she gave up in 1994 might not want to meet her birth mother. Gottlieb reminds her that children who are given up for adoption don’t have a choice in the matter; those life altering decisions are made for them by adults. They also don’t have any say in who gets to adopt them. Sometimes the adoptive families turn out to be wonderful people. And sadly, sometimes adoptive families are abusive or worse.

When those adopted children become adults themselves, they must have the right to make decisions for themselves. Self-determination is something that all kids should grow up to expect for themselves. It’s probably even more important for adopted children, who often have to listen to other people opine about how they should handle their experiences with being adopted. Sometimes, people tell them they should find their birth families. Other times, they are told they shouldn’t look for their birth families, since that will presumably be “hurtful” to the adoptive parents. I wasn’t adopted myself, but I do know several adoptees. I’ve learned that every story is unique. Most of the adopted people I know have found their birth families and satisfied their curiosity about what led to their being given up for another family to raise. But I know there are some adoptees who would rather not know any family other than the one that raised them. That should be okay. They don’t owe their birth families anything.

But really, if you think about it, that should be true for all children. Kids don’t owe their parents anything. They had no choice about being born. While it may be very hurtful for parents to understand this, not everyone is happy to be alive. I know there have been a lot of times in my life that I’ve wished my mom hadn’t had me. It’s not so much because I’ve had a terrible life. In my case, it’s because depression is a constant companion that has left me feeling worthless, no matter what I do. When I was a child, I was told that I was neither wanted nor expected. I was frequently told I was an inconvenience, as if it was my fault my parents made me. I know that my parents came to appreciate me, but I was told enough times that I was a pain in their asses that it made me feel very rejected. And that has made me wish abortion had been an option for my mother and she would have considered it, even though I know some people are glad I’m around. Of course, I doubt my mom would have had an abortion, even though I “crashed her party” and made her life more complicated. Many people don’t realize it, but treating kids like they aren’t loved or wanted is often how personality disorders and neuroses are born.

Adopted children probably have a different kind of trauma inflicted on them. I think of the super toxic line in the campy 1981 film, Mommie Dearest, in which Faye Dunaway, playing Joan Crawford, reminds her daughter, Christina, that adopted children are the “luckiest”, because they were “chosen”. Then, Joan makes Christina give up her birthday gifts to all of the “poor orphans” who don’t have parents. Meanwhile, a lot of them wonder why they were given up. What were the circumstances? Was it a case of a teenaged mom who couldn’t afford a child to raise? A sad situation involving parents who were killed in a freak accident? Or was it a more sinister situation involving extramarital affairs, rape, or incest? I can understand why some adopted children might not want to know. Or maybe some of them are simply not looking for the baggage that can come with discovering one’s origins.

How lucky was Christina Crawford?
Narcissism is not a family value.

So… while I can understand why Lynne is distressed that her daughter’s biological daughter doesn’t want to meet with her bio mother, I can also see why the now adult child isn’t interested. I agree that Lynne and her daughter should respect the young woman’s wishes. There may come a day when she changes her mind, but Lynne and her daughter should probably resign themselves to the idea that she might not come around. Sometimes this also happens to bio parents who didn’t give their children up for adoption. My husband’s older daughter hasn’t spoken to him since 2004. It’s been the source of tremendous pain for him. Frankly, I think older daughter is very stupid for throwing away her father, who is a kind and decent man. But it’s her life, and when it comes down to it, she doesn’t owe him anything. And since she’s a grown woman now, he doesn’t owe her anything, either.

As is my habit, I looked at the comments left on the Facebook post for this article. Naturally, some of them were terrible. Reading one of them made me realize that people who give up babies for adoption are kind of damned if they do, damned if they don’t. A number of people felt that the bio grandmother and mother had a lot of “nerve”, expecting to meet the now grown bio daughter. It seems that many people lose sight of what a tremendously painful decision giving a baby up for adoption is for many birth mothers. Does it not occur to them that the birth mom might wonder about her long, lost offspring? Do they forget that a lot of women would prefer to have an abortion rather than give up their baby? As awful as abortion may seem to the pro-life crowd, a lot of people who unintentionally get pregnant would rather not have to wonder about where the baby is and how the baby is doing. Being pregnant is a burden that has the potential to be dangerous or even deadly for some people.

But there was one commenter who was especially horrible. In case anyone is wondering, no, I’m not the original poster. I just noticed how “Richard”, who really should go by the name, “Dick”, was taking her on in an abusive way.

Why does “Richard”, who claims to have voted for Jill Stein, have this idea that “women can’t control themselves”? While it’s definitely possible for women to be sex offenders, it’s mostly men in that contemptible role of not being in control. It’s a fact that sometimes women do get pregnant as a result of rape or incest. Generally speaking, it’s not the women who are out of control. When a woman does get pregnant and keeps the pregnancy, she’s not going to get pregnant again until those nine months are up. But the men who are out there fertilizing those fertile wombs can theoretically get hundreds of women pregnant every year. So I really think Richard should STFU… but I also wonder where he got such a hateful attitude. It sounds to me like he had an unhappy childhood or something. Or maybe he has an unhappy adulthood. I wonder how much fucking he’s doing. However much it is, he’s probably doing it alone. That would account for his mean spirited comments.

