Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have been together for 30 years, married for 27. We have a wonderful marriage. I really can’t complain. I am from California, born and raised. Our kids are all grown, with families of their own. Four years ago, my husband and I decided to pack up and move to Ohio. Our daughter and her husband followed a year later. But our other children and their families are still in California. For the last couple of years, one of our sons has been trying to get us to go to Mexico with him and his wife and kids, and a few weeks ago he said he would like for us to go to Punta Cana, Mexico next year with his family and the rest of our kids and grandkids. My husband doesn’t want to go. He has always said there is nothing in Mexico for him.
Instead, my husband wants to go to his family reunion in Colorado. We can take only one vacation a year, both because of cost and his limited vacation time. We’ve been to his family reunion before, and I did enjoy it, so I don’t object in principle. (But he also says that he wants to go to Washington, DC before any other vacation spot, and I have no interest in doing that.) I think he should give in and go to Mexico next year and spend time with his own kids and grandkids instead of his family reunion, since he’s done that before and there will also be other opportunities to do it again. And he can do his Washington, DC trip some other time. For the Mexico vacation, we only have to come up with our plane fare because our son is paying for everything else. Am I wrong for feeling confused and frustrated? Shouldn’t he want to be with our family, especially given that we have a child who’s willing to foot the bill for a vacation just so that we can all be together?
—Frustrated, Confused (and a Bit Angry)
Well, you know, feelings are never “wrong.” Sometimes they’re misplaced, of course. But not this time—at least not the frustration and the anger. I’m confused that you’re confused, since after 30 years I should think your husband’s behavior patterns wouldn’t be such a great puzzle to you. Surely this isn’t the first time he’s refused to do something that matters deeply to you? The first time he’s put his own desires ahead of yours? The first time he’s disappointed you?
You say of your marriage that you “can’t complain,” which makes me wonder if you haven’t been downplaying or downright denying your own needs and wants for years—because unless the man you’ve been married to all this time has undergone a personality transplant, I have the distinct sense that you’ve been suffering in silence, and that he has finally gone too far.
My advice is that you tell your husband how disappointed you are in his refusal to participate I this vacation, which offers both of you the chance to spend time having fun with your whole family. And that you then book one plane ticket and go and have a wonderful time. He can use his vacation time in 2024 to go to his family reunion with or without you (me, I’d be petty enough to refuse to go with him, but that’s probably not the best idea if your plan is to stay “happily married”). I’m pretty sure your husband won’t be happy about your taking a trip without him. But I wouldn’t be willing to give in on this one. It’s outrageous for him to expect you to. (And maybe it’s time you did let yourself complain, at least about his expectation that it’s his way or the highway?)
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Dear Care and Feeding,
As the pandemic has been winding down, my partner, “Ashley,” and I have resumed going to dinner and having get-togethers with friends and coworkers. Ashley is insistent on bringing our 9-year-old daughter, “Anna,” to these dinner parties and outings even though Anna doesn’t enjoy them. She’s smart and well-behaved, but she’s the only kid present (we’re the only couple in our social circle with a child) and you can see her eyes glazing over while everyone else is discussing movies she’s too young to see or office politics. Sure, people try to include her in their conversations, but they’re adults and they’re there to be around other adults.
Unsurprisingly, last night at dinner Anna directly asked us to stop bringing her when we go out. Ashley told her we would think about it, but after Anna went to bed, she was in tears. She took this very personally. She has trauma around feeling excluded and misunderstood by her family and seemed to interpret this request as a rejection of her and her friends. She insisted that Anna “hates” her. I did my best to reassure her, but it didn’t seem to help. How can I make her understand that Anna’s a kid who just wants to do kid things, that this doesn’t mean she doesn’t love her?
—At the Adults’ Table
I don’t think you can do that. I think Ashley is going to need professional help with this. It’s always bad practice—and bad parenting—to rely on your kids to bolster your sense of self. But nobody does this on purpose. I doubt that Ashley has any idea she’s doing this, and your pointing out the obvious to her isn’t going to make a dent in how she feels. I suspect that her feeling triggered by Anna’s “rejection” is only going to get worse (much worse) as Anna gets into her teens and the natural process of separation begins in earnest. Not only will Anna’s relationship with her mom suffer in the long run if Ashley doesn’t get some healthy perspective on it—but Anna’s own well-being is at stake if her mom depends on her for affirmation of her worth.
