DEAR NATALIE: My mom and I have a very toxic relationship that seems to worsen every year. She has a very big issue with pills and has often fallen asleep around my children when she was supposed to be babysitting. It got to the point where we don’t feel comfortable leaving her alone with my kids – who are 9 and 11. My in-laws are wonderful people. Whenever she's around them, she is belligerent. I think she’s jealous that I am so close to my mother-in-law – who, quite frankly – is more of a mother to me than my mom has ever been. It’s sad, but I don’t want to invite her to this year’s Thanksgiving holiday. Last year was disastrous and left my children in tears. My husband – who is far more forgiving than I am – thinks we should invite her. He worries that excluding her could send her into a spiral. I am willing to take that risk as I want to protect my children from her. Is there a workaround here? There’s no law that says you have to invite your mother to dinner, right? –SPACE NEEDED
DEAR SPACE NEEDED: While your husband’s heart may be in the right place, you are allowed to set boundaries and protect yourself and your children. If you don’t want to have her there for the whole dinner, perhaps there is a compromise here where she can be invited for dessert. If she throws a fit about that and questions why she isn’t invited for the full event, be honest with her. Just because she is your mother doesn’t mean you have to continue to put up with her abusive behavior. You are no longer a child and you don’t owe her Thanksgiving. Respect is earned and actions have consequences. She needs to get support and work on herself. You are allowed to take a step back from her until she does.
DEAR NATALIE: My friend has 14-year-old fraternal twin daughters, and the one is becoming noticeably prettier than the other. She points that out to them often, commenting on how Shea is the “pretty one” so Diane better be the “smart one” or the “funny one” to somehow make up for it. Shea and her mom often laugh at Diane’s expense, and I’ve noticed Diane becoming more withdrawn. I want to say something to my friend, but I don’t want to overstep my bounds. I think it’s cruel how she treats her. I don’t think any child should be ridiculed by her own family. Any way to navigate this without losing my friend? –JUST BE NICE TO HER
DEAR JUST BE NICE TO HER: I wouldn’t be able to just stand by and watch my friend emotionally beat up on their daughter. Wrong is wrong and I would call this out even if it means creating tension in the friendship. What kind of friend is this, anyway, that treats children like this? The only thing she has succeeded at is becoming her daughter’s first bully and triangulating the relationship between herself and her two daughters. This pits the sisters against each other and puts them in competition for their mother’s love and approval. What a terrible way to grow up. This also doesn't help Shea, either, as it puts her value solely on her appearance, which can set her up for unhealthy and dangerous behaviors. Call it out next time you are in front of Diane when it happens. Let Diane know that she is seen, valued and loved. It may make much more of a difference than you realize. And if your friend turns on you? So what. At least you left knowing you did what was right and hopefully planted a seed of hope in Diane’s head that not everyone is a superficial jerk.
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