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Dear Mrs. Web,

My mother lives with my thirty-six year old brother. She is no longer answering the phone at their house because the bill collectors are after him. This is nothing new. He has been through bankruptcy before but that hasnít stopped him. He mooches off my mother now. My mother has told me that in order to reach her I have to let the phone ring three times, hang up, and dial again. It is their secret signal. I really donít like doing this. What can I do?

Not much. If you want to communicate with your mother you have three choices: let the phone ring three times, hang up and dial again; or lay in a supply of stationary, stamps and postcards; or hook her into email.

Your mom has made her choices. Now you have to make yours. Your mother is obviously making choices your donít agree with. I imagine it must grate on you every time you have to play telephone hidey-cakes when calling her. You may not respect her decisions with respect to your brother, but you need to respect that they are her decisions.

What would be helpful is to develop a sense of humor about it.  Not laughing or a mocking but a genuine realization of the silliness of the situation that causes you to smile.

Dear Mrs. Web,

My father has been failing for the past couple of years and living in a nursing home. He is now going downhill rapidly and I am in a quandary. My father was unable to work most of my life and quite frankly, he was so detached from the family that he was just a bit underfoot, working on his own projects in his own world. As he has physically failed, I have made sure, as a son, that he has had care and the material things he has needed. Now that he is dying, I am having a hard time putting the emotional energy into doing anything more for him. However, at the same time I feel guilty, for he is my father.

Your father sounds like a sad case. One thing you said that seems to be true about him is that he was always present in you life, at least physically. That could be the gift you give back to him at this time: your physical presence.

Dear Mrs. Web,

My sisters and I have settled the estate of my mother except for one item. Momís cookbooks. In particular one cookbook that Mom used and in which she modified recipes. My Mother was a phenomenal cook and this book is a real bone contention for us all.  What should we do?

I would take the book to a full-service copy shop, get the permissions you need to copy the book and have it copied and bound for each of the sisters. You could even design a cover with your motherís pictures and other memories. Send me one of her great recipes!

Dear Mrs. Web,

I had an abortion two years ago when I was seventeen. My mother and I were going through some hard times and she does not know about it. We have become very close and have fixed a lot of the problems. I have changed too. I have told her about a lot of the other things that have happened. Should I tell her about this?

In my opinion, if you were my daughter, my heartís love, I would want to know. It would be hard but we would cry together. 

Dear Mrs. Web,

My cousin, my fatherís brother daughter, came to my house last Friday. I do not know her well, and she said she wanted to talk to me. She brought over some papers she found among her own fatherís things when he died. These papers prove that I am not my fatherís daughter and that he knew this. My father has been dead for ten years, my mother for six; I loved them both dearly. I have been walking around in a daze all weekend. I do not know what to think.

You are your fatherís daughter. Never forget this. He raised you, cared for you, supported you, gave you his name, and carried this secret to his grave. He never wanted you to know that you were not biologically his own.

Your cousin made a grave error when showing you these papers. The information could only hurt you. I donít know why she did this, some people are mean and others just believe in complete honesty, no matter what damage they cause, which is a kind of thoughtlessness.  She has caused unnecessary pain.

Men who take on responsibilities as your father did, have a special kind of courage and heart to embrace the "not-me" and make the child their own.  You are fortunate to have had such a terrific dad.

Dear Mrs. Web,

How do I tell my father that I flunked out at the university? I havenít had the courage to tell him yet. He is expecting me to go back in the fall semester. This has been like a boulder in the pit of my stomach.

The only way to get rid of an unpleasant task is to take a deep breath and do it. Since classes were let out last May, you have had this hanging around your neck for at least two months Ė thatís a long time. If I were in your shoes I would sit down with him privately and tell him what happened. I donít imagine he will be happy, but it is better to face him now with your own words than have him hear about it from someone else.

Dear Mrs. Web,

My family does not have a television. When my parents come to visit, they seem uncomfortable that we do not have one. They consider us very unusual because we do not have one in the house. For the third time, they recently have sent us a television as a gift. We do not want to have one in the house and we have given away the other two. How should we handle this?

There are people who have committed their lives to television. They find life without it incomprehensible and intolerable. They feel disconnected. Life without television seems almost medieval to them.

