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Jewish Journal

Dear Deborah

by Deborah Berger

December 11, 1997 | 7:00 pm

Dear Deborah,

I am trapped in an emotionally and financiallyabusive marriage. My mother died when I was 4 years old, and myfather married a woman with a daughter around my age. My stepmothertreated her daughter like a princess, buying her the best clothes andgiving her the best education. On the other hand, she put me inpublic school, bought me second-hand clothing and so forth. It was anightmare, and my father always made it clear that his wife wasnumber one and that I should be grateful to have such a beautifulstepmother and sister.

When I was 19 years of age, my stepmother informedme that I could no longer live there. Since my education was inferiorand they wouldn't pay for college, I became a clerk in a store. Inever felt good or attractive or happy; instead, I was always justgoing through the motions. After a difficult six months on the job,barely making ends meet, I met and married a man -- really the firstman who ever showed an interest in me. My father was so glad to getrid of me, he gave my husband a lump sum of money toward a house. Weset about having two children, and, boy, was I naïve. He alwayshad affairs, barely gave me an allowance and ignored me. He nevergave me a birthday or anniversary gift, and he went through many jobsand businesses -- all of which my father bankrolled.

Now, the children have grown and gone. They haveno respect for me and don't get in touch often. My father has passedaway, leaving everything to his wife and nothing to me. My husbandnow has let me know his true feelings -- that he never loved me andmarried me for my father's money. He no longer speaks to me, he eatsout and gives me no money for food. I have had to stop having my hairdone, I am fat from the sort of food I can afford, and he now sleepsin the basement. I can't afford an attorney; I can't leave.

M.

Dear M.,

The situation you describe is one of a persontrapped in a burning building. If you jump, there may be a safetynet; however, if you do not, you're dead. Get help. Call your localJewish Family Service. Your childhood was brutal, and you had nochoice about the bad things that were done to you. As an adult,however, you do have choices.

With hope, the Jewish Family Service will arrangefor you to receive some counseling and support...perhaps some jobtraining or leads, and will help you to see your choices.

So jump out of that burning building fast, or elseyou will have chosen an adulthood that looks just like yourchildhood. Good luck.

Passion and the Boy

Dear Deborah,

I have a son who is very extreme in his opinions,passionate about causes and sensitive to a fault. This would be fineif he were older, but he is 8 years old! His sense of justice is soextreme that, in school, he will speak out against an injustice doneto another child. As a result, he is very popular among his friendsbut ends up getting into trouble with teachers with some frequency.He will not allow us to use paper plates (the environment), will notwear or eat animals (try finding dressy canvas shoes) and insists ontaking in every stray animal. If my son encounters a homeless personas he exits a store, he will give the person his purchase (or mine,for that matter).

These are great qualities, but my husband and Iwould like to tone it down a bit. We end up having to pay for this,deal with the strays and so forth. Have you any suggestions?

Confused Parents

Dear Confused,

To parent a remarkable child such as yoursrequires great creativity and patience. At 8 years old, to be soprincipled, passionate and sensitive is a rare and precociouscommodity that must be protected and cultivated with great care. Ifyou don't, as you have already learned, problems may arise.

First and foremost, your son's qualities are, ofcourse, to be respected. Let him know that what he feels is admirableand that you value his thoughts, feelings and opinions. Educate himby allowing him to experience more of the consequences of hisactions; for example, have him go through the process of findinganimal rescue organizations, placing the calls, caring for the dog orcat, and so forth.

Buy food coupons to a grocery store or fast-foodoutlet in small denominations so that your son can give in thesituations you describe. Teach him appropriate ways of defendingclassmates without antagonizing teachers. Each situation that arisesis a new opportunity to strengthen and refine his character.

Of course, the most challenging aspect toparenting this child is setting limits without quelling his passion.As parents who demonstrate such caring and concern, you already areheaded in the right direction.

Thank You, Thank You

Dear Deborah,

Is it appropriate to expect a thank-you call ornote after an expensive evening out? I always take ladies to finerestaurants and elegant clubs. I would think decent manners wouldinclude a thank-you of some sort, don't you?

Gentleman

Dear Sir,

If what you are saying is that a "thank you" atthe end of a date is not enough, and that you expect a second "thankyou" in the form of a note or call, then I imagine you must berepeatedly disappointed. Wouldn't it be more expedient and productiveto modify your own expectations? Do the math. One evening out -- onethank-you. Either that, or make your wishes known to your dates. Butif you are going to tally up the thank-yous in relation to the costof the dates, perhaps a more modest date -- say, pizza and a walk onthe beach -- will leave you feeling less miffed.

All letters to DearDeborah require a name, address andtelephone number for purposes of verification. Names will, of course,be withheld upon request. Our readers should know that when names areused in a letter, they are fictitious.

Dear Deborah welcomes your letters. Responses canbe given only in the newspaper. Send letters to Deborah Berger-Reiss,1800 S. Robertson Blvd., Ste. 927, Los Angeles, CA 90035. You canalso send E-mail: deborahb@primenet.com

Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angelespsychotherapist.

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