One other thing I notice from the above exchange is that both people seem to be hurting. Why else would their responses be so vitriolic? And why do people feel the need to get into fights with strangers in comment sections? Is Richard really as big of a dick as he seems to be? Why is he “slut shaming”? Makes me think that there’s a woman in his life who made him pay for something he doesn’t think he should have to pay for.

I think Lynne’s daughter can take some solace in knowing that she made a couple happy when she gave up her daughter for them to raise. That was ultimately a selfless decision, in spite of the many comments people are leaving that indicate that she was “selfish” for not raising the girl herself. The alternative could have been for her to have an abortion. Of course, personally, I happen to agree with “Richard” that people shouldn’t have casual sex if they aren’t prepared to be parents, even if I think his actual comments are extremely rude and insulting. But that’s just me, and that’s what worked for me.

Sometimes I do regret that I never had children, but then I realize that I would have wanted Bill to be the father of my children. I didn’t meet him until after he’d had a vasectomy at his ex wife’s behest, so pregnancy wasn’t destined to happen without significant medical intervention and expense. When the timing was optimal for an intervention, life got in the way. Bill went to Iraq, and we had significant debt. I have never wanted to adopt a child, and one of the reasons I haven’t wanted to adopt is because of the very special problems and issues that often come up due to adoption. But again, that’s just me. I understand why some people think adoption is wonderful. I don’t think they’re wrong; it just wasn’t for me. Neither was medical intervention to get pregnant. Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me that motherhood isn’t for me.

My heart goes out to Lynne’s daughter. Not just because she wants to meet her now grown bio daughter, but because so many people apparently think she was terrible to give the baby up for adoption in the first place. It’s the same kind of disdainful attitude people have toward sperm donors– guys who give up their sperm so that people can have birth families. I have often pointed out that I don’t agree with labeling irresponsible fathers as “sperm donors”. Actual sperm donors provide a valuable service for which they are paid. Guys who knock up women and leave them high and dry are not in the same category. And women who decide to give up their babies instead of aborting them presumably offer something of value to other people. They should be treated with compassion, instead of contempt. Giving up a baby is not an easy or painless decision for most people. At the same time, I agree that the birth daughter doesn’t owe her bio mom anything. But then, that’s really true for every child, when it comes down to it. That feeling of obligation toward one’s parent is a construct of civilization, not a biological one.

I hope Lynne and her daughter find peace and comfort.

Here’s a link to Stick Figure, the book by Lori Gottlieb I mentioned at the beginning of this post. If you make a purchase through this link, I get a small commission from Amazon.

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communication, controversies, expressions, family

“Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?”

Yeah, sing it, Avril…

Apologies for the old hit from Avril Lavigne. I’m not even a big fan of Avril’s music, but this song seems appropriate for today’s topic, which comes courtesy of Carolyn Hax’s advice column in the Washington Post. I had other topics in mind to write about today, but it’s Sunday, and I figured it would be better to write about something less serious. And today’s post from Carolyn Hax is definitely lighter than my subject matter has been lately.

Here’s the letter in question, which was adapted from an online discussion:

Hi Carolyn! 

I’ve recently started to attend family functions with my boyfriend. He always says I don’t need to bring anything, but I never go anywhere empty-handed.

His mom is preparing the entire meal for the next event, including desserts. I’m a baker and usually bring desserts but Boyfriend says mom might be offended if I bring a dessert when she’s already taking care of that. This party is for his sister’s birthday, and I don’t know her well enough to choose a gift, and he won’t give me any ideas because he insists I don’t need to bring a gift. I asked if I could at least get a card, and he said he’ll add my name to his card — but he and his sister have been passing the same card back and forth for 12 years as a joke. This is their thing and I don’t want to impose.

But I just can’t fathom going empty-handed. Any ideas as to what I can bring?

— Never Empty-Handed

Carolyn’s advice to the letter writer was to try to call the boyfriend’s mom and ask her directly what she should bring for his sister, if the boyfriend won’t “work with her on this”. She also said that the letter writer should explain to him that telling her that she doesn’t need to bring anything is easy for him to say, and maybe even well-intentioned by letting her off the hook, but it actually puts her in an awkward position. Carolyn further writes:

He is seeing this through the family lens, but you are not family and you’re newish to everyone, so you don’t know how you’ll be judged.

You want to make a good impression. If he wants to set you up to succeed, then he either needs to give you a token way to contribute, or be more thoughtful in explaining his family culture to you, or connect you to his mom (or whoever’s hosting) to find out for yourself.

