Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Offer Older Player a Graceful Exit

DEAR NATALIE: My husband runs a volleyball league for high-skilled players. Years ago, when it started as a "most-anyone-can-play" league, a woman joined who wasn't a great player, but everyone liked her so she continued on. As the league evolved into just skilled players, she was grandfathered in. 

Now at 68 she is a poor player, and each week some unhappy team has her on its side. This is causing strife among the players and for my husband who is not sure how to tell her she should no longer play. No one wants to hurt her. He wants a rule saying anyone over 60 has to get 10 members to agree that they are still skilled enough to play. I feel that is like her being told 10 times she isn't any good anymore. I suggested a test for any players over 60 so she is not singled out. Suggestions please. -- VOLLEYBALL MESS

DEAR MESS: This sounds liked seventh grade: Everyone is picking teams, and there is that one kid that no one wants. First talk with her and see if she would be interested in doing something else like keeping score or managing the teams. She may be relieved not to have to play at this level anymore. A "test" for people over 60 would make it obvious as to what is going on, and leaving it to a vote would embarrass her. 

But, if she can't take a hint, tell her that you have concerns for her physical well-being because the team dynamics have changed. Perhaps encourage (or help her set up) an intramural team for "newbies" or people who want a less competitive game that she can direct. This would give her a sense of purpose without hurting her unnecessarily. 

DEAR NATALIE: Our mother has had severe depression for two years. She sends mean, degrading text messages to her children, blaming them for various transgressions, sometimes in years past. Yet when the children try to discuss these messages, she avoids phone calls or offers apologies. 

The children would like to mend this riff and have offered to attend counseling with her, but she avoids conversations. We hear through the grapevine that she is telling family members that we don't care about her. We love her but we cannot keep allowing her to treat people the way she has, using the excuse that she's depressed. Any advice? -- FRUSTRATED CHILDREN 

DEAR CHILDREN: It appears there is a mental health issue that is not being addressed. This "meanness" reminds me of people I counseled who were bipolar (which often leads to highs and lows in behaviors). Is she even open to receiving a deeper level of help? 

Unfortunately, when family members live with severe mental illness they barricade themselves from people they love, isolate themselves from the world and often lash out at those wanting to help. Was there an event that triggered this depression two years ago, or has she always had ups and downs? 

She does not want to be in this place of pain or suffering, so take baby steps toward improvement. It may be time to tell your mom: "If you want to have a healthy relationship with me, here are the boundaries we need to set, here are the steps we need to take, here are the ways we can work on bettering our relationship." You may have to send this by letter. 

Meet with your siblings and a counselor independently from your mother to discuss the best way to have this "emotional intervention." If you can at least open the lines of communication, you can work toward a brighter tomorrow. 

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: If you want to get a conversation going, ask open-ended questions that require more than a "yes" or "no" answer. This allows you to get to know the other person on a deeper level and shows that you are interested in what he or she has to say. 

Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)