You should keep your commitment to no television if that is what you and your family chooses. Give away this television too. Tell your parents that you appreciate them trying to share this important thing in their lives with you, but you would prefer not to have it in the house. When they come to visit, they can stay at a motel with television, or if you wish, you can rent or borrow one for the duration of their visit.

Dear Mrs. Web,

My father wants to buy our family a week at a dude ranch out in the West. He enjoyed a visit there a few years ago and is wants to treat our whole family to a visit. We are strict vegetarians who eat no meat, fish, poultry, or dairy. It just isnít going to work.

You are right, it wonít work. So, sit your father down and explain to him how much you appreciate the spirit of the gift. Then tell him that your family is committed to your vegetarianism and being on a beef ranch would not be successful and place an undue burden on the ranch hosts.

Suggest, instead that your family and Grandpa take a trip together some place that works for all of you, so everyone can enjoy being with him. Have some appealing suggestions ready.

Dear Mrs. Web,

There has been some violence at the middle school in our town. We are concerned and really don't want to send our oldest son there. I am trying to find a job so we can send him to a private, religious school. We have two others at the elementary school. We just watched the spelling bee finalists on TV the other night. What do you think about home schooling?

Oooh, why did I choose this letter? Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to confess that our family homeschools. So, I am biased. I like homeschooling. It is a great way of family-making; our family has never been closer. My children are doing extremely well, they are challenged, and we are pleased with the development of their values, virtues, and moral perspective.

If you are a parent at home, it seems odd to go to work and throw your household in uproar to pay others to teach your kids. You could be doing it and reaping all the extra benefits too.

Dear Mrs. Web,

My father is living with a woman. He divorced my mother about five years ago. He has invited my husband, children, and me down to his vacation home this autumn. We would love to see him but I canít see going to his house. I would find it awkward and embarrassing to visit them. I am uncomfortable because they are not married and that this is the woman my father left my mother for. What do I do?

Let him know that the history has been tough for you to swallow but you still want a relationship with him. Then rent a motel room near the beach. Meet him or them in at restaurants or the beach, neutral locations. Expect it to be a bit strained.

Dear Mrs. Web.

My wife and I had a nephew who died. He was in his late sixties and we are both in our early seventies. My nephew had two children, a drug addict son he lived with and a daughter. He wasnít very close to the daughter but we called her when he died and she came down and took care of everything, funeral, flowers and reception. My nephew's friends spoke to his daughter about him in glowing terms and she always agreed with them during the time she was there. I know that they were not close, he had not bothered to see is grandchildren for many years, and she did say that he had never even seen the last two out of the six. They only lived two hours apart. So I was surprised that she had so much praise for her father. In retrospect I realize that she never praised him but was just exaggerating what ever was said about him. My nephew left the bulk of his estate to his son and a token to his daughter.

Yesterday, I went to the family plot where he is buried for the first time. It has been two years since he died and I read the stone. It has his name and birth date and the following inscription: "I just didnít think" which was a phrase that my nephew often used. We were appalled. This is the family plot and we both planned to be buried there. But this headstone is an embarrassment to our family name. We are not sure how to approach our niece a about this. How do we get this embarrassing situation reversed.

Let's see here. This guy had a daughter and he didn't care enough about her or the grand children to get in the car for two hours and visit them. She came down and buried him, the druggie got the bulk of the estate and you're embarrassed about the inscription she chose to sum up her father on his headstone. You feel it compromises the sacred family burial grounds. I think you need to get over it. Or, on the other hand you could buy a different plot and rest in peace.

Dear Mrs. Web,

My father just died and my brother wants to bury Dad's ashes in his mother's plot. I think it would be nice if he were buried next to our own mother. They divorced ten years ago and neither remarried. Dad helped Mom through her last illness and I think they deserve to be together. My brother thinks that they do not belong together anymore. Mom looks lonely by herself.

Boy this is the one time one can be a Solomon and have it work. What I would do is get two urns and put half of Dad next to your Mom and half of Dad with his mom.

Dear Mrs. Web,

I have a eleven year old son who does not want to go to school. He says that he doesn't fit in and that the other kids pick on him. He wants me to stay home and home school him, he read about it in a magazine. His little sister just loves school and is doing well. He argues with me about this all the time and I am at my wits end.