This advice makes sense to me, I guess. However, there is also hopefully a good chance that Boyfriend is telling the truth. It’s possible that his mom and/or his sister really don’t want her to bring anything. Moreover, I would expect him to tell me the truth. So my response, which so far is being well-received was this:

I would just take the boyfriend at his word. If it goes awry, then I’ll know I can’t trust what he says and move on.

She can always warn the guy that if he’s not being truthful, and she shows up with nothing and his mom or sister thinks it’s rude, that will mean that she can’t trust him to be honest, and that might mean they shouldn’t continue the relationship. There is a good chance, though, that the mom and/or his sister really are among those people who doesn’t want guests to bring things. My mom is one of those people. She’s at a point in her life that she’s trying to get rid of things she doesn’t need. I have been the recipient of many lovely gifts people have given her that she just didn’t want or weren’t her taste.

If you think about it, bringing something for the host/hostess actually can lead to embarrassing situations. Here’s an example from my personal history.

Recently, I wrote about how I have a phobia of mushrooms. I can’t eat them or touch them, and I prefer not to look at them or smell them. One time, years ago, a woman invited me to her house for dinner. She was a vegetarian. Because I wanted to be a good guest, I baked two loaves of bread and brought one of them with me. Guess what… hostess wasn’t a fan of bread. And guess what else? The dinner she made was LOADED with mushrooms. And yes, it was very embarrassing. I explained to her, honestly, why I couldn’t partake of the dinner. Fortunately, she had a good laugh at my expense, and even told some of her colleagues about it.

People love to leave comments on the Washington Post’s Facebook page about this post, when it’s clear that they didn’t read the article. It’s mainly because they don’t want to pay for a subscription. If they had read the article, they would see that other people offered reasons why bringing the usual go-to gifts of wine, flowers, and candy might not be the best idea. Here’s what a couple of people wrote:

Re: Guest: Yes, please arrive empty-handed. I find hosting people who are compelled to bring something, anything, very tiring. Fine to ask if you can contribute to the meal, for instance, but if the answer is no, then accept that.

— Tired

Tired: Yes, yes. When I tell my guests what (not) to bring, I want them to take me at my word, not send me looking for a vase for the lovely and well-meant flowers.

In the case of someone new being invited into the fold, though, the standards shift a bit. The balance of power is more precarious. The boyfriend can be more helpful here. That’s all.

I have a policy that when people say they want no gifts, I take them at their word. I assume they had a reason for making that statement. If they didn’t mean it, they shouldn’t have written or said it, and they shouldn’t be upset when people abide by it. If Mom is annoyed with the girlfriend for coming to visit the family empty-handed that early in the relationship, that’s another sign that the letter writer might want to consider, should things go further in that relationship. I would hope that the boyfriend’s mom and other family members would be just as eager to make a good impression on his girlfriend, especially if there is a chance she might one day marry him, or otherwise engage in a more serious relationship. Because– that could one day be her mother-in-law… and you want to pay attention to red flags. Divorce is expensive, and marriage can be challenging enough without a mother-in-law with whom you don’t mesh. Fortunately, my own mother-in-law is awesome, and my mom adores Bill.

A lot of commenters seem to think that the letter writer should just ignore what her boyfriend says, and go against his advice on dealing with his family. I don’t know about other people, but it would really annoy me if I told Bill about what to expect from my family– people that I’ve known my whole life– and he didn’t believe me. I can understand the letter writer’s dilemma in not wanting to be rude, but I would consider not trusting my boyfriend’s word as kind of rude, too. I’m big on trust, and I don’t like it when people don’t take me seriously, even though I joke around a lot. Joking around is one thing, but I’m not the kind of person who would deliberately set someone up to fail. If I care enough to bring you home to meet the family, that means I’m serious. And I would not tell you not to bring a gift if I knew that not bringing a gift would make my mom or sister think you were a jerk. I would hope for the same consideration.

I also noticed that the people commenting were suggesting gifts that could be problematic. That bottle of wine might not be appreciated by someone who is fundie Baptist or LDS, struggles with alcoholism or some other health issue, or someone who just doesn’t drink. Flowers might not be appreciated by someone who has severe allergies or, like Madonna, hates hydrangeas… or whatever other flower. Some people don’t like plants because they have a brown thumb, and kill everything they touch.

Ouch!

Or maybe it will be an awkward exchange, like when Melania Trump brought Michelle Obama a fancy Tiffany box on Inauguration Day…

Nice of Melania to bring a gift. Too bad the Trumps didn’t have enough class to show up to the 2021 Presidential Inauguration.

Someone who prides themselves on being a great cook or baker might not appreciate it if you take it upon yourself to bring dessert. A lot of people go to great lengths to plan when they have a party. If you show up with a cake from a bakery or even one you’ve made yourself, it may send a very embarrassing message that won’t be well received. Or, again, it could turn out that someone has diabetes and has to watch their sugar or carbs for health reasons. I had a friend, years ago, who had an allergy to chocolate. She loved chocolate, but couldn’t eat it, because it made her break out in hives. Imagine showing up at her house with a lovely, expensive chocolate cake that took hours to bake. Hopefully, other people can enjoy it.

