Dear LetterBalm: My wife and I are in a second marriage for both of us. We have a terrific relationship, so much better than our first marriages. I have no children, she has a son in his 30s. As long as he’s lived across the country, we’ve seen him once or twice a year. We’ve always treated him to dinners and events while he’s visiting, no problem. But he has announced that he’s moving back to our town in the Spring. I’m apprehensive because my wife has told me that when he lived close by, he used to hit her up for serious money – rent, healthcare, the latest cellphone, a new car – and she felt obligated to give him the cash, even though he’s always made good money on his own. I’m afraid she’ll fall into old patterns. I need to hold my tongue but let my wife know how destructive it would be to give in to her sponging son.
This must be the LetterBalm week for insufferable sons. First, a spoiled brat who couldn’t accept his godfather’s positive influence on his family. Now, a son who unnecessarily sponges off his mother. Ms. L.B. says you don’t have much sway in this situation because the son in question isn’t yours. But you can safeguard your own finances from his greedy fingers – quietly see a lawyer experienced in these matters. You probably have one opportunity to talk some sense into your wife. What you can do is raise the legitimate issue that your marriage may become a threesome, with Sonny Boy wielding undue power. Marriage counseling might be a prudent strategy (if she won’t go, you go alone, at least to acquire insights to keep your sanity and your marriage). Talk with your wife before her son moves to the neighborhood:
Alice, can we talk a little about Barry because I’m worried about the way he’s acted with you in the past. You told me that when Barry lived here he asked you for large sums for big purchases and for rent and health insurance. You also said this upset you, even as you gave him the money and he could well afford these things. Honey, I can’t tell you what to do because Barry isn’t my son. But I can be concerned about our marriage, which we know is the best thing ever to happen to us. I don’t want Barry to think he can be the third person in our relationship. I think that before Barry moves here, you and I should schedule sessions with a marriage counselor to sort out these issues. Does this make sense to you?
Dear LetterBalm: My mother-in-law is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, which is coming on unusually quickly. She absolutely adores my 7-year-old daughter, who loves her grandmother to pieces. They play and squeal all day. My daughter is smart, clever and full of impish personality. I’m afraid as my mother-in-law descends further into the disease that inappropriate behavior or lack of response will confuse or, worse, frighten my daughter. What can I do about this? I don’t want to stop my daughter from having contact with her grandmother, but I feel I need to protect her, too. How can I explain things to her?
This is, indeed, heartbreaking, and yet another awful manifestation of this insidious disease. Doubtless your husband and his family are monitoring his mother’s condition and making sure she has appropriate treatment and care every step of the way. Your responsibility to your daughter is to make sure she’s safe in her grandmother’s company – do be low-key but monitor their interactions. Ms. L.B. wants to reassure you that children have a remarkable ability to understand difficult situations, especially if they’re given age-appropriate explanations without insulting their intelligence. Sit with her privately when she’s drawing or playing with toys and engage her casually. Remember, you want to initiate a dialogue without alarming her. Over time, be prepared to update the reality and answer her questions as they arise:
Savannah, you have so much fun with Grandma, and I love to watch the two of you together. She really is a nice person, and you and she are lucky to have each other to play with. I want to tell you something. Grandma doesn’t feel well all the time, and she might be tired and cranky when she’s playing with you. She’ll have to stop and rest. And sometimes, she just might sit quietly. Sweetie, your Daddy and I want you to know that it’s not your fault at all. Grandma might be too tired to play or talk with you. But she’s not angry with you or anything, so you mustn’t be sad. You’ll always be her special granddaughter, and she’ll always be your Grandma. If you want to talk about Grandma, you know you can always come to Daddy or me.
Dear LetterBalm: I’ve been divorced for almost seven years and have four children. My youngest is 12 and my oldest is 24. Four years ago, my now 17-year-old son “Angus” was getting into trouble at school. I was at the end of my rope. I called on his godfather, someone who used to be a good friend of my ex-husband but whom we had not seen in years. Over time, he became a real mentor to Angus and a strong role model for all my kids, so much so that they’re closer to him than to their father. Two years ago, he and I began a relationship that continues to this day. We are deeply committed to each other and hope to be married next year. The problem is that Angus is very angry and has turned his back on his godfather. He accuses us of disloyalty to his dad (who he doesn’t see) and won’t be in the same room with us if we’re together. He’s obnoxious and no one can talk to him. My boyfriend and I are forced to map our schedule around Angus. What to do?
Oh, for heaven’s sake. You have a spoiled brat who, at 17, should know better. Angus is acting like a child, and you need have no concern about hurting his feelings or changing your routine in any way to accommodate this silly, selfish behavior. What do his siblings say? Can you enlist their help? Presumably, your 24-year-old has some sway over his or her younger brother. Ms. L.B. says you need to make it clear to Angus that things will change, and he will no longer rule the household. Sit down alone with your son and talk with him straight from the shoulder:
Angus, sit and listen. I’ll be brief. In another year, you’ll be in college or looking for work. You’re 17 and a senior in high school, but you’re acting like a spoiled brat. We’ve all had to endure the breakup of your father and me, and I understand that you might still be upset about this. But life has moved on, and you refuse to acknowledge the good that Henry has done for you, your siblings and this family. He and I love each other and, starting now, we will not change our routine because you’re being bratty and rude. Henry and I are a fact of life. Deal with it. It’s too bad you’re so wrapped up in your selfishness that you’re missing out on a lot of good times and happiness. You’ll wind up all alone in this family, which would be tragic because we all love you.