While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On support at its most uncomplicated:
When I was deciding to get a divorce I felt embarrassed and ashamed, like I was a failure. I will always remember how much the following words from my father meant to me. He said, “I don’t know the whole story, and I don’t need to know. Just know that I am on your side no matter what.” It was the support and love I needed — simple and to the point. Sometimes that is all a parent needs to say.
My parents brought me to my first funeral, of the father of some kids on our swim team, when I was about 10 or 11. I didn’t want to go, but they dressed me up smart and my dad said, “You have to go. It’s not about us; it’s about the surviving family. It’s a duty we all share in life even though it’s unpleasant.” When he said “you” he meant all of us, not me in particular.
It is irrelevant whether the kids knew the deceased well or not. Funerals are for those of us who continue on, to show the survivors that they are important to us — including our children, who may not understand — and that we stand with them in their grief even though there’s nothing we can do for them now other than show up. Showing up is important.
On being the lone single at a gathering of couples:
A number of years ago, our boss and his wife invited seven of us to their summer home for a weekend. They hosted a party to introduce us to family and friends. The introductions went like this:
This is Wendy, and she is with Rob, over there.
This is Jane, and she is married to Tom, on her right.
This is Harry, and he belongs to Betty, over here.
And next to her is “Jenny” (me) and . . . and before he could say more, one of the wives spoke up and said, “She belongs to all of us.”
It was a fabulous weekend with great friends.
On thin people who complain about their weight:
One response may be, to suggest her true beauty, “If only you could see what I see.”
If these women are talking about themselves like this now, almost certainly they will continue after they have children. And once their bodies change, it is likely the self-hate will only increase.
From adolescence into early adulthood, I went from a little chubby to seriously overweight. My mother has always been slender, and growing up I frequently heard her talk badly about herself and her looks. What was the message I got from that? If she wasn’t good enough the way she was, then I definitely wasn’t.
She still doesn’t know how her words and actions contributed to my poor self-esteem. She doesn’t know that I have struggled with bulimia.
I still don’t have the best self-image, but I’m learning to appreciate myself, flaws and all. And one promise I have made to myself is that I will never speak about myself that way in front of my kids when I have them.