Here’s what I think is a fairly foolproof gift– sincere gratitude for the invitation, and authentic, attentive, and appreciative company. That’s it. Maybe that gratitude could be augmented by a handwritten note expressing thanks, mailed a day or two after the gathering. One of the nicest “gifts” I have ever received from anyone was a lovely, handwritten note from Bill’s younger daughter, who was considerate enough to think of me when he went to visit her in March 2020. I will treasure it always, for there’s no other gift like it. It came from the heart and, best of all, it cost her almost nothing in money, but yet it’s priceless to me. I will keep and treasure it always, especially since it doesn’t take up any room or collect dust.

Now THIS is what I call a good– and very classy– gift. There’s not another like it.

There’s no reason to sweat the small stuff. There’s no reason to make things more complicated than it needs to be. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. While giving a small gift to a host or hostess is usually considered good etiquette, when it comes down to it, the best etiquette is considering what will make the other person feel most comfortable and at ease. I would expect that the boyfriend in this situation knows his family well enough to advise his girlfriend honestly. She should take what he says at face value. If it goes wrong, that will be a sign of things that could be coming in the future. At the very least, it could be a signal that he’s not going to be straightforward about other things.

Damned right.

Some of the comments on this remind me of the American attitude about tipping. So many people seem to think that everyone loves gifts. Not everyone does… just like not everyone expects or appreciates a tip. Seriously… in some cultures, tipping is actually considered rude or just isn’t a thing. American culture is not the end all, be all, and there’s a lot to consider in any relationship. If you don’t know the guy’s parents, I actually think it’s better to wait before you bring a gift, unless you’ve been assured that they would appreciate one. Gifts can go awry. Besides, meeting new people is a two-way street. I see no reason to complicate that meeting by adding in an unnecessary element, like what gift to bring. Especially when it’s been made clear, by someone who should be in the know, that gifts aren’t expected or even desired. I think it’s smart to learn about the culture in any new situation before assuming you know what should be done.

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Ex, family, rants

This letter in Carolyn Hax’s column really hits home…

This post has brought out some of my deeply ingrained, still raw anger toward Ex. It comes out in this post, and there is profanity… Proceed with caution. And please, if any readers feel compelled to lecture me about how inappropriate my anger is, do me a favor and buzz off. My anger is perfectly reasonable and justified, and I can write about it on my blog if I want to. That’s what blogs are for.

As some readers know, I like to read advice columns. One column I read fairly regularly is Carolyn Hax’s. I think she’s very sensible and gives good advice. A recent letter in The Washington Post gave me pause. Here it is.

Dear Carolyn: We never spent time with my dad’s extended family, but one of his siblings and I have a lot of similar interests. I emailed her once to ask something, and we now exchange emails regularly. We haven’t spoken since I was a teen and I’m in my 30s now.

My parents are Not Pleased. My mom is actually really upset that I am talking with her; in high school she made me stop talking to her completely. My father just tells me she will eventually hate me, give it time, she’s a horrible person and not really interested in me at all.

Let’s skip over the emotional baggage that comes from all the times my parents told me people have no interest in me and are just using me. There’s clearly something that really bothers my mom but she won’t openly discuss it with me, so I can only guess what the issue is. I would not be surprised if my mom actively sabotaged my relationship with this person in ways I don’t know about when I was younger, and now she’s afraid it’ll come up.

Am I wrong to continue talking with her?”

I was glad to see that Carolyn gave this writer good advice (in my opinion). She reminded the writer that she’s in her 30s, and she has the right to speak to anyone she wants. If her parents have a valid reason to discourage the connection, they need to explain themselves honestly. And even then, it should be up to the letter writer, who is in her 30s, for God’s sake, to make the choice as to whether or not she should speak to her relatives.

If you have followed my blog for any time, you probably know why I feel the way I do. It’s mainly because my husband and his daughters were estranged for many years. Ex wanted to punish Bill for agreeing to her divorce demands, so she sabotaged his relationship with his daughters. That was absolutely wrong for her to do, although it was not surprising that she did it. She did it to her first husband, too. Then, she claimed that both of her ex husbands were awful people and she was simply protecting the children from their “shitty fathers”.

In the one and only email I ever sent to Ex, I explained that if she was being truthful about her exes being shitty fathers, then she clearly has bad judgment and terrible taste in men, and she should not have married a third time and had more children. Every time she divorces, she forces her kids to be estranged from their fathers and their families. That’s very hard on them, and totally unfair. If she was really as good of a mother as she claims she is, her focus should have been on raising her “traumatized” children, and helping them recover from her poor choices in fathers for them. Otherwise, she’s just a liar, and is simply being spiteful and mean. And that makes her a shitty, toxic mother. Having been married to Bill for 19 years, I know, without a doubt, that Bill is definitely not an irresponsible father, as Ex tried to make him out to be. His ex wife just hates her exes more than she loves her kids.