But this is not a problem for you to solve. If you try to take on the task of “fixing” it yourself, your relationship with Ashley may eventually collapse. (Romantic partners don’t make good therapists.) But if you gently suggest that she see someone to talk about her reaction to Anna’s very reasonable request, and she refuses to do that (“I’m not the problem! She’s the problem! She hates me!”), the first order of business for you is to be an advocate for your child. Excuse Anna from these evenings out. Hire a sitter or (even better) see if she can spend time at a friend’s house. Your relationship with Ashley will take a hit, for sure, and you’ll have to deal with that. But first things first.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife’s anxiety is making our life difficult. We have twin 3-year-olds, a son, and a daughter. I’m not sure if “hypochondriac” is the right word to use here, but she tends to overreact to paper cuts and scrapes and such, which causes the kids to get upset too, whereas if I were the one present when these things occurred, I’d give them a Band-aid and send them back to playing. When the kids are sick, she spends hours looking at various places online, getting it in her head that the kids have the worst possible illnesses. And when things really are “bad”—when our son ran into the kitchen island at our friend’s house and ended up needing stitches, or when we learned that our daughter needs glasses (which we hadn’t noticed)—she was absolutely beside herself. She went on and on about what a bad mother she was. (I felt upset/guilty too, but not to the extent she did.)
This problem has gotten more intense over time. It isn’t easy to find good, affordable childcare for twin toddlers and it took a lot of effort for me to convince my wife not to yell at our daycare after our kids came home with minor injuries one day. At this point I’m worried that her anxiety is going to have an effect on our kids’ mental health. But my wife will not listen to any suggestion that she’s overly anxious or should see a mental health professional. What do I do?
—Anxious about Anxiety
I’m going to go broad here and make a suggestion that might end up being useful to At the Adults’ Table too, and to many other people who have a spouse who is in need of professional help and is reluctant to consult a therapist. If your wife cannot recognize what seems obvious to you—that she has an anxiety disorder that over time may do your children harm—then why not propose that the two of you seek counseling, together, to help you work out the differences in your child-rearing styles? This would have the benefit of not just getting her into a therapist’s office (and, I would hope, in time, help her get to the bottom of her catastrophizing and learn strategies to prevent it) but also to help you to understand where she’s coming from.
It would help the two of you through this clashing of attitudes toward and responses to your children—and it would help to drag other things into the daylight. I find myself wondering, for example, if she’s at home with the kids and you’re at work most of the time, so that she’s the on-call parent for anything that happens in the course of the day; if so, perhaps she sees your criticism of her way of handling things as unfair—as a “you’ve got all the responsibility, but I’m the authority” move. (And if your response to my suggestion that you see a therapist together is, “Why the hell should I go? I’m fine,” that just might be a problem in itself.)
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From this week’s letter, My Husband’s Family Won’t Stop Bullying Me to Attend My Niece’s Quinceañera: “I’m baffled by why they don’t understand my health concerns for my baby.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a group of friends that I have known since we were toddlers. When we were younger, we were best friends and used to see each other all the time even though none of us have ever gone to the same schools. But lately I feel like we are growing apart. We only see each other once every four or five months. I know that friendships drifting apart is a normal part of growing up, but I guess I (stupidly) thought that wouldn’t happen to us, not when we’ve known each other our whole lives and our parents are friends too. Soon we’ll all be leaving home, going off to college in different parts of the country, and we’ll see each other even less frequently. The thought that one day I will find a photo of us all together and realize I haven’t spoken to any of them in years scares me. And it makes me sad because I seem to be the only one who cares that this is happening. Is there anything I can do about this? Or should I let go and be okay with this loss, even though it feels big to me?
—Growing Up and Growing Apart
My heart goes out to you—I mean that. I’m a lot like you, in that I take my friendships very seriously and I’m brokenhearted when they end (I also have a tendency to make an effort to stay in touch with almost everyone I’ve ever known). Let me, as someone who gets you, be blunt with you: There is nothing you can do about this growing apart of your group of lifelong friends. As you say, it happens. You may or may not stay connected (to some extent) once you all scatter. If all of you come home for winter break each year, you may have some pretty intense get-togethers annually; if any of you come home for the summer every year, you may pick up (sort of) where you left off, while all your new friends are in their own hometowns—who knows?). As my husband is constantly advising me: You cannot predict the future.
As to “being okay” with this loss as you’re experiencing it right now, before you’ve all left home, I’d strongly suggest that you not put pressure on yourself. Loss is painful. Sadness is one of the least fun feelings to have. But loss and sadness are a part of life. I can tell from your investment in friendship itself that you’ll have a great many friends in the years ahead. Some of them will love you as much as you love them. So don’t try to force things with your lifelong pals. And don’t try to force yourself not to feel sad. Feel your feelings. There’s no shame in that.