Q. My parents and brother live in another state. A few years ago, my brother went through a nasty divorce. He and my 11-year-old niece, “Jenny,” are still estranged from the ex-wife.
The issue is how my mother is reacting to the divorce. She was very shocked by the events leading up to their separation, and I think it has damaged her trust in people. She seems to be transferring this anxiety onto Jenny. Mom wants to protect Jenny from all disappointments in life, and together they have developed an “us against the world” mentality.
Annie, there are other family members who love Jenny and want to be part of a loving support system for her, and yet we feel shut out by the alliance with my mother. Jenny goes to her grandmother almost exclusively with all of her feelings, and I get the sense that Mom enjoys being so important to her.
I know that my mother loves Jenny immensely, but I’m not sure whether she is helping or hurting. What do you think? – Ambivalent in Alabama
A. If your mother acts as Jenny’s confidante and works through the girl’s feelings of abandonment or grief over the divorce, she is helping. Jenny may find that her grandmother is easy to talk with and seems to understand her best, in which case, she is more likely to confide in her exclusively.
However, if Mom is deliberately keeping Jenny away from family members and encouraging her to blame her mother or father, mistrust others or behave secretively, she is doing harm. Your brother may be preoccupied with his own problems and grateful that his mother is taking charge. We recommend you try to connect with Jenny when you can (don’t push), and encourage her to speak to her school counselor as a backup.
Dear Annie: I’m 46 and have a handicapped license plate. I can’t believe how many people have given me dirty looks for parking in handicapped spots. One guy even confronted me at the grocery, saying, “I hear they’re giving out some pretty hefty fines for that.”
I was issued the plate because I was born with a clubfoot. I’ve had three reconstructive surgeries, acupuncture treatments and 14 cortisone injections. I take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication daily and Vicodin when I absolutely must. I have arthritis in my foot and ankle, and part of my Achilles tendon has calcified.
Please tell your readers that one doesn’t have to be in a wheelchair to warrant a handicapped plate. Believe me, I wish I didn’t need it. – Pennsylvania
Dear Pennsylvania: In their zeal to protect the rights of the handicapped, many well-intentioned folks mistakenly assume that unless they can see your disability, you must be faking. We often hear from people with emphysema telling us of the hostility they encounter when legitimately using handicapped parking spaces. Please, folks, when you see a car with a handicapped license plate, sign or decal, assume there is a good reason, even if you can’t see what it is. Be kind.
Dear Annie: I feel compelled to write after reading the letter from “Heartbroken in New York.” I, too, married a wonderful guy who was an alcoholic. When sober, he was kind, funny, intelligent and a good father. After years of declining health, my husband made a reality of all of his doctors’ predictions. He wasted away, every organ and every inch of his body affected by cirrhosis and myriad complications, and he died a slow, painful death in his 60s. The medical expenses were devastating. I was left an emotional and physical wreck, isolated and lonely. My “golden” years are not what I worked for all of my life. – Heartbroken in Florida
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