When a person becomes an adult, they have the perfect right to make their own choices. But having parents who impose their petty bullshit grievances with other people on their children, simply because they’re their children, and they demand “loyalty” from their children, can cause making those decisions to be difficult. I know Bill’s daughter didn’t summon the courage to speak to Bill until she was about 23 years old and married. And even then, she was terrified to speak to him, even though she remembered him to be kind and loving.

Bill and his younger daughter missed out on about twelve precious years together, all because Ex imposed her hateful craziness on her own children. Younger daughter could have lost Bill forever when he went to Iraq, or when 9/11 happened. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and now they can bond. Younger daughter is also talking to her grandmother again, after Ex tried to ruin that relationship. Younger daughter and MIL have a lot in common, and they clearly love each other. They never should have been forced into estrangement simply because of Ex’s manipulative and toxic ploys.

I remember when younger daughter and Bill started talking again. She said she didn’t want to tell her mother about it. She said it would be an “unhappy conversation”. Ex eventually did discover that younger daughter and Bill were in contact. Quite predictably, Ex gave younger daughter a ration of shit, telling her that Bill had really “hurt” her and that the divorce was “so painful” for her.

But Ex is the one who initiated the divorce in Bill’s father’s house over Easter. She’s the one who shacked up with #3 in a house Bill paid for. She’s the one who practically forced Bill to join a restrictive, culty religion, and caused him extreme financial distresses in the forms of bankruptcy and foreclosure. She’s the one who tried to ruin his relationship with his family of origin. And she is the one who sexually assaulted him. She has some nerve claiming that Bill ever “hurt” her. She was not the one who was left with literal scars in private areas of her body.

I think it’s interesting that Ex seems to have absolutely no concept of how painful it was for Bill to be divorced, forced to pay her half his salary for years, and was STILL prevented from having a relationship with his daughters, whom he has always loved very much. There was no reason why Bill should have been denied visitation with his daughters. I have often wish he’d taken her to court and either forced her to comply, or taken custody of them. But he allowed her to leave his finances so depleted that that option was out of the question.

Ex told outrageous lies about Bill to those girls, and even forced them to write hateful letters to him, disowning him. Yes, I am still pissed off about it. I was there to witness the pain she inflicted with her lies and vengeance. She lied about me, too, and made me out to be a horrible person… or maybe just a whore. And yes, I know the truth about myself, and I know that being angry about what’s already done isn’t productive. But I can’t help it. Reading letters like this one bring up the pain again, and piss me off anew.

Older daughter is still estranged, and continues to miss out on knowing her wonderful father. Maybe older daughter wouldn’t think he’s as wonderful as I do, but she’s never tried to find out for herself. She just takes her mother’s word for it. And, you know what? It’s her loss. All I can do is hope she’s happy.

It’s hard to tell why the letter writer’s parents have such an acrimonious relationship with the writer’s extended family. Whatever it is, it’s obviously between the parents and the relative, and the letter writer has never been clued in to what happened. Seems to me the parents need to come clean and offer a *rational and provable* explanation as to why there is so much strife, if they expect their daughter to consider heeding their wishes.

If they aren’t willing to explain what the problem is, then she should tell them to mind their own business. I did that with my own dad when he tried to involve himself in my personal affairs. It was very liberating for me, and shocking for him.

Either way, the letter writer should still initially proceed with caution, in case there was a good reason for the split. But my guess is that the rift was due to someone being stubborn, offended, or just plain petty. And there’s no reason why an adult should be compelled to choose a side in a situation like this one, especially when the person who is imposing the shunning can’t or won’t offer an explanation.

I also don’t think there’s any reason why the writer’s parents need to know who she talks to, particularly if she isn’t living in their home. It’s simply none of their business.

I wish this letter writer well. I understand her dilemma. It sounds like she’s doing some healing within her family, which is a great thing to do. She may find that reconnecting with this long estranged extended family member brings her much joy, and new insight into her own origins. As an adult, she has the perfect right to seek this healing and potential joy. Her parents need to butt out… or, as I frequently like to put it in my profane way, they need to fuck off.

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divorce, Ex, family, love, marriage

Proud to be a “good strong woman”…

Keb’ Mo’ has a new album coming out. I love his music, so I’ve preordered it. So far, two songs have been released. One is a remake of the Bill Withers’ classic, “Lean on Me.” The other is a song that features Darius Rucker. It’s called “Good Strong Woman”. I listened to that song this morning after having breakfast with Bill. He’s staying home again today, because he’s taking a couple more online classes at the Jung Institute in Zurich. Bill’s chance to study Jung directly from the source is one great thing that has come out of living in Germany. It’s really something he enjoys doing, which is as gratifying for me to see as it is for him to experience.

