Dear Annie: I am 37 and divorced. I identify myself as bisexual and try to live my dating life very privately.
The problem is, my parents are quite judgmental and racist. I dare not say anything about my dating partners, who are of either gender and any color. But I am tired of living my life for others. If I choose to go my own way, however, my two children would lose their grandparents. Any suggestions?
- Frustrated in Virginia
Dear Frustrated: You aren't giving your parents any credit for being able to accept you as you are for the sake of their grandchildren. You don't need to give them details of your dating life and parade various partners in front of them. No one does. But you should not be afraid to introduce them to someone who becomes a meaningful part of your life, and then give them the time to work through their feelings. You can find support through PFLAG (pflag.org).
Dear Annie: Many years ago, I was disowned by my parents and most of my extended family for marrying against my parents' wishes. I was allowed back into their lives only because they wanted to see the grandkids. Now, with elder care issues, we are struggling with appropriate boundaries. I'd like to offer some suggestions:
Instead of spending every moment yelling at me because I am not there more often, don't do enough and don't measure up to your friends' kids, try saying that you are glad to see me, thanks for the help, etc. I will do more if I feel appreciated.
I need to know about your health problems and your wishes regarding treatment, but couldn't we talk about something other than your aches and pains once in a while?
Keep your expectations realistic. I have kids, a job, a home to maintain, in-laws who also need help and my own set of health problems. I am not going to drive 400 miles twice a week to mow your lawn. Hire somebody.
Stop trying to manipulate me. The time you claimed Dad was dying so I'd spend all my vacation time with you? That was cruel. It destroyed my trust in you.
If you want honesty from me, then be someone who is safe to tell the truth to. Listen respectfully. Apologize sincerely when appropriate, or explain your point of view and the reasons for your choices. Don't attack me.
Be cordial and polite toward my spouse and kids. If you force me to choose between you, I will choose them.
You say that you are too old and set in your ways, and I have to love you the way you are. You are the one who wants a closer relationship. I am ready to give up. If you want a different outcome, you are going to have to change, too.
- Your Son
Dear Son: You obviously have had a poor relationship with your parents for years. We agree that they sound difficult and demanding, but it will be hard for them to change without calm and consistent responses from you, rewarding their appropriate behavior, leaving when they are manipulative or insulting, and teaching them what you will tolerate. Only you can decide whether it's worth the effort.