Q. I had a bad childhood, where I was physically and emotionally abused by my mother. She was a single mother of four, and I am the oldest.
I am now responsible for my aged mother’s care and finances.
I find myself very resentful and holding grudges from more than 40 years ago that interfere with my ability to be a loving daughter, rather than merely a responsible daughter.
Can you recommend a book for me to read that would help put things in perspective? I feel like I need to see that my adult life really isn’t dependent on my childhood.
Tired in Nebraska
A. My first recommendation will help you see that you are not alone. You are part of a sisterhood, but you might not realize it. Read Susan Forward’s “Mothers Who Can’t Love: A Healing Guide for Daughters,” written with coauthor Donna Frazier Glynn (2013, Harper Collins).
My next recommendation is intended to inspire you to feel your authentic feelings, love yourself, and perhaps find your way to understanding and acceptance, if not outright forgiveness.
You could start with any of Pema Chodron’s meditations, lectures, lessons, or books, but this one might be best for you now: “The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times” (2001, Shambhala).
And this final message is from me: Take heart. You are doing the heavy lifting of life, and your frequent exposure to your mother at this stage will understandably plunge you back into that tender state when you were a vulnerable child to an abusive mother.
You might not be able to move beyond being a “responsible” daughter to being a loving one, but you might find a measure of peace in merely abiding and understanding that you are doing the best you can.
I think it really helps to talk about it, write about it, sing about it, and shout about it. Get exercise, be creative, spend time in nature, nurture your friendships if you can, and find ways to allow the world to take care of you.
Q. My husband and I rent out our second bedroom to my husband’s younger, 30-year-old cousin, “Bradley.” He is a generally nice guy, but he is seriously immature and financially irresponsible.
He started off with a well-paying job where he could easily pay his expenses, but he did not like the job, so he quit.
He has a new job now, but it is at much lower pay and he cannot afford anything. We’ve allowed him to delay paying rent for a few months until his finances are back on track, so he lives for free. He bums food off of anyone he can. If not us, then he goes and asks his friends or neighbors to buy him dinner.
He seems fine with this and has no interest in looking for better work or a new job.
He was a moocher before, but now it is out of control. We cannot afford to financially support him the way we do.
My husband has agreed to kick him out in a few months, if he can’t get it together. As much as “Bradley” annoys me, I would feel guilty kicking him out because he has nowhere else to go. He has been jumping from house to house for years, asking people if he can live with them. No one wants him to move in with them now because they know how he is. What should we do?
A. At this point, you really can’t blame “Bradley” for his behavior, because . . . it works! Look, he started out paying his way, and now he has you supporting him. He might be a sharper tool than any of you realize.
You and your husband need to develop a backbone, and realize that your enabling is not helping. In fact, Bradley has taken a serious backslide since coming to live with you, and is now less functional than before.
Firm boundaries, realistic and real-world consequences (i.e. “You can’t afford to live here, and so you’ll have to move”), and loving detachment are called for.
Q. Your beautiful response to the question from “Awkward” brought a tear to my eye. Awkward had a negative reaction to her in-laws’ habit of saying “love you” to her, even though she didn’t know them well.
I hope she follows your advice to open herself up to this expression.
She’ll be happier if she does.
A. I agree, and thank you.
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