Long ago divorce remains source of constant criticism

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin

DEAR ABBY: I desperately need to learn how to cope with caring for my mother, who is living with me. We get along most days, however she is very much a "Negative Nancy" on all topics, especially my life.

I have been divorced for more than 10 years, but she digs about my ex and his new wife as often as possible. I have asked her repeatedly to stop, but she flat-out refuses because "he left me in financial ruin."

Yes, my ex is more financially stable today than when we were married, but I am neither desolate nor destitute. She makes me feel like no matter what I do for her it's not enough, and before you suggest it, our only option is to live together. Please help salvage my emotional state. -- CHALLENGED IN TEXAS

DEAR CHALLENGED: For the sake of your sanity, you will have to learn to change the way you react to Mommy Dearest, who can't let go of her grudge or resist stirring the pot. Do you think she does it because she enjoys needling you? Is she bored and has nothing better to talk about?

When she makes negative comments about your ex, don't take the bait. Ignore her, leave the room or counter by saying something positive about him. (I hope you can come up with some good material.) And when she complains that you don't do enough for her, start doing less, which may make you feel less taken for granted.

Understand that you may never please her, and when the quarantine ends, encourage her to spend time at a senior center, volunteering "to help others less fortunate," or some other activity that will get her out of your house. You should also spend less time with her when you need to.

DEAR ABBY: My late husband and I had a dysfunctional marriage. He died in a car accident in 1995 at the age of 49. I was 44 then.

I did my best to shield my then-teenage daughter, "Wendy," from his opiate addiction, suicide attempts, physical abuse and the constant flux of income because we were on and off welfare. On the flip side of his character, he was funny, super smart, helped anyone who needed help and was loved by everyone.

Little did I know, my husband had been confiding all of my perceived faults with Wendy over the years. Twenty-five years have passed, and she still has residual anger toward me for things I never did back then. It spills out when she judges me or accuses me about issues that happen between us today.

Her father was abusive and neglectful of her, too, but she doesn't remember it. In her eyes, I was the bad guy in the marriage and he was the good guy and her hero forever.

I don't know how to heal the ugliness between us. I don't think it's productive at this point to tell her how bad her father treated me back then. I continue to love her unconditionally, but it still doesn't overcome her underlying pain and anger. Was I wrong for hiding everything from her? It's not fair being thought of unjustly. What else can I do? -- FAILING IN FLORIDA

DEAR FAILING: By protecting your daughter from the truth all these years, you have contributed to the situation you find yourself in. Tell your daughter it's important the two of you get some issues out in the open, and if she agrees, make an appointment for you both with a licensed mental health professional who can facilitate and mediate the long-overdue discussion.

DEAR ABBY: My husband's mother recently told him he no longer matters to her because he is an atheist. His mother is supposedly a Christian, but she rarely acts like one. It has left my husband devastated and feeling more lonely than ever.

I can't find the right words to comfort him when he's going through something I haven't got a clue about. How do I empathize with him to let him know he did nothing wrong and that he never deserved to have those words thrown at him by his own mother?

It infuriates me, but I don't think it would be right for me to step in and talk to her directly. How do you deal with a narcissist who constantly plays the victim even after all the support you've given to her, financially and emotionally? -- SUPPORTIVE WIFE IN ALABAMA

DEAR WIFE: I'm glad you asked. Explain to your husband that by emotionally abusing him this way, his mother is attempting to control him. What she said is despicable, and if he is as emotionally dependent on her as you have described, he may need counseling to get past this. The way to deal with her emotional blackmail is to distance yourselves from her financially and emotionally, because she is manipulative and toxic.

DEAR ABBY: When I was a little girl, my mother died of breast cancer. I always suspected that I might have the gene, too. To make matters worse, my dad got skin cancer a couple of years ago, meaning my risk of getting cancer is higher because of both my parents having it.

I'm turning 18 in a couple of months, and I want to get tested to see what my risk is, but I'm terrified. I sometimes feel a stabbing pain in my chest and think I feel a lump. I'm not sure if I'm imagining it due to my stress and fear or if it's true. I don't want to tell my dad until after my appointment, which I plan on doing alone. What do you think I should do? Should I tell him? -- AFRAID IN FLORIDA

DEAR AFRAID: Try to calm yourself. The lump you felt may not be what you fear, but a cyst. Breast cancer in teen girls is rare, but cysts are quite common. (It might also be nothing.) That said, because of your family history, you should be checked by a doctor.

I don't believe in keeping secrets of this nature. If you would like emotional support when you get the test for the BRCA gene, your father -- or a female relative -- would be a logical choice to go with you. Please give it some thought.

DEAR ABBY: I have a medical alert service dog. People at the store won't leave him alone to do his job, and I don't know what to do. I don't want to be rude to these people, but my life depends on his alerting. Each time I must shop for groceries, I am very afraid. Advice? -- NO PETTING IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR NO PETTING: You are a nice person. Too nice, in fact. When someone attempts to distract your service animal, TELL the person emphatically to stop immediately because he is on duty, working to ensure your safety, and being distracted could cost you your life. It is the truth.