We asked our son to talk to her about it, but nothing has changed.
What is a good polite — or even impolite — way to tell her to put down the phone and pay attention to the world around her?
Ignored: You don’t like your daughter-in-law.
I am completely sympathetic. It's so hard to have a phone-zombie around; it's so hard to have a resentment-trigger around; it's excruciating to be around while a parent ignores a child. Nothing I say hereafter takes away even a grain of your warranted dismay.
But you need to let this go.
Because you can't control the actions of a grown woman whose only crime is being a twit.
Instead, the other adults will have to pay attention to the poor child.
The other adults in the car will have to carry the conversation.
The other adults will have to set their own boundaries where they have standing to — for example, to enforce a no-phones-at-the-table policy at the meals they host.
And the other adults will have to work hard to manage their expectations of this digital hostage to avoid a destructive righteousness-resentment-shunning cycle that does more damage than any case of phone overuse ever could.
These are all remedies at the edges, obviously, but since they're available to you, use them.
Two remedies closer to the center are possible, too, but they require some hard emotional self-discipline: Support your son more in his choice of mate, and embrace your daughter-in-law more.
I can’t know what sent her down this path of passive estrangement from the rest of you. Maybe she’s vulnerable to the pull of devices; maybe she has just always been a twit. Maybe, too, you and your family were such twits to her when your son first brought her home that she learned to withdraw as a coping strategy when you’re around.
But I do know that treating her as a problem and pressing your son to do the same is not the way to make “the world around her” seem like a welcoming place. Even if she is 100 percent responsible for her withdrawal from the rest of you, waiting for her to take 100 percent responsibility for her return is nothing but a purist's fantasy outcome. People go where they feel welcome.
Can you make her feel welcome?
If not, then, fair enough. Your differences might not allow it. But if they do, then please consider: Embracing can fix what correcting rarely will.
Dear Carolyn: My friend has been dating a man for over a year but because of the pandemic I just met him for the first time. I was shocked that he is at least six inches shorter than her. When we talked afterward and she asked me what I think, I told her how surprising it was, given that in the past she has mentioned only being interested in taller men.
She was very upset that I said this.
I don’t understand why I’m not allowed to answer honestly when asked what I think about him. I’m simply stating true facts: He is a lot shorter than her, she never mentioned that fact or posted social media pics that would show it in the year they’ve dated, and she has previously said she doesn’t like short men. Was I really that wrong to say anything?
Friend: As opposed to untrue facts?
I will defend your freedom to make pointless, tactless gotcha comments about the blindingly obvious, but, no, you don’t get a pass on the consequences.
She asked you what you thought of her new love and all you had for her was, “He's short.”
If you don't see why you owe her an apology, then at least do better when the new friends you'll need to start making ask you to weigh in on their emotional lives. If you have nothing insightful, try kind.
Hi Carolyn: What do you do when you have accepted that to maintain the relationship, all the work is yours — but you don’t feel good about remaining connected on those terms? This is the case with my dad. There’s so little common territory for us and I’ve discovered I don’t actually appreciate much about him. He’s rigid, un-empathetic and has a very selfish view on life. Not sure where to go from here.
Anonymous: What you do is adjust the amount and depth of interaction — anywhere from zero to roommates — until your approximate peace of mind. There’s no one right way to do this, so you can tinker until you find yours.