May 29, 1997
My husband and I were very depressed this past Mother's Day. Both of our mothers passed away years ago, my husband's by suicide. Also, both of us came from parents who divorced when we were young, and neither of us had very good relationships with our mothers.
We do not have children, so we have no reason to celebrate this holiday--and no grandmothers either. We are both left feeling either sad, guilty, angry or just plain depressed every Mother's Day, as if we've stored up all our feelings for our mothers for one day of the year, although I also feel sad on her birthday.
I do not want next year, or any other year for that matter, to turn out like this. Do you have any suggestions?
Why try to chase away your blues when it is perfectly natural for you and your husband to feel sadness about your mothers on Mother's Day? Instead, create some ritual in which you actually do have an arena in which to feel sad and reminisce together without it becoming an unbearable wallow-fest. A visit to each of their graves or an annual revisiting of your family photo albums are examples of possible rituals.
Then afterward you might celebrate how fortunate you are to have a supportive partner with whom you share so powerful a common bond. Consider volunteering at a homeless shelter or nursing home to bring some comfort to some mothers who are down-on-their-luck or forgotten. In comforting one another as well as others, you partake in a powerful cure.
I am a single 34-year-old divorced woman, successful in my work, competent in the world, yet stuck in the middle of my parents like a 5-year-old. My parents haven't gotten along all my life. They claim to stay together because of money...of which there seems to be plenty.
Five years ago, my father bought a house "for me." What I thought that meant was that he'd paid the downpayment and I'd pay the mortgage and repairs. I thought it was a gift.
The truth is, he seems to have bought it for himself. He and my mother live in a different city, and he comes here whenever he likes to get away from her --and he stays with me. At first I didn't mind, but now it's really putting a crimp in my social life and my sense of peace. He just shows up whenever he wants, and it's gotten to the point where he's staying with me almost half the time. Also, he treats me like he treats Mom, expecting me to provide dinner, do laundry for him, etc. Lately, my mom has started showing up to get away from my dad. Also, each complains bitterly to me about the other all the time.
I've tried to speak to him, but he says it's his house too, and I have no right to turn him away. His name is on the deed, not mine, but he says I will inherit the house. In the meantime, I've invested so much in the mortgage and upkeep, I feel like I should have some claim on it.
Can you help me to figure this out?
Sounds like it's time for a thorough spring-cleaning of your little bed-and-breakfast as well as your psyche.
Let's get this straight. You make the mortgage payments, pay for the repairs and run an inn for some very demanding guests -- in addition to your full-time job. You feel incapable of saying no to their demands, and the benefit is...what? In 40 years you get to keep the house? Is that what you want?
This house has become a metaphor for your role in your parents' marriage. They take turns dumping their marital debris on you, just as they heap demands upon your hospitality. And as long as you continue to allow it, you are purchasing this house on the extortion plan.
Here are your choices:
1) Tell your parents that not having privacy or the choice about whether to have guests and when to have them is not acceptable.
2) If they are unwilling to respect your wishes, offer to buy them out.
3) If they say no, offer them to buy you out.
4) If all else fails, move out, rent an apartment until you have saved up for your own home, and learn that you had to spend several years, great effort and thousands in mortgage payments on the lesson that you refuse to be a human garbage dump and that, in order to grow up, you need some boundaries with your parents.
If these choices seem a little overwhelming now, picture your future. Same house, white picket fence, spouse, children -- and your parents' rotten marriage still parked in the living room.
Davening For Dollars
Our son is invited to the bar mitzvah of a successful, bright classmate. The boy has announced to all his friends in school to please give him cash only because he wants to save up for a trip to Israel, which his parents cannot afford. We were surprised by this behavior and wonder if his parents know that he is busy shnorring from his friends. We think it is pretty tacky. What do you think?
The boy is asking for what he wants, and one must admire his chutzpah and determination. One might also note that he is not asking for money for a fantasy road trip to follow a Smashing Pumpkins' tour. If, however, what you want is an etiquette opinion, you'll have to take it up with Emily Post or Miss Manners.
Bottom line is that the young man may not know which one is the fish fork, but odds are, one day, you'll be reading about his accomplishments in the Wall Street Journal -- or perhaps The Jerusalem Post.
I vote for cutting the boy a check.
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Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angeles psychotherapist.