After 20 years, stepmother finally went too far

Posted: July 03, 2012

While I'm away, readers give the advice.

On grandparents who are a bad influence: My father married an emotionally unstable woman. She managed to engineer their lives (and mine) through our collective fear of her anger and tantrums. I spent 20 years kowtowing to her out of fear she would force my father to choose between us.

One of her favorite zingers was that I had all this education and what was the point when I chose to stay home with my children? I suspected I would never win the showdown if it came to that.

However, when she started to compare my children in a negative way when they were under 8 years old — the eldest, a girl, was the "genius," and my son was a challenge because he did things differently than she thought he should — I put my foot down.

I started pushing back against her nastiness to me and our children. This caused a catastrophic tantrum on her part, and my father did as I suspected and chose her over us. Sadly, we are happier, even though I desperately miss my father and his presence in the children's lives.

I wish parents would feel empowered to protect their children from becoming the next generation of victims of their family dynamics.

On friends who forget to care about what's going on in your life: I follow what I have vaguely come to think of as the 70/30 rule of friendship. It doesn't have to be 50/50, but there has to be some give-and-take.

Sure, if someone is having a problem or a particular situation, it can be all about them for a while, but if it's clear it's just going to be all about them all of the time, I start backing off ... way off.

On judging people who don't have college degrees: College costs a lot of money. Not everyone has it. Some of us come from families and lives so dysfunctional that there's not a single responsible adult on the scene to explain the availability of student loans and help figure out how to get one. Some of us, when we figure out these things do exist, are sufficiently scarred by a childhood of crushing poverty to reject the idea of signing on for years of debt.

That's my story; someone else's is probably different, but rest assured s/he has one too. Why don't you ask people what it is, rather than measuring their worth by an arbitrary yardstick of blind privilege?

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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