I once knew of a teenager who repeatedly asked to be taken out of school for a semester or two. Her parents ignored her and promised her that they would push her through school if it were the last thing they would ever do. As far as she was concerned it was, she left home, at age 15, worked at menial jobs and put herself through high school, college and graduate school.

This gal just needed to get away from the peer pressure and that odd place called high school. She knew she was not strong enough to manage it. So when I hear there is a kid who want s out, particularly bright ones whose grades are slipping, I encourage parents to listen to their kids needs and accommodate them as much as possible. Parents need to deeply evaluate and sometimes honor their children's and teens honest requests. These can be cries for help. I have seen teens and preteens literally beg their parents to take them out of a certain school. The parents ignored the requests and the kids had a really rough time in school. Have another cup of coffee.

Dear Mrs. Web,

I have an eighteen month old baby boy. I am not married and his father is out of the picture. My mother wants to adopt him and I donít know whether to let her. It feels like I would be abandoning him but she is a good mom, much better than me and I sometimes get frustrated because he limits me so much. Should I give him to her?

All children should have someone who loves them and who would die for them. It sounds like you haven't gotten there. If your mom loves your little baby and can give it a better home and be more committed to him, go to the courts and transfer him over. He deserves it.

Dear Mrs. Web,

My father is almost eighty years old. He has never had much to do with me or my sister. My family has maybe seen him four times in the last ten years. He lives in his old house in a reasonable neighborhood. He has been comfortable there, but he is beginning to be really frail and soon will need care-taking. I have tried to talk to him about this but he as been very closed-mouth about what he wants. Or his future plans or moneys or anything. I am worried that someday I will get a call that he is incapacitated and I am going to have a mess to deal with.

I am sorry your Dad is so irresponsible. Some people are made that way and others just get too anxious when thinking about their death and they just ignore it. I think that you might as well get used to the fact that you probably will end up mopping up a difficult situation if something happens to him. 

You just have to realize that this is just who he is and give him some grace about it. We all have our foibles and inconsistencies. Wouldn't hurt to talk to your lawyer to get an idea about where you will stand legally if you need to step in.

Dear Mrs. Web,

My mother doesnít pay attention to my children only to my sister's. It is obvious to everyone in the family even my own kids. My sister's children get better presents and trips away and my kids get a phone call every now and then. She treated me that way too when I was young. It really bothers me that she slights my kids. We live in the same  town and she whenever I confront her about it she just shakes her hands at me and says I'm imagining things. What can I do?

Probably not much. You can continue to confront her and rip your heart out or you can do more constructive things.  I would teach my children to be respectful to Grandma. I would also help them get their Grandma needs met elsewhere.

Do you have an older, trustworthy friend or church lady who could step in. All kids have grandparent shaped holes in their hearts. I saw it in all four of our children - and we had no grandparents available for them. Find places and adults you know and trust to fill that need.

Dear Mrs. Web,

My father had a stroke and is in a large hospital here in town. He has been in intensive care for over two weeks.  He has lost most of his functioning.  We are so tired, first they say they are going to try one thing then another. Nothing seems to work. What can we do.

I am going to say something that is going to shock and hurt you. Your father is at a teaching hospital. My experience with teaching hospitals is that the aphasic (can't talk) stroke patient is the world's best lab rat for the residents and medical students. Particularly one with a nice big insurance policy to run out.

Know that every medical student and resident runs around with a procedure check off sheet. People like your father are perfect for procedures. They can't talk or object and the family always is so grateful that these nice helpful people are paying attention to their beloved relative. If he were mine I would grab the social worker and get him transferred to a skilled nursing facility or rehab immediately.

Dear Mrs. Web,

I am leaving for college this fall. My brother is two years ahead of me at a different college. My parents just put what I thought was our house on the market and have announced that they are selling out and will be buying a tiny one-bedroom cottage. They have even made jokes about not leaving a forwarding address. They are planning on traveling around the country in a motor home for the next few years. I am so upset over losing our family home. My mother's mom is in Florida in a retirement community and my only grandfather is in a nursing home on the other side of the country and has Alzheimer's. We have three aunts and uncles who live scattered around the world without children. My brother said that we could rent an apartment together next summer perhaps. I won't even have a place to go for Thanksgiving. What am I going to do?

