My 27-year-old daughter seems like a high schooler because of her vocabulary, mannerisms, and inability to comprehend what’s socially acceptable. She talks with a Valley-girl accent and says things like “eeww” if you mention babies, sick people, etc. Her younger siblings are more mature than she is and don’t like hanging out with her because she boasts about her inappropriate behavior and makes embarrassing remarks to their friends. She does not realize that these things, along with her over-the-top clothes and makeup, make people dismiss her as a dumb bimbo. (She thinks everyone loves her or is just jealous!) She wasn’t the brightest student, but did finish college and has always been able to support herself, although I am concerned about her inability to keep a long-term position. I love her to death and am happy that she’s responsible enough to take care of herself and seems to enjoy her life, but the lack of progress in her maturity at 27 really worries me. I’m embarrassed by others’ reactions to her (something she obviously doesn’t pick up on) and don’t know what to say to my friends. If I offer guidance, she says I’m critical. Any suggestions?
—Valley Girl Mom
You have two problems: 1) How do you help your Valley girl grow up? and 2) What do you do when you love your child, but you don’t really like her? I assume that when she still lived at home, you did what you could to teach her socially acceptable behavior (“Honey, please don’t say, ‘Gross!’ when I talk about Grandpa having heart surgery”), to little effect. Now she has an inflated sense of her own appeal and a hypersensitivity to criticism—what a combination. Whatever her personality problems, there’s not much you can do to give her a new one; after all, she is a 27-year-old woman. When she says something that’s particularly out of line, do her the favor of explaining why her remark bothers you; she’ll surely tune you out if you tell her that she incessantly makes inappropriate remarks. Since she’s into fashion, you could give her a gift of an afternoon with a personal shopper and a makeup artist to help her get a more sophisticated look (soften her up by watching some episodes with her of What Not To Wear when they tackle twentysomethings who dress like teenagers). If she starts expressing a dawning awareness of her limitations (“All my friends are starting to act so much older”; “Why can’t I stay in the jobs I get?”), you can use those opportunities to make gentle suggestions about modifying her behavior and getting counseling. But why should you make excuses about her to your friends? She is a college graduate who is able to find employment, and enjoys her life. Tell them that your daughter is her own person and that you love her for it.
How nice do I have to be to my parents? I feel silly asking this question at 43, but I’m really struggling to find a balance. I was perpetually neglected as a child. Not the “you didn’t come to my school play!” sort of neglected. I was the kid who was actually told I smelled bad by my classmates kind of neglected. I flailed my way through life with minimal parental involvement and direction. I spent my 20s expressing the anger I couldn’t give voice to as a child and my 30s trying to forge a happy life so my parents could enjoy my sons. Then I had an epiphany when I turned 40. I realized that my parents are just plain miserable people. They both seem to have narcissistic personality disorder. They want me and my children in their lives with a grasping, needy desperateness, but then they are critical and unpleasant. We live in the same town, and have their only grandchildren—my only sibling wisely lives far away. My parents are with us every Christmas day. I just don’t want to do it this year. I want to hang out with my boys and go to a movie if I want. It makes me feel kind of sick to think about my parents being alone on Christmas day, but when I think of having them here, I’m filled with dread. In addition, my best friend is dying, and that’s been devastating. Am I a jerk if I blow them off this year?
Make a new Christmas tradition without telling them that’s what you’re doing. Explain to your parents that you’ve been having a hard time and just can’t do an all-day celebration and big meal. Say you’d like to have Christmas breakfast at their house—that way you can control how long you spend with them. Tell them you’ll bring muffins and you all can exchange gifts. Sure, they will probably moan and wail, but since they’re always unhappy, what else is new? There’s nothing wrong with wanting a Christmas that makes you feel good, but that means not blowing off your parents completely, because you’ve said that would leave you sick with guilt. By coming up with a way to see your parents yet limiting your exposure, you are teaching your children to both honor their commitments and to protect themselves. Don’t berate yourself for wondering at age 43 how to be a good daughter. Think how admirable it is to engage in that struggle when you have parents who never bothered to think about what it means to be a good mother or father.
I’m in my early 30s and getting divorced after only a year and a half of marriage. My soon-to-be ex confessed seven months into our marriage about an affair she had only a few months after our wedding. We spent most of the year in therapy, even though she often said she didn’t think it would work. Finally, we decided to divorce amicably using a mediator. Recently, a friend informed me that her affair wasn’t a moment of weakness, but a months-long relationship—my wife had moved to another city to start school, and my intention was to follow her there next year. I’ve been told they have seen each other again. I came to the marriage with a good job, savings, and an expensive apartment. I was devoted to her and supported her while she followed her dream to go back to school. Now I feel like a chump. My original plan for an amicable divorce now seems naive and part of me wants to get the divorce papers signed, tell her she’s not getting a dime of my money, and never speak to her again. However, I feel bad thinking about her in an unrelenting and expensive city with a part-time job and a mountain of student loans. Are those the feelings of a nice guy trying to do the right thing, or someone who doesn’t understand that this is an infected limb that needs quick and decisive amputation?
—Scared To Be Cruel
You were married briefly to a woman whose dream was to move to another city, pursue her education, and have sex with her new boyfriend while you underwrote it. During your attempts to patch up the marriage, she let you know she was ambivalent about being with you, but presumably enjoyed your checks. Now you wonder if you’re wrong to send her off in the mean old world without a pile of your money to cushion her (and the boyfriend she continues to see). You know those movies in which the bad guy thinks he’s stolen a suitcase full of cash from some sap, only to find the sap has filled the suitcase with scrap paper? You need to give your ex one of those suitcases. However, how is it your financial generosity is a postdivorce decision on your part? Aren’t the support and division of property agreements being worked out by your lawyer? And doesn’t your lawyer know the facts of your case? Once you’ve gotten this woman legally out of your life, before you enter into another relationship, you should explore why you would still want to give aid and comfort to someone who spent your marriage making a fool of you.
At work, I accidentally knocked over and broke a beloved, handmade, one-of-a-kind coffee mug belonging to a person I am not well-acquainted with. I apologized profusely and offered to reimburse her for a replacement, though in reality, it could never be replaced. She was quite gracious and told me not to worry about it and that reimbursement was not necessary. Should I accept her graciousness and leave it at that? Or should I try to locate a mug to replace it? I feel awful destroying something that was so obviously loved. I don’t know whether to reimburse her, give her another mug, or let it go. What do you think?
I think your co-worker should be cloned and inserted into every office cubicle in the country. I understand that you feel terrible and it would have helped you if you could have replaced the object you broke, but you can’t go to the store and find a lumpy mug made at summer camp. You can leave your co-worker a short note (attached to a plant or box of chocolates if you like) telling her how grateful you are for her graciousness in the face of your clumsiness, then forget about it and be glad you work with a grown-up.