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Dear John: He May Not Like His Ex, But His Mom Still Does

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

 

What's your problem? Write to John at [email protected].

Dear John,

I’ve been divorced for a few years because my ex-wife cheated on me with one of my friends. My mother and my ex-wife were very close when we were married and they have stayed that way since our marriage ended. When we split up, my mother was dealing with a terminally ill husband (not my father) so I spared her the ugly details behind the split. It was hard enough just telling her we were getting divorced and I just didn’t want to give her one more painful thing to cope with.

The problem is that now my mother will suggest maybe we give it another try, and a couple of times she has even gotten snide about it and implied that I don’t pay enough attention to “things that are important” – very subtle ways of putting the failure of our marriage on me. I can’t tell you how much this irritates me. How close I’ve been to saying, “If you can’t mind your own business, at least know what you’re talking about – your great friend cheated on me with one of my friends!” My mother is very old now, and I know she’s lonely and when I think about it calmly, I don’t want to do anything to hurt her friendship with my ex-wife. But I also don’t want her to think there’s a chance in hell that we’ll get back together, and I REALLY don’t want to take the blame for the breakup of our marriage. And maybe she should know what kind of friend she has. Why should my wife be able to do something so terrible and still come out smelling like a rose? What is your opinion about this?

Signed,
Fall Guy


Dear Fall Guy,

You really have two separate issues here – or at least one issue with two distinctly different parts. To answer your main question, I don’t think you should tell your mother the details of your breakup for exactly the reasons you stated: she’s old, she’s lonely, and it strikes me as a bit cruel to shake the foundations of a friendship that brings a little joy into her life. The high road is a route few people lightly skip along. It’s okay to take it while swearing under your breath the whole time.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to be your mother’s punching bag, no matter how light the punches. The moment she tries to move the conversation in the direction of you getting back together with your ex, simply say, “Mom, we’re not getting back together, and I’d appreciate it if you stopped bringing that up. Let’s talk about something else, please.”


Dear John,

I have been dating my girlfriend for about a year, and recently we moved in together. She is great, loving, caring and she enjoys expressing her love through baking. The problem is she loves to bake very sugary, unhealthy food.

Growing up, my family always made very hearty baked goods. Even a batch of chocolate chip cookies would be enhanced with nuts, oatmeal, wheat germ, and a scoop or two of protein powder. This is just the way I have always baked, and it helps me enjoy sweets more because I tend to have very sensitive blood sugar and get a headache if I eat a lot of sugar without anything else to dilute it.

When I try to comment on recipes, my girlfriend gets very defensive and feels unappreciated. Any comment on the way we are baking one of her recipes breaks down into the classic “Just because it’s not the way your mother made it doesn’t make it wrong” argument. I think part of it is that she is homesick and her family’s way of doing things makes her feel connected. So John, how can I make her feel appreciated and loved while still enjoying her baking?

Sincerely,
Not Such A Sweet Tooth


Dear Not Such A Sweet Tooth,

The ironic thing here is that you’re both doing exactly the same thing: you’re simply continuing to do things the way you grew up doing them. The way that’s familiar and the way that you know. There’s nothing wrong with that.

It becomes a problem, though, if either of you is unwilling to move towards the center ground between your two positions – if your girlfriend flatly refuses to toss a scoop of sunflower seeds into the recipe or you won’t take even a bite of something she worked hard to make. You should both be willing to bend a little in order to make your own traditions. Maybe you can bake together – if you’re baking cookies, you can make a double batch until your recipes veer in separate directions, then you can split up what you’ve already mixed and customize to your heart’s (and stomach’s) content.

You seem very willing to see your girlfriend’s point of view in this, and that’s to your credit. But really, your closing question should be, “What can we both do to make each other feel appreciated and loved?” This isn’t all on you. You shouldn’t have to prove your love by eating something that’s going to give you a headache (especially after you’ve explained this to her), and she shouldn’t feel unloved if you decline to.


Dear John,

Like a lot of city people are doing now, my kids, both in middle school, want to get a couple of hens to raise and get eggs from. It was their idea, and my husband loves it for all the usual reasons – having fresh eggs from chickens that are treated and fed well, teaching the kids where their food comes from, teaching them responsibility, etc. Those things are all fine, but I am opposed to it for one reason: I know, and I mean I KNOW, that I am the one who will be doing the bulk of the work, and I have no time or interest in doing it. This is the way these plans always go – the kids promise anything to get what it is they want, they go along with it for a couple of weeks, then when the novelty wears off, guess who ends up doing the work? Even if they do it grudgingly, having to nag/threaten/yell at them to do it is not something I want to do every day. They’re great kids, they’re just also typical kids. Should I just refuse to go along with this, or give them one last shot at doing what they say they are going to do? I do think it could be a good learning experience for them if they hold up their end of the bargain.

Signed,
City Girl



Dear City Girl,

I think it could be a good learning experience for them even if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain.

Let your kids raise chickens under one condition: if they fail to take proper care of them, they will receive a warning. If they fail to take proper care of them a second time, you will get rid of the chickens. Regardless of what has happened in the past, make it clear to them that you’re completely serious: this is their project, and they should expect no help from you. You may even want to go so far as to write up your agreement, have both of them sign it, and hang it on the wall of the chicken coop. (And before you agree to anything, you should research your options and come up with a humane contingency plan if you find you do have to get rid of the chickens. You have to be able to follow through on this if they force you to.)

This way, your kids can learn something about caring for animals and where their food comes from. Or they can learn about keeping their word and the consequences of failing to do so. Great lessons either way.

John is a middle-aged family man from Providence, Rhode Island. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at [email protected].

 

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