Dear LetterBalm: My boyfriend is in his second year of college, and I’m a senior in high school. We’re not typical of most couples today – we text and e-mail, but mostly we like to write letters. But my mother is driving me crazy. Since my boyfriend returned to school in September, she’s been opening his letters to me. My boyfriend and I are good students and very motivated to succeed. Why doesn’t she trust me? I can’t even talk to her without her getting angry and yelling “It’s my house, and I’ll open whatever mail I want.” If my mom doesn’t stop this idiocy, I’m going to have my mail delivered to my best friend, who’ll give letters to me. What’s my next step? This lack of trust really hurts me because my mom and I were close before this.
–No Letter Unopened
Finally! A letter all about letters, which gladdens Ms. L.B.’s heart. It’s good to know that written correspondence, especially among the next generation, hasn’t died out. Your mother’s insistence on opening your correspondence is a gross invasion of privacy and certainly not conducive to mother-daughter harmony. Since you’ve given her no reason to doubt your good behavior, your mother’s violation is especially grievous. It’s the sort of thing that can irreparably damage your relationship. Don’t talk about this with your friends. Enlist the help of a trusted, responsible female relative or one of your mother’s most tactful, level-headed friends. Ask her to sit with you as you talk with your mom. Keep calm and don’t be accusatory; you want your mom to explain her actions. If she won’t explain, and you think she won’t stop, receive your mail at another address and keep the letters under lock and key. In the meantime, be mature in the sitdown:
Mom, I’ve asked Aunt Dolores to sit with me to give me moral support. I haven’t talked about this with anybody except her and Joshua because it’s our personal, family business. But it’s something that has upset me very much. Since September, you’ve been insisting on opening my letters from Joshua. This is a violation of my privacy. Mom, this is so unlike you. Why are you doing this, even after I’ve asked you to stop? [Listen to what your mom says, and calmly respond.] I’ve given you no reason to censor my mail – I get good grades, pitch in at home and do community work. You know all my friends, and they’re nice. And Joshua is the best. Even as a teenager, I’ve earned the right to be trusted. It hurts me, but if I can’t have privacy, I’m going to ask a friend to receive Joshua’s letters. I don’t want to do that – I love you, Mom – and I hope it doesn’t come to that. Please, please talk to me.
Dear LetterBalm: My husband and I divorced three years ago. Couples therapy didn’t work, so he pushed for the divorce against my wishes. He was very angry at things he thought I had done in our marriage. It still hurts me to see him at my family parties and barbecues, which he attends. Our middle daughter is particularly close to her father and has taken his part. She was married several months ago, and I chose not to attend because he was going to be there and was walking her down the aisle. She refuses to speak to me, and my two other children can’t soften her feelings towards me. What can I do and say? I think I made a big mistake.
Yes, my dear, you made a big mistake. Most of the problems around this situation rest with you. You’ve allowed the pain from your divorce to stop you in your tracks. Everyone in your family – your children, certainly your ex-husband – is moving on in life except you. Three years is long enough to realize that life isn’t always fair, that we can’t always have things go the way we want and that we have to soldier on and grow. If you are in therapy, your counselor may not be challenging you to accept these difficult truths. You might want to raise these issues (or consider another therapist who also can help you with unresolved regrets about your marriage). Ms. L.B. has had to advise others about not attending life celebrations of loved ones out of pique or fear, and this is your case. You’ve harmed yourself and your daughter. How sad not to be the mother of the bride on the most important day of your child’s life. Please write a letter to your daughter and give it to her favorite sibling to hand-deliver. Discuss the letter with no one. Write an abject apology from the heart with no expectations:
I’m guilty of one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made, and how awful that I did it to you, my dear daughter. You have every right to be hurt and angry and want me out of your life.
Not to be there for you as your mother on your wedding day was a terrible thing to do, and I know I hurt you deeply. I apologize from the bottom of my heart.
You are so important to me. I promise I’ll do all I can never to hurt you like that again. My love, I hope you can forgive me and make me a part of your new life.
Dear LetterBalm: My wife and I and our three children, ages 6, 9 and 12, will be visiting my parents over the Christmas holiday. My parents are religious and we aren’t. They go to church on Christmas morning, and they insist that we go with them. They’ve been doing this every year, and we have arguments. This puts a damper on the celebration. My wife and I are atheists, and, while we haven’t instilled this in our children, she and I believe it’s hypocritical to go to church and pray. How can we break this impasse and remain faithful to our beliefs?
If you, your wife and your folks have been tussling around the tree every Christmas morning, maybe it’s time for some goodwill toward men. You and your wife need to soften your position because your parents are older and, likely, more set in their ways. Regard the one morning a year in church as an exercise in patience and tolerance. In the meantime, you have your children to consider. Before the holiday, you can make one more try: Call your mother and father and remind them that you and your family won’t want to go to church, but don’t want to ruin Christmas. Would they consent to attending services alone? Probably they won’t. So, Ms. L.B. suggests that you and your wife talk with your kids in advance. Explain that church is important to their grandparents because they believe in God and their beliefs should be respected. Your kids are old enough to understand that. Besides, they might like the pageantry and carol singing. Try something like this:
Kids, your mom and I want to talk with you about Christmas. We’ll be with grandma and grandpa as always, and we have such a good time with them. You know we’ve not wanted to go to church on Christmas morning, but they’ve asked us to. Going to church is important to them, so we respect their beliefs and go to services on that day and be cheerful about it. Even if we don’t believe the way they do, it’s respectful to attend church because it’s something that means a lot to your grandparents. And, you always like the Christmas carols and hymns – and, being all together makes us feel good in the holiday spirit.