Ask Amy: Mom can’t get over bad marriage

May 29, 2012

DEAR AMY: My mother went through an extremely painful and difficult divorce 15 years ago. She was cheated on multiple times, physically and mentally abused, and lied to by my father.

My siblings and I are grown now, and I have moved on and am doing very well. However, my mother continues to express how she has no self-worth and that my dad stole the light from her.

I am only 22, and I find myself constantly trying to prop up and motivate my mother to actively change her view. She is remarried now and has a strong husband, but she continues to live the same pattern.

She has gone to counseling, taken medication, read countless self-help books, had countless deep discussions, but she’s never changed. It has pushed my other siblings away because her weakness hurts them.

I won’t give up on her, but I am growing tired of repeating the same motivational speeches when she is perfectly capable of realizing she is worth so much more.

What can I do? She won’t do anything to help herself. -- Frustrated

DEAR FRUSTRATED: You have been such a good child; this next lesson is for you alone — and it is tough. It is called “loving detachment.”

Your loyalty, your attention and your motivational speeches are replaying a tape she wants to hear. The way she gets you to play the tape is to remind you of how low she feels and how your father victimized her.

Don’t abandon your mother, but change the tape.

She already has the answers (professional therapy, self-motivation, etc.). If she asks explicitly for feedback, you can say, “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to figure it out for yourself, Mom.”

You must also face the very real possibility that she will not change. This is the “loving” part of the detachment. Can you accept her as she is?

DEAR AMY: Ever since I won a modest amount of money in a lottery, I have had requests from people to provide them with funds.

One family member asked for help getting out of debt. He cannot handle money. I suggested that perhaps he should investigate credit counseling.

Another person doesn’t want to borrow to buy a new car and wants me to give it to him.

These people don’t seem to realize that I assist my grown children and need to think of my retirement, which is fast approaching (I am 60 and still work).

I always love to help people (and also contribute to charities), and I have a hard time saying no. Any suggestions on how to gently tell people that I can’t give them money? -- Flush With Funds

DEAR FLUSH: This is why so many lottery winners end up in bad financial shape. Behavioral economists call this “mental accounting” — treating lottery winnings less seriously than earnings.

But money is money. And this money belongs to you.

Your mistake is to provide suggestions to people who don’t want suggestions. They want cash. Anyone confident enough to expect cash from you will also be able to handle a kind but firm “no.” The less explaining you do the better.

DEAR AMY: I was amazed at the creativity of your response to “Lawn Man,” who was upset that dog owners didn’t clean up their pets’ poop before he cared for the lawn.

He seriously needs to grow up. All professions from waitress to brain surgeon have their down sides.

If his clients go outside to clean up the poop from their own property before he arrives, they might as well cut their own grass.

If he can’t handle this aspect of his profession, he should take night classes and train to do something else. Times are hard, by the way, so he should choose his profession well.

I am a pathologist, so perhaps you can appreciate my (grouchy) perspective.

I would need to seek anger management counseling before I could attempt your job, Amy. -- Fed Up With Crybabies

DEAR FED UP: If it weren’t for “crybabies,” I’d be out of a job. And while some days I do feel as if I am wielding a virtual pooper scooper, I have no complaints.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2012 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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