DEAR NATALIE: I appreciate reading your great advice. Now I need some. My husband "Lou" died last month. He left behind a wife (me) and two college-aged kids. He also has a 32-year-old son "Colin" from a brief marriage long before we met. I developed a good and friendly rapport with his ex, "Lydia.” She is a little bit of a hippie. It seemed like she would listen to me when I would present Lou's ideas for their son's care — like taking him to the doctor for an ear infection or not blaming the teacher for his bad grade. Colin has been in and out of trouble for years. Think crashing on couches because his "crazy" roommate spent the rent or getting arrested because his ex "set him up." Lou was a self-made guy and refused to bail Colin out. Lydia has blown through a medium- sized inheritance on Colin's follies. It has been clear to everyone but Lydia that Colin has a substance abuse problem. Colin visited two years ago when my oldest turned 21. They went out to celebrate "his first legal drink." My son came home in an Uber around 10 p.m., saying that Colin was trying to bully him into alcohol poisoning. Colin came home around 4 a.m. that night and slept on the porch. I was nervous about Colin visiting this year, but Lou said it would be good to have the family together. Plus, we just wouldn't keep booze in the house. Well, that didn't work. He was drunk at our house for three long days until Lou blew up at him and Colin called Lydia to come and get him. Lydia and I got into an argument when she arrived. I told her she was an enabler and if she spent any more money on Colin, then it should be on rehab. Colin called Lou later that night, drunk. The stress of the call gave Lou a heart attack. He died at the hospital. I don't want to have anything to do with Colin or Lydia. I'd feel this way if Lou was alive. Now, Lydia is claiming that Colin is no longer drinking and wants to plan a "family Christmas." This is nuts! I do not believe for one minute that Colin magically cured himself of the demons that have plagued him for over a decade. Lydia is texting me about family unity. Colin is texting me, saying I have turned his siblings against him. I want to give my kids and myself space to grieve without the drama. Do I just quit responding to them? — I NEED PEACE
DEAR I NEED PEACE: Let me first start by offering my condolences. This sounds like it has been an incredibly difficult time for you and your family. You are allowed to have boundaries. You do not owe Colin or Lydia anything. If Colin wants to have a relationship with his siblings, then he has to earn back their trust and respect. He needs to take inventory of the choices that he has made to this point. I recognize the disease of addiction. I recognize that he is also hurting. The best thing Colin can do in hopes to have a future relationship with you and his siblings is take care of himself in a meaningful way. And you are right — that won’t happen overnight. This is going to be a lifelong battle for your stepson. He clearly has shown no remorse for what has happened and saying that you have “lured” his grown siblings away is ridiculous. They are old enough to see what is going on and have experienced it for themselves. I am so sorry that he is going through this, but setting boundaries is healthier for everyone. If he wants to be in your life, then certain expectations need to be set. You are allowed to sit with your anger. You are allowed to grieve your husband without Lydia and Colin around. You are allowed to block them on your phone. You are allowed to take as much time as you need to rebuild and see where you are down the road. Colin may want to be in your life but that doesn’t mean you are obligated to accommodate him. I recommend that you reach out for support, too, so that you can better understand this disease and how to be of help should you someday choose to be. Let him walk his own path for a while, and maybe in the future if and when he is in a healthier place, you can come back together again.
DEAR NATALIE: My mom and dad have been divorced for years and can’t even be in the same room together. My dad often cheated on my mom when we were kids. Finally she had enough and left him. Well, she left us behind, too. Dad did the best he could, but he had four daughters and it wasn’t easy for him. I was 15 at the time — the oldest — and took care of my sisters like a mother. Fast forward: I’m 31 now and engaged to be married. My sisters are my best friends and are all going to be in my wedding party. I’m also having my dad walk me down the aisle. My mom is very angry about this. She said he doesn’t “deserve to do that” and that “she should be the one to walk me.” She is lucky to be invited. I didn’t tell her that, but leaving us caused real strain on our relationship. I love my mom, but how do I get her to understand that I am choosing to have him walk me down the aisle because I love him, too? She is threatening not to come to the wedding if he is there. I’m sad and at a loss. I want both my parents there during this very special time in my life, but she is making it all about her.
DEAR MOMZILLA: Congratulations on your engagement! You are right, this should be a fun and exciting time in your life. I am sorry to hear that your mom is centering herself in this situation. Sounds as though she has never actually dealt with her relationship with your father and is now trying to take it out on you. While we hope that our parents take care of us, sometimes we are forced into the role of parenting them. Your mother needs to understand that this is your special day. If she can’t accept that your father is walking you down the aisle, then she can either come for the reception or not at all. Not sure what game she is trying to play here, but I wouldn’t indulge it. Now, having said that, it’s important to have empathy for her, as well. She clearly hasn’t been able to grieve her marriage or work on her own issues around it. I feel for her, but this is not your fault. Set up boundaries so that you can enjoy your wedding day. Do what makes you feel joyful in this moment, and hopefully she will realize that this is one experience she doesn’t want to miss.
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