Below is the video for Keb’ Mo’s new song.

I love this song and its message. I try to be a “good strong woman” for Bill.

Our breakfast conversation was about a letter to advice columnist Carolyn Hax that was printed in today’s edition of The Washington Post. The letter writer is having a disagreement with her father over her treatment of his wife. Below is the letter in question:

Wow… my first thoughts? What a brat!

Regular readers probably know why this letter gave me pause. Technically, I am the stepmother to Bill’s two daughters. I’ve only met them in person one time. For many years, they were estranged from their dad, mainly because their mother is extremely toxic and immature and she was more interested in punishing Bill for not letting her continue to abuse him, than being a kind and attentive mother and a “good strong woman” to her current husband. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason why Bill and his daughters should have been kept apart, other than their mother’s warped and extremely petty vindictiveness. And if I sound bitter and snotty, so be it. I know Bill, and unfortunately, I know enough about his ex wife. I am definitely not the whole problem in our case.

Fortunately, Bill’s younger daughter has come around, and it’s plain that she’s not like her mother. So when Bill and his daughter Skype, I’m happy about it. Usually, unless I happen to be sitting in the room when they Skype, I give them their privacy. Almost two years ago, Bill finally got to see his daughter in person, after 15 years of separation. He met his grandchildren. They had plenty of time to talk privately, because when he was in Utah seeing his daughter, I was in Germany, hanging out with Arran. I encouraged this gathering, and was gratified when it went well. Bill’s older daughter remains estranged, but she’s 30 years old and has to make her own choices. So be it.

It should come as no surprise to my readers that I empathize with the letter writer’s stepmother. On the other hand, I also recognize that there isn’t a lot of information here. We don’t know how old the letter writer was when his dad married his second wife. We don’t know the circumstances of his split from the letter writer’s mother. All we know is that stepmom is only ten years older than her stepdaughter, and unlike my stepdaughters and me, this stepdaughter and her stepmom actually have a relationship. It sounds like their relationship, for whatever reason, isn’t a particularly good one.

I appreciated Carolyn’s response to this writer. I think she hit the nail on the head, too. Below is her take on this situation.

Stepdaughter: If the “so much more” resembles this, then you do owe your stepmother/dad’s wife/24-year family member that apology.

So many times with so many stories, things can go either way, depending on all the details I don’t have. And maybe this one still can, too; I obviously have little to work with.

But then, ooh, I get the Magic Aside, the throwaway scrap in a question that’s the comprehension equivalent of fumbling around in the dark and accidentally bumping a light switch.

“She’s only 10 years older than me.”

Ah.

How dare he.

Form a lasting partnership with someone younger than he is.

Right?

Think for a moment. If you had fallen in love with someone, a fellow adult, and your father was giving you grief because your partner was 20 years younger, would you be okay with that? I doubt you’d appreciate his being in a 24-year huff over it, and still imposing his huff on your family’s guest lists.

Could your stepmother have let this go? Maybe. But, 24 years. That’s how long she’s been part of your family, and you’re still pressuring others (successfully!) to treat her as an interloper. If you want backup for excluding someone from a gathering, then you need proof of malice on her part. Ookie age proximity or old wounds or not being your mom won’t cut it.

No, of course, you “shouldn’t be forced.” But your conscience, your better self, your love for your dad, your enduring peace of mind and your humanity are all inner voices that are overdue to exert some force.

Again, unless there’s malice — and I mean evident stepmotherly ill intent, not just missteps in a time of awkward transition — I urge you to hear the pleas, please, of your better angels for you to swallow your pride, let go, and respect her rightful place.

I know a lot of people who don’t know our story might want to “come at me”. I’ve heard many times over the years about how I should “be the bigger person” and “recognize that I’m an ‘interloper’ in an established relationship” and, even worse, some have even asked me if I broke up Bill’s first marriage. The answer to that question is a resounding “NO”. I didn’t even meet Bill in person until almost a year after his divorce.

In four days, Bill and I will have been married for 19 years. He’s almost eight years older than I am. If had been the mother of his daughters, I would have been a very young mom. But, at this point, Bill and I have been together about twice as long as he was with his ex wife. We are extremely compatible, which makes me very happy, because when I was in college, I went through seven roommates… and even that was with two semesters of living alone.

It’s not as bad as it sounds, though. One of those roommates basically kicked me out of the room after our first week of freshman year so she could bunk with the party girl across the hall. One moved in for part of a semester because she got kicked out of her room for being busted with pot. That roommate later got kicked out of school for not going to class. And another was a student teacher, who was only at school for a few weeks until she went home to student teach. I got along fine with three roommates, and barely tolerated a fourth. We simply weren’t compatible.