It sounds like your parents never had a close family and that you never had a close extended family. I have seen this before in our neighborhood. Parents who finish their child-raising and cut the ties dramatically.

It sounds like your parents are making some choices that only include you peripherally, if at all. If you are close to your brother, the two of you can help each other through this transition time. Call each other often, plan holidays together and plan the summer to live together. Tell him how you feel about the family changes and ask for his help. This could make you even closer friends.  Don't throw out your parents now.  Keep in touch.  Perhaps after their fling with freedom they will reconnect.  After college, in the future, you might want to marry someone with a big, warm extended family to balance your life.

Dear Mrs. Web,

Our middle daughter, Bree, is twenty-six. She is dating and becoming very serious about a young man who she has been seeing for the past six months or so. Both my husband and I don't particularly care for him. He is disrespectful towards her at times, and also leaves her waiting for him at restaurants or other meeting places. She comes home frustrated and disappointed. Her older brother has also mentioned this man's shabby treatment of Bree. We have not said anything to her for we don't want to push her into his arms. Any advice?

Ah!  The recurring question, why do some women date and marry jerks? (Let me add that the other recurring question is why do some men date and marry jerks?)

If I were you I would not initially say much. But when each of you is alone with her and she mentions that the Prince has failed yet again, tell her how sorry you are to hear that. I would parrot her: Ö"Boy, you were at the health club and he promised he'd meet you at noon and he never showedÖ how sad, I am really sorry to hear that." Then drop it. Listen if she opens up but don't initiate. She will perceive any criticism of him as an attack on him and her judgment. See if just letting her hear what she has been saying about him affects her perceptions of him.

Dear Mrs. Web,

 My friend has two children ages 3 and 5. The children are not very well behaved and I am beginning to dread when she brings them over. I have babysat them and they DO listen to me. But not when my friend is around. They are just out of control, jumping on couches, getting into things and throwing things all over the house. When I speak up I get a dirty look from their mother and she says, "kids will be kids." I am mostly concerned with how these kids will grow up. I can't even talk to her on the phone because the kids are so distracting and fight for her attention. When she asks me for advice I often bite my tongue because it is so obvious they are spoiled and that she'll never get a handle on it.

 Let's divide this letter up. First, meet your friend at her house to visit until she begins to have the little ones in better control. Saves your furniture and temper and she will feel less inadequate. Second, the woman is looking for advice. Living with those children must be a daily torture. So, the next time she asks for advice make a date to go out for breakfast together. Just the two of you. Then you can listen to her and then give some advice. Don't overwhelm her, one or two things will be enough. Also look in the paper and call around for local parenting classes through churches or other non-profits that might help. Give her the information. If it is helpful, go out to breakfast every two or three weeks. You'd be helping the children a lot. If she is unable to follow through, you will have learned the limits of friendship.

Dear Mrs. Web,

My father left my Mom four years ago. It was a big deal. They sold everything and my brother and I both elected to stay with Mom. She was really broken up. She's doing better now. Recently my father has been showing up more than his usual twice a year. He is a big-deal attorney and is stopping by on his fly-overs. Privately, my brother and I call him Torts. On the last fly-by we met the future-next Mrs. Torts. I start college next fall. The future-next graduated a couple of years ago. It was an awkward meal. They said they would be stopping again next month for dinner with us. My brother, who is sixteen, is refusing to meet with them again. What should I do?

Nothing. He's sixteen. He has made a choice. Respect it.

Dear Mrs. Web,

Please help me with a problem with my mother in-law. My family (my husband and two children) is supposed to go to visit her for about a week next month. The problem is her cooking! She insists on cooking for us while we visit, but my kids and I cannot stand what she makes! My husband sees nothing wrong with her cooking. He says it is the food he grew up with. (They are of a different ethnic background) I truly love her and want to appreciate her cultural heritage, but when it comes to food, I'm a "meat and potatoes" kind of gal! What should I do?

You eat out as often as you decently can. When confronted with a meal, you and the children (coached in advance) say things like "Delicious fried calves fingers, Grandma! Just give me a little bit of those chicken heads, they're so filling"Öand so on. Then, with smiles on your faces and love in your hearts, you chew.



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