Hi, Carolyn: I am fuming after learning about the death of an aunt on social media because my immediate family members "forgot" to call me. This is not the first time I have been the last one notified of family issues, including the death of a sibling and two of my grandparents. I have tried stepping away from my family, raising the issue with individual family members and as a group, and no one has changed their behaviors. I have been told not to be so dramatic. What should I do?
Invisible: Stop holding out for improvement, and start expecting it’ll always be thus.
It’s a terrible answer.
Making you the perpetual afterthought, especially in response to a sibling’s death, is just shoddy behavior by the head(s) of your family. It asks for justice.
But if you’ve tried and tried and they won’t stop tormenting you by omission, then, fair or not, it’s on you to Plan-B it: to find ways to become torment-proof. You can distance yourself, wedge yourself closer in, accept upfront that you’ll always be their afterthought, whatever. The only “right” answer is the one that works and feels best to you.
Whichever you choose, consider also finding ways to “fix it forward” — as in, make a point of never being this thoughtless toward anyone else in your life. It won’t seem like much at first, but it might surprise you how much better you can feel once you learn to spin all this dismissiveness into gold.
Dear Carolyn: I am a divorce attorney and often get a question that vexes me, primarily asked by my female clients (no disrespect to us fathers out there). Typically, when their exes have found new love, they are very concerned about how their little ones can be raised so as to prevent the ex's new love from changing their children in a way they are uncomfortable with.
My standard response is, "How can it be bad to have more people loving your children?" Some are in total agreement with that but still worry. One used the analogy of making soup: "Some ingredients will change the flavor no matter what the intent is. And as the children's mother, I want the soup the way I want it." Any suggestions how to field that?
— Too Much Garlic?
Too Much Garlic?: Now I’m vexed.
Who told these parents they’d ever get the exact soup they wanted?
Kids have the last word in how they turn out, no matter what we parents do. We control many variables, of course, but nowhere near all of them. Healthier parents don’t even want to.
The issue also is hardly confined to an ex’s new squeeze; just having the two parents in separate homes now will tweak the recipes for your clients’ kids, if not alter it dramatically.
So that’s how I’d field that question:
You were never getting the soup exactly the way you want it. Your kids were always going to be shaped by some influences beyond your control. So, keep doing the same things that made sense pre-divorce: Be a compassionate, loving, flexible, morally grounded parent; be the best listener you can; and save emergency actions for actual emergencies. Either you’ll figure out the rest, or your kids will, based on what they’ve learned from you.