Far flung family makes little effort to stay in touch

Brownwood Bulletin
Jeanne Phillips

DEAR ABBY: I am a 72-year-old divorcee. I live alone in a 55-and-older community where I have many friends and an active life.

My three adult children are ages 37 to 43. The eldest lives out of the country with my 12-year-old grandson. My other son and his wife live 2,000 miles away and have two young children, one of whom I saw once three years ago. My daughter lives with her husband an hour and a half away. I see them about twice a year.

My daughter will sometimes answer an email or text, sometimes not. My sons almost never contact me, not even on my birthday or Mother's Day. From what I understand, they have little communication with their father or each other, either.

Is this normal? It breaks my heart. This isn't how I raised them. I always encouraged them to maintain a relationship with their father and their grandmother. Is there anything I can do? -- SO SAD IN THE EAST

DEAR SO SAD: I'm sorry for your heartache, and there IS something you can do. Concentrate on your friends, people who are willing to return your emotional investment. You should also ignore Mother's Day, which is an emotionally loaded holiday that causes pain not only to mothers like you, but also to those who have recently lost their mothers. I think you have suffered enough, don't you?

DEAR ABBY: My mother-in-law, "Gladys," has never liked to shop from a gift list. She prefers to look on her own for a gift she thinks the person would like. My problem is, most of the things she buys are atrocious.

My husband and I are expecting our first child -- her first grandchild -- and although we sent her the link, she has already purchased items not on our registry. I am gracious, Abby. I thank her verbally and follow up with a note in the mail. However, we don't have enough room for all the items to use just when she visits, so I plan to quietly return or donate them.

When she's here and asks why we're not using her gifts, what do I say? I'd prefer not to lie and say something like "the dog chewed it up," nor do I want to be brutally honest and tell her I found the things she bought too ugly. -- MOM-IN-WAITING

DEAR MOM-IN-WAITING: Find a wide, shallow box that will fit under a bed. Select some of the "atrocious" gifts and use them when Grandma Gladys comes to visit. If she asks why you're not using all of them, explain that because you already had some of the gifts she sent, you donated hers to a needy family who could enjoy them. (It's a diplomatic version of the truth.)

DEAR ABBY: I'm a single woman in my 30s, not a Mrs. and too young for Ma'am. Am I a Ms.? What do they all stand for? -- IN BETWEEN M'S

DEAR IN BETWEEN: You qualify for "Ms.," if you wish to use it. As you know, "Miss" is the term used to denote an unmarried woman. After consciousness was raised regarding equal rights for women, some began using "Ms." in the workplace when they preferred not to reveal their marital status. Traditionally, in the South, women over 21 are called "Ma'am" as a sign of respect. Farther north it's applied to mature women, although not all of them appreciate hearing it directed at them.

DEAR ABBY: I have been in a relationship with a wonderful man, "Andy," for two years. I couldn't ask for a better partner. We are both divorced with children, and they get along like brothers and sisters.

Even though our marriages ended, mine wasn't an ordeal. My ex and I both knew it wasn't working anymore, and we still get along pretty well. But Andy and his ex-wife never got along and argued for 18 years, and herein lies the problem. He gives me no space -- ever.

I have discussed it with him numerous times, and his response is, "Well, I have never been this happy, and I love spending time with you." I enjoy our time, too, but I feel controlled without him acting controlling. He wants to be with me every minute. I look forward to going to work to escape! How can I get him to listen? -- JOINED AT THE HIP

DEAR JOINED: The next time you have "the conversation," and he tells you he has to be with you every minute because he loves spending time with you, remind him that there are two of you in this relationship. Then inform him that with no time for yourself or friends, you feel claustrophobic, which isn't healthy for you or the relationship.

Healthy relationships are those in which both parties allow each other the space to be individuals. If you don't draw a line and insist that he accept it, he will smother you.

DEAR ABBY: You always give great advice on how to respond to people. My husband had a stroke 2 1/2 years ago. We ventured out for the first time to a store. He was holding onto the cart and stopped to rest. A man behind us, who was obviously following too close, threw up his hands in disgust. Evidently we weren't moving fast enough for him, so he made a snide remark; I replied that my husband is recovering from a stroke.

Unfortunately, a week ago he suffered another stroke. How can I respond to people who are rude to those who might be slow or disabled? -- PATIENCE IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR PATIENCE: I think you handled the situation beautifully. All you can do is hang on to your temper and try to calmly educate people like the impatient (and rude) individual you encountered that day.

DEAR ABBY: My fiancee and I will be moving in together soon, and we're looking forward to a pet-filled life. The concern we both share is that my mother and hers are allergic to animals and will probably never be able to visit because of it. We love each other's parents and would like to have them in our lives as much as possible. Are there rules of etiquette for pets and families with allergies? -- PET LOVER IN GEORGIA

DEAR PET LOVER: If your parents are highly allergic, putting your pets in another room or outside won't work because their hair and dander would be in your carpets and on your furniture. In a case like this, your parents should talk to their doctors and ask if they can get vaccinated to lessen or alleviate their allergies. If that isn't an option, you and your fiancee may have to visit them, wearing freshly laundered clothes so you won't bring any allergens with you.