Welcome to my new site!
The Nauvoo Times is closing its doors, but I hope Dear Cyndie can be a place for questions and answers about life, relationships, manners, laundry and anything else that is on your mind or mine.
An archive of my past columns will remain at Nauvoo Times, and new columns will appear here.
If you are new to me, you'll quickly notice that I'm Mormon. Many of the questions I answer arise from Mormon life and I use a Mormon vocabulary without explaining the various terms (bishop, branch, Beehives), but I hope the underlying principles of my answers apply in many settings, whether religious or not.
All of the questions I answer are real questions from real people. In the next few weeks I hope to set up a way for you to send me your questions. For now, if you have a burning question, you can leave it in the comments. All names and email addresses of people who write to me remain confidential.
I hope to make this site more attractive and functional in the next weeks. Thank you for visiting Dear Cyndie.
Saturday, January 30, 2016
My parents divorced when I was in my 20s, and my mother remarried a couple of years later. As the years have passed, my stepfather has made it increasingly apparent that he is not interested in spending time with me, my siblings and our families. Nor does he seem enthusiastic for my mother to do so. He does not like us to visit, and my mother no longer invites us to stay with her.
My brother and his wife have a new baby and will be visiting my mother next month. My mother told me this but pointedly did not invite me and my family to visit, too, even though I told her how much I wanted to see the new baby.
Should I invite myself and go anyway? Or should I go, but spring for a hotel for my family, instead of staying at my mother’s house. All of us live too far from each other to visit without spending the night.
Let me ask you a question. What kind of relationship would you like to have with your mother and stepfather in five years? Realistically, taking them as they are, with all of their feelings, views and opinions, what would a good relationship look like? Let’s call that potential future relationship your goal.
Now, acknowledging that the only person you can control is yourself, what can you do to move toward that goal? What can you do to improve your relationship with them? Certainly you should show respect for their personal habits and choices, and try to see things from their point of view. What other actions on your part would improve the relationship—or at least keep it from deteriorating?
(And I don’t mean to imply you have to be close to them. You might have a much easier relationship if you choose to distance yourself somewhat from them.)
Family relationships are a long game. For that reason, when considering any particular conflict or problem, you have to think beyond the immediate situation and consider the effect your actions will have on the relationship for years to come.
In your case, your feelings are hurt and understandably so. You are feeling rejected. Of course you want your mother (and your stepfather, too) to love and be interested in you and your children. Of course you want to be invited and welcomed to their home. But no matter how hurt you feel, you cannot, in retaliation, invite yourself for a visit when you know that your mother does not want you to come. You need to think beyond how you feel today and consider the effect your behavior would have on your long term relationship with your mother and stepfather.
I cannot imagine any circumstance in which inviting yourself would have a net positive result. Sure, you’d get to see the baby, and babies are wonderful. But you would also be intruding into the special time your mother has scheduled with your brother and his family. Given your stepfather’s dislike of house guests, this visit is probably a really big deal to your mother and brother. And I suspect your mother has planned carefully to make this a pleasant visit for everyone—especially for your stepfather.
If you show up uninvited, you will throw a wrench into her plans, causing additional stress and expense for everyone. Your stepfather’s opinion of you (and possibly of your siblings, too, by unfair association) will worsen, and future visits will become less likely and more contentious for your mother to negotiate. Your presence will become synonymous with stress, nerve and the inability to respect others.
Perhaps you are thinking that your mother and stepfather should be more flexible, that surely they can afford the extra expense, or that they should not be so cold. But all that is beside the point. You were not invited. And no matter how many families you know who operate on a “come any time” and “the more the merrier” philosophy, yours is not one of them. You can do things differently when your children are grown—I hope you can and will. But you cannot force your mother and stepfather to do things differently today.
Nor should you expect your mother to stress her marriage in order to please you. You are a grown woman with a home of your own. Do not attempt to drive a wedge between your mother and her husband. Do not show up unannounced as a loyalty test of your mother’s affection. Unless your stepfather is an abuser who is trying to isolate your mother from her family (and I don’t say that lightly—there are such people, and escape from them is not easy), you cannot seriously expect her to strain her marriage over this question of family visits. Nor should you assume that this development is entirely his idea. It could be that your mother is behind it, or at least a willing participant, but your stepfather is taking one for the team by pretending it’s his idea.
Instead, be patient. Respect your mother and stepfather’s wishes and find ways to strengthen your relationship with them on their terms. Think of your goal and how you can move toward it. Do you share any interests? Would your stepfather appreciate a card or a nice gift on his birthday? Are they amenable to brief, hotel-based visits? Could you invite them to visit you at a time and under conditions that would make them comfortable? Should you just accept that visits are out?
You might also consider, objectively, whether you and your family are good guests. Even well-behaved children in a house are louder, messier and more destructive than no children in a house. Do your children behave nicely? Are you a cheerful, helpful, relaxed, respectful guest who doesn’t wear out her welcome?
Finally, there is another set of long-term relationships you need to nurture: between you, your brother, and your families. Lucky for you, the people who grant access to that baby you want to see are your brother and his wife—not your mother. Your relationship with them is separate from your relationship with you’re her, and it need not hinge on simultaneous visits to your mother’s home. So if you really want to see the new baby, give your brother a call and talk about getting together.