There are always extenuating circumstances, and things aren’t always as they seem at face value. Still, I had friends who found their besties during freshman year and roomed together the whole time we were in college. Some of them are now divorced, even if they’re still buddies with their former roommates. I, on the other hand, couldn’t find a really compatible roommate, but I did find a husband who is just about perfect for me. So what if I came second? Bill and I are married. We love each other. I am now part of his family, and he’s part of mine. And because we love each other and are family, neither of us has to be alone as we get older. I’m so glad that Bill’s younger daughter understands that, and supports it.

When I read the letter in Carolyn Hax’s column today, what really stood out to me was just how self-centered and petty the writer came across. The line about her father’s wife being “only 10 years older” reveals what I think is one of many bones of contention this lady has with her dad and his wife. She mentions there is “so much more to the story”, but chooses to mention the age difference instead of some other reason why she and stepmom aren’t friends. That, to me, is very telling. The age difference obviously really bugs her.

However, if stepmom was a legal adult when she and the letter writer’s dad got married, the age difference shouldn’t matter, especially since they have been married for 24 years. A marriage that has lasted that long probably works well on some level. If stepmom wasn’t a legal adult when she got married, then she was a victim, and shouldn’t be blamed. Either way, it sounds like dad and stepmom love and respect each other, and letter writer should, in turn, understand that, and grow the fuck up.

The fact that the letter writer’s dad is supporting his wife’s complaints about his daughter’s apparent toxic, petty behavior reveal that this isn’t a marriage strictly of convenience. I do know there are marriages that are like that– people get married solely for money, security, or some other commodity. For example, I suspect Ex and her husband have a loveless marriage, based on what I know about her first two husbands and the way she reportedly treats #3. But, based on the letter above, I don’t think that’s the situation for the letter writer’s dad and his wife. It sounds like the dad is supporting his wife. He has his wife’s back, not his daughter’s.

Oooh… now this would be exciting.

The daughter sounds like she is trying to dictate to her father the terms of their relationship. She’s trying to force him to choose between his wife and his daughter. It doesn’t sound like she’s considered the fact that he gets a vote, too. He may very well decide that his relationship with his wife, the woman with whom he shares a home, and presumably, a bed, is more important than a relationship with his grown daughter, who, at least in this letter, comes off as really petty and obnoxious. Like it or not, her dad has chosen to marry someone other than her mother. She should be grateful that he’s found love and isn’t alone. And yes, she should show some basic respect to her stepmother, just as she should to most people. Otherwise, why not simply go no contact?

The comments on this post are pretty interesting. Lots of people are on “team stepmom”. Lots of people are supporting the letter writer. It’s true that the dad/husband is responsible for the fact that his daughter exists. Many people feel that a person’s children should always come first. Personally, I disagree with that, since children usually grow up to be adults, and they need to learn that the world doesn’t always revolve around them.

If the dad decides that he’s willing to continue a relationship with his daughter without his wife’s involvement, that might work out fine. However, based on the way the dad reacted to his daughter’s behavior, it sounds like he’s putting his wife and marriage first. And that’s probably the best thing to do, in the long run. His daughter is grown up, now, so he should focus on living his life, making himself happy, and staying healthy. His daughter can fend for herself. If she doesn’t grow up and stop being so selfish, she may have to do that.

Divorce can really suck. It’s often expensive, painful, complicated, and heartbreaking. However, sometimes divorce is absolutely necessary. It was definitely necessary in Bill’s case. He couldn’t stay with his ex wife without risking his health, or even his life. And he should not have been expected to, especially not for the convenience of someone else– and certainly not for someone who is an adult. Bill’s stepmother had “issues” with Bill’s divorce, because it made it harder for her to see his kids, who technically aren’t even her grandchildren. She doesn’t know the whole story about everything that went wrong, or the most egregiously awful parts of the story, but she also didn’t have to live in that hellish situation. Bill did.

Maybe the letter writer had a legitimate gripe if she was a child when the divorce happened, and the stepmom was legitimately abusive to her in some way. She’s now a grown woman, though, and she probably needs to get over herself and accept her stepmother as a full member of the family. If she can’t or won’t do that, then maybe it’s time she went no contact. Of course, going no contact is a big decision, and it can come with significant consequences. But sometimes it really is the healthy thing to do for everyone involved. Either way, it sounds like dad is sticking with his wife, and she’s going to have to accept that.

I don’t know what went wrong in the relationship between the letter writer’s parents, but obviously, they couldn’t be together. Her dad has now found someone to love, and they’ve been together for a long time, in spite of the daughter’s disdain and disrespect toward their marriage. If the letter writer loves her dad, she should understand and respect that, and stop trying to divide the family with petty foolishness. It sounds like he’s found himself a “good strong woman”, and she should simply be happy for him and try to co-exist with her. I’m sure the letter writer’s dad would want the same kind of strong and supportive partner for her.

Below are the lyrics to Keb’ Mo’s new song, “Good Strong Woman”.

