CAROLYN HAX

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Life - Email Carolyn at [email protected]­post.com.

DEAR CAROLYN: I lost my dad in 2011, and my mom last month, af­ter look­ing af­ter her dur­ing a year­long strug­gle with ALS. She lived near us for the last two years of her life be­cause I thought it was im­por­tant that my daugh­ters (8-year-old twins) knew their grandma.

The strange thing is – I didn’t grieve for ei­ther of my par­ents. They died, and I felt noth­ing, ex­cept maybe re­lief that it was over. I could find rea­sons for that with my dad – he was a mostly ab­sent, post­war fa­ther who never made time for me. But with my mom? She raised me as a home­maker and wasn’t a bad mother – she sat by my bed when I was sick as a kid (and I was sick a lot), she cooked my meals, washed my clothes and praised my school achieve­ments. She also kicked me out at 18 when I burned a ci­garette hole in the rug of my room ... and I never moved back.

But still, no abuse, no mean­ness. Why do I know in the bot­tom of my heart that I moved my mom to our town only out of a sense of duty – with­out hav­ing a need to spend time with her, talk to her, share what was im­por­tant to me?

I feel mon­strous.

– Re­lieved

DEAR RE­LIEVED: Why is it “mon­strous” of you to have cared for your mom ex­actly as she cared for you?

Health tended, food pro­vided, clothes washed, achieve­ment praised. Du­ti­ful. That was your child­hood. If you were nur­tured emo­tion­ally as well, then you make no men­tion of it. Were you?

The ab­sence of ne­glect – or of abuse or of mean­ness – does not take you by process of elim­i­na­tion to love. With the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of the sickbed vig­ils, your de­scrip­tion of your child­hood is a love­less one. Ach­ingly so. And even the vig­ils them­selves could have been du­ti­ful for a mid-cen­tury Amer­i­can stay-at-home mom.

If this is ac­cu­rate, and if you have not yet made peace with the legacy of such emo­tion­ally dis­tant par­ents, then please make sure the first thing you do is rec­og­nize their fail­ure to bond with you was within them, not you.

Then con­nect th­ese two dots: You gave to them, no doubt un­wit­tingly, as you re­ceived from them.

Then end this cold legacy in one stroke through your girls: Love them, and say it, and show it.

DEAR CAROLYN: My sis­ter-in-law con­stantly crit­i­cizes my nieces, neph­ews, cousins and my chil­dren. She uses their faults to say, “That is why I never had chil­dren.” My brother some­times agrees with her and has de­fended her view­points even when they are mean-spir­ited. When I re­move my­self from her pres­ence, he tells me I have anger is­sues.

I would rather not be around her. How do I ex­plain this to the rest of my fam­ily? –D. DEAR D.: “I find [sis­terin-law] un­bear­able.” She – “Sally” – puts her am­ple charms on dis­play for all to see, so you needn’t worry whether peo­ple will un­der­stand, and it’s your life, so they don’t have to like it.

There is an­other way to deal with Sal­lies, though: Be grate­ful they’re out in the open. Any­time some­one is as overtly wretched, you can re­spond overtly, too, more eas­ily than to peo­ple who are more stealth.

When she’s nasty to kids in your pres­ence: “Oh it’s just Aunt Sally,” you say to the kids. “Carry on.” Think cool breeze, not anger. Re­peat as needed.

When she says, “That is why I never had chil­dren,” she’s tee­ing this up for you: “And all your non-chil­dren say thanks.” Re­peat as needed.

Again – breezy, not an­gry. Why? First, it’s her raw anger that of­fends you. Don’t stoop to her level.

Sec­ond, anger val­i­dates and es­ca­lates anger. To turn down the heat, there’s no bet­ter op­tion than to brush her lightly away.

Third, kids will be hurt less by a kooky aunt than a hate­ful one, and how their par­ents re­spond to Sally will show them through which lens to view her.

Fourth, this leaves room for com­pas­sion. Maybe Sally didn’t ac­tu­ally choose to be child-free? Might ex­plain your brother’s ac­tions.

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