DEAR ABBY: Last summer, we visited my husband's out-of-state relatives, including his "Uncle Pete." Five years ago, Uncle Pete was diagnosed with schizophrenia and I don't know what else. He is receiving therapy and taking medication. To me, his behavior is still very strange.
During our visit, Uncle Pete mentioned that, in his opinion, our 8-year-old son displays signs of mental illness. I was speechless and didn't give him a chance to go into specifics. I explained that our son is OK, but shy around people he does not know well. Uncle Pete says it's a sign of anti-social behavior.
When we returned home, Uncle Pete sent us a book about children and mental illness. His note said he didn't want our son to have a miserable childhood like he had. My husband told me to write a note of thanks -- ignore it, and let it go. However, I plan to return the book and say, "Thanks, but no thanks, and please mind your own business!" I'm afraid if I don't put an end to Uncle Pete's meddling he will continue with his "mission."
Now I'm trying to figure out why this bothers me so much. I think it is the term "mental illness" and the stigma attached. How do we handle this uncle? -- ANGRY MOTHER IN TEXAS
DEAR ANGRY MOTHER: Your husband is half right. Keep the book, but DO read it. And thank Uncle Pete for being so concerned and caring, because that's the place he is coming from.
Please don't be put off by the term "mental illness." It's a broad definition that can cover problems both large and small, and it's no reflection on your parenting skills. However, mental illness can be genetic and run in families. So, as a wise mother, you should have your son evaluated, just in case Uncle Pete has spotted something that needs to be treated. If your son passes the exam with flying colors, you can then assure Uncle Pete that the experts say there's nothing to be concerned about. End of story.