Mama said, “Son, listen to me
That girl is T-R-O-U-B-L-E
So watch out, I know you love her but she’s not your friend
She’ll only be there long as you got money to spend”

Life can be kinda hard on a man

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday
I’m talking ’bout a good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
Hm, a good strong woman (strong woman)

She will never leave you if you treat her right
She’ll be there in the morning till the late of night
She’s the kind that’s never gonna let you down
Makes you put the bricks on the world around

Life can be kinda hard on a man

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday
I’m talking ’bout a good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)

If you wanna make the bad times better
Make a good thing last forever

Life can be kinda hard on a man

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday

I’m talking ’bout a good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
Yeah, I’ll be a good strong woman

Oh, a good strong woman
She’s got your back, strong woman
Talking ’bout a good strong woman
(Good strong woman)

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condescending twatbags, healthcare

A letter to Dear Abby, just waiting to happen… shunning over vaccines!

I like to read advice columns. I’ve enjoyed them since I was a little kid. For years, I read Ann Landers, which was the only advice column run in our local paper. Then, they got Dear Abby, too. Along came the Internet, and we got other advice columnists like Dear Prudie and Dear Amy and Dear Annie… I love ’em all.

Today, I read a news article in the Washington Post about what to do with friends and relatives who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The article itself was very good, and offered what I think to be very sensible advice about how to handle these situations. The article encourages people to be “good listeners” and hear out why friends and loved ones don’t want to get the shot(s). Although a lot of people haven’t seemed to have realized it, most adults do not like being told what to do, especially in a belligerent manner.

Of course, that common knowledge doesn’t register with some people. They recommend the “hard-nosed” snubbing approach. One woman posted in the article’s Facebook comments,

“Tell them they are not welcome in your house until they are vaccinated! Also that you will not be going to their house either. Even though I’m vaccinated I’m not willing to get a mild case of Covid and be one of those long haulers who have odd symptoms for years.”

I couldn’t help but remember my old axiom, which I frequently repeat– especially since Bill’s ex wife is a master at shunning and alienating people. And– big surprise– she’s also an asshole! And it’s really true. “It’s not a punishment to be shunned by an asshole.”

I totally get wanting to avoid mingling with the unvaccinated, but I think we should be careful not to alienate them completely… not unless they’re someone you truly don’t mind losing as a contact. Plus, the obnoxious, holier-than-thou tone of the comment pissed me off, even if I can understand and agree with the sentiment. So I responded:

“Careful with that. Sometimes not being welcome in someone’s presence is a bonus. Remember, it’s not a punishment to be shunned by a jerk.”

Being rude and belligerent to someone, even if it’s over something like vaccines, is potential jerk territory. And being hard-nosed about not spending time with someone over a personal matter like vaccines may lead to finding out that you’ve overvalued your own company. The unvaccinated person you’re trying to influence may just say, “See ya!” instead of getting the shot(s).

If it’s an acquaintance, you might not care about it, but what if it’s your mother or cousin or child? What if you try to take that hard-assed approach and the person tells you to go fuck yourself? Then you don’t hear anything from them for years?

Recently, the advice columns have been full of letters from people who have estranged relatives they want to reconnect with or their kids have “secret siblings” their children have never heard of. They write to Annie, Abby, or Prudie looking for advice on how to heal the rift or otherwise reconnect with estranged people from their pasts.

I’m not saying the hard-assed approach is never appropriate. Sometimes, it really is. In fact, it can be an excellent way to weed irritating people from your midst without flat out telling them to pound sand. But if your goal is to influence someone you actually care about, you might want to think twice about being really belligerent about the anti-vaccine stance.

I get that COVID-19 is scary and frustrating, but many of the people who aren’t vaccinated are just as scared and frustrated as you are. And a lot of them are simply trying to do what they think is right for themselves– even if it sounds irrational or irresponsible to other people. Telling them they’re being stupid, irresponsible, or irrational is probably not going to sway them, especially if you pair those thoughts with a threat. You might just piss them off enough that they’ll gladly walk away from you for good. If you care about them, that decision could really come back to haunt you and other loved ones.

So avoid having to write to an advice column, and tread carefully when you confront the anti-vaxxers among you… unless, of course, you don’t care if you never speak to them again. Many of those folks probably will survive the pandemic, after all… and you may really be sorry for being harsh if one dies while you’re still angry.

I do think you can refuse to interact with unvaccinated people, by the way. I simply advocate doing so in a kind, empathetic way, that emphasizes your concern for everyone’s overall health and well-being– theirs, your own, and those of any family members who can’t be vaccinated at this time.

Incidentally, one guy’s response to me was “Shun us all, then.”

To which I wrote, “Gladly…” because frankly, I find a lot of people extremely irritating, anyway. But, for the record, I wasn’t the one advocating shunning. I am fully vaccinated myself. Fortunately, the only person I care to see in person is Bill, and he’s fully vaccinated, too. So life is good for me… at least for now!

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