When I was 17, I got pregnant. My family was not supportive, and I did not want to raise a child on my own. I placed her for adoption but never forgot about her. Twenty-three years later, I got in touch with the lawyer who assisted with the adoption and shortly after got a phone call from my long-lost daughter. We talked for a while, then e-mailed a lot. The more contact we had, the more I didn’t like her. She seemed very immature and bratty—she still lives with her parents and had a child last year, whom her parents are raising. Several months later, we met. Also at the meeting were her mom, her baby, my mom, and my daughter, who is five years younger then she. This girl is rude and disrespectful to her mom, yells at her baby, dresses like a slob, and was a brat the whole weekend. My mom said this is the way she was raised, and we should be tolerant. I am all for tolerance, but this kid is awful. Still, for her birthday I sent her a great gift. I called and asked if she received it, and her response was, “Yeah, it was nice.” I had put a lot of thought, time, and money into this gift, and that’s all I get. I feel nothing for this girl, even though I know she is my daughter. This makes me feel guilty. How could a mother not love her own child, even if she didn’t raise her? She is in school to join my chosen profession, which I think she will suck at.
—What Should I Do About the Daughter I Never Wanted?
It’s sometimes easy when smacked in the face with issues such as abandonment, disappointment, loss, love, obligation, and guilt to focus on something more manageable. Something like, OK, so 23 years ago, I did decide I couldn’t raise you. But now I’ve gone to the trouble of getting you a really nice birthday gift, and you’re not thanking me properly, you little brat! I accept that this girl is obnoxious and immature—but maybe this isn’t just a matter of nurture, but also of nature, because you are exhibiting those same qualities yourself. You must know that in regard to you, she has some big issues of her own. Surely she can detect how much you dislike her, which might set her to thinking, Hey, “Mom,” the more time I spend with you, the happier I am that I was adopted. And how nice that five years after I was born, you decided to keep your next daughter—I guess you think she turned out better than me. Yes, she is your biological offspring, but her mother is the person who raised her—perhaps not very well—and who is there for her and for her child now. How disruptive of you to appear in this young woman’s life and be so judgmental about how she isn’t meeting your needs and expectations. For the future, a marginal relationship between the two of you is probably for the best. Or possibly you could learn to put aside your disdain and become a supportive, if peripheral, presence—someone who can give her guidance as she tries to make her way into your profession and help her so she doesn’t “suck” at it.
Two years ago, my husband died in an accident. I was 27 years old and moved in with my mother and stepfather so I wouldn’t have to be alone. (My father died years ago from lung cancer.) Then, six months ago, I got another shock when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain. We’ve been told she has three to six months to live. Mom is totally incapacitated. It takes a lot of time and muscle to provide for her care, even though we have hospice assistance. My stepdad is the primary caretaker during the weekdays while I am at work. When I get home, I take over this role. My sister and her husband come over and relieve us on Saturdays. The problem is that my brother refuses to help with our mom. My sister and I have asked him to come over on Sunday morning and stay until Monday morning, but all he does is give us excuses. When he does come over to the house, he does not help with lifting, cleaning, or feeding her, but just visits and chats with Mom. I’m so stressed about this that when I confront him, I either cry or blow up. How do I demand that he help out with Mom and share some of this responsibility?
—Who’s Going To Die on Me Next?
Your brother may not be doing enough, but you may be doing too much. You will always be glad you were there to ease her last days, but you need to reach out and see if all of you can get more relief from the physical necessities of caring for your mother. Talk to the hospice caseworker about the possibility of more nursing help. You’re overwhelmed and grief-stricken, but you may be taking out on your brother some of the pain you’re feeling about all you’ve been through. It’s understandable that you resent that your brother seems to be floating through your mother’s illness, not even doing any of the literal heavy lifting. But consider that your brother is also suffering because of your mother’s coming death from the same terrible disease that took your father. Not everyone can bring themselves to bathe or feed a dying parent. His simply sitting and visiting with her is surely a balm for both of them. Instead of being angry at what your brother’s not doing, ask him for help with things he easily can do: pick up prescriptions, shop, handle paperwork. Your mother’s life is closing painfully and too soon. But she must have lived a wonderful one to have her family be so devoted to her. Keep in mind how it would hurt her to know her death drove a wedge between the people she loves the most.
I am the flip-side of your letter last week from Bliss in Exile. Many years ago, when I was in high school, I did something very cruel to a friend of mine: I took her boyfriend. Now we are both married to other men. I found her on Facebook and attempted to contact her to apologize for the cruel thing I had done. She took your advice and hit “ignore.” I feel terrible that I was not even given the opportunity to admit to her that what I did was wrong and try to make amends. I also feel a little angry because I think it is immature to hold a grudge or resentment for so long over something that a teenager once did to you. Now that I have been ignored by the person I would like to apologize to, should I just let it go? Or should I take another avenue to try to contact her to tell her how sorry I am?
In response to Bliss in Exile, I have heard from several people who were the miscreants in high school and have successfully used Facebook to contact their victims and make amends. But the problem with simply making a friend request to someone you’ve hurt is that the person on the other end has no idea about your intentions. In cases such as yours, it’s a better idea to use your Facebook network to get an address for your former classmate and write a letter explaining that what you did has weighed on you all these years, you are asking for forgiveness, and that you want to reconnect. Give your phone number and e-mail address and add you’d also be happy to be contacted through Facebook. If you don’t hear anything, just be glad you did the right thing now, and accept that there are some people for whom high-school graduation was one of the happiest days of their lives.
Over the years, I have been asked to contribute funds to some rather dodgy “causes” at work. Usually, I have been able to say no in a nice way. Last night, my husband came home with a flier produced by a co-worker in which he asks for donations so he can go climb Mount Everest! This man and my husband do not see each other outside work and have no special bond; they don’t even eat lunch together. The flier closed with the request to “keep this between us.” I consider asking folks at work to buy Girl Scout cookies as the absolute maximum level of acceptable hitting-up. My outrage was compounded when my husband declared his intention to give the climber $100 because, “He’s a good guy, and I have to work with him and feel obligated.” After my fit, he agreed to reduce the amount to $50 but got mad at me for being mad. There is still tension in the air. Am I cruel and selfish, or is my husband losing it?
Your husband’s colleague must have set up a PayPal account for contributions toward his honeymoon, and he found he liked having other people pick up the tab for his adventures. His request is ridiculous, and your husband should simply ignore it. If the co-worker asks directly, your husband should say, “Have a great trip, but it’s not something I’m in a position to help you with.” But your problem now is not your husband’s relationship with the would-be Sir Edmund Hillary; it’s his relationship with you. You’re mad because you think he’s letting himself be manipulated. By your own admission, you lost it while trying to force him to agree with you—causing your husband to feel doubly manipulated. So if he wants to cough up $50 to keep the peace with a colleague, consider that a small price to pay for your own lesson in the detriment of overreacting and the benefit of letting things go.