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ASK AMY

Mother adds to an already stressful situation


Q. My 14-year-old daughter, “Carrie,” has been in both inpatient and outpatient care for years for mood disorders, anxiety, depression, and self-harm.

She also struggles with a binge-eating disorder and has become quite overweight. She is under the care of a pediatrician, pediatric psychiatrist, and therapist. She is getting great care, but treating an eating disorder associated with mental-health issues is extremely challenging.

My mother is a major stressor. She takes every opportunity she can to talk to me about my daughter’s weight, how it negatively affects her life, ruins her health, etc. She also constantly asks me what I’m “going to do about it” and when I will “get her into a program.”

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My mother’s obsession with my daughter’s weight has become so overwhelming that I try not to be alone with her or talk too long on the phone with her. I have explained to my mother time and again that I take advice from experts who are managing her care, but that doesn’t seem to matter to her.

My mother also continuously shares her negative viewpoints about my daughter’s makeup, hair, and clothing choices. I know she cares about Carrie, but I really need to set some boundaries. I am genuinely starting to dislike my mother. She is extremely invasive and is wearing me down.

I wish she would find a therapist instead of me to talk to about this.

What would you advise?

EXHAUSTED MOM

A. You say that you have repeatedly explained the course you are following regarding your daughter’s health. You don’t say that you have told your mother that you won’t discuss this with her at all.

Building a boundary is sometimes like putting up a picket fence: You install it slat by slat. And sometimes, building a boundary is like lowering a garage door: You say what you are going to do and then you do it. And then you keep doing it — calmly — until the person catches on. In your case, you would be trying to retrain your mother away from what you claim is her “obsession” with your daughter’s weight.

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Be aware that if you really lowered the boom, you wouldn’t be able to vent to your mother or use her as a sounding board. This requires discipline on your part. Explain: “I cannot handle your constant negative reaction. You have the right to your opinion, but I need you to keep it to yourself because honestly, what I need right now is love, support, and positivity. I’m not getting that from you, so I’m going to stop discussing Carrie’s situation with you.”

When your mother asks how Carrie is doing, say, “She’s hanging in there,” and change the subject. When she offers an unsolicited negative assessment, say, “Nope, Mom, remember? I’m not going there.”


Q. We have been invited to a “black tie optional or cocktail attire” wedding.

My husband does not own a suit, and we aren’t currently in a position to purchase one. He does own a decent sport coat, etc., but wouldn’t feel confident that this would be appropriate, given the dress code.

He is considering staying home because of this. I and two of our children would still attend, but when asked the inevitable question of why he is not there, how do we respond truthfully, but without creating awkwardness?

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WONDERING

A. Given what is going on right now, it’s hard to imagine attending this kind of event, but in the absence of details, I’ll offer this: If your husband truly does not want to attend, you can answer, “He’s so sorry he couldn’t be here, but he had to keep the home fires burning.” Keep it vague.

Most second-hand or thrift shops carry decent men’s shirts. Depending on the place and time of this gathering, a crisp white shirt, necktie, sport coat, and chinos should cover it. (And remember: Everything goes well with a mask.)


Q. “Worried Relative” described “Danny,” a 9-year-old boy caught in a toxic family crossfire.

At 9, I was trapped in a family much like Danny’s. I knew something wasn’t right because I had other families in the neighborhood and on TV to compare.

What I always wanted but never found was an adult I could trust to talk to who could simply tell me my feelings were valid, and I was not the problem.

SURVIVOR

A. This is heartbreaking. I hope “Worried Relative” follows your (and my) advice to keep in touch and be a supportive presence for this boy.

Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@amydickinson.com.