Archive for the 'parents' Category


you vs mom + facebook

Reader G. F. writes:

I’m a pretty moderate Facebook user (I think) — I log on once or twice a day, check on what my friends are doing, and post interesting information if I think of anything. My mother, however, is kind of obsessed with Facebook, and stays logged on most of the day via her phone. I don’t mind this per se, because she still leads a relatively normal life, but I can’t stand her Facebook habits. For instance, she’ll accept friend requests from anyone, whether she’s met them or not. She doesn’t even check who they are or if they’ve got friends in common. Also her status updates can verge on the TMI, and she comments on everything. As her daughter (and therefore the more tech savvy person in this relationship), do I have a responsibility to school her on Facebook?

Dear G.F.:

Do you ever wish there were parental controls for things like TV and Facebook, but instead of it being parents controlling it for their young kids, it could be us grown adult children controlling it for our parents? Yeah, me too. Sigh. (Just kidding — my mom and dad would never DREAM of getting on Facebook, so I’ve got nothing to worry about.)

Mom n Daughter Yay

I hope your mom posts this picture on Facebook somewhere. Image: digitalart /

In any case, the fact is, as I say over and over, the only habits you can change are your own. So no, you do not have a responsibility, or even a right, to tell your mom how she can use Facebook. And I really doubt Zuckerberg is looking into that parental controls app I just dreamed up.

But you can tell her how you feel about it. And you do have a responsibility to warn her if she doesn’t know the danger in what she’s doing.

Now you’re looking at me like I’m crazy. Facebook is harmless… generally. But not always.

The thing about Facebook is that there’s a fine line between annoying Facebook habits and unsafe Facebook habits. I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to assert that the people who do the most annoying things on Facebook are also the people who are clueless as to their safety. People who indiscriminately “friend” anyone or “like” anything are also likely to click on whatever links come their way, causing spamitis for everyone on their friend list and possibly even worse outcomes, like identity theft.

So perhaps your responsibility is to draw those lines for your mom.

I can see how it would be annoying that your mom accepts friend requests from anyone all willy-nilly (although that’s not really any of your business, ya know). But more importantly, it’s her doing so could be very unsafe, especially if she has personal information on her profile (like her address or phone number) that could be used against her. Identity theft, stalking, and other hazards of the modern world are infinitely easier if you’ve got all your info up on Facebook and just let anyone see it.

You probably aren’t ever going to get her to stop posting TMI status updates or stop asking you to join her in Farmville, but you can make sure she’s got good privacy settings. Sit down with her and go through them. It’s going to be painstaking work, but it’s the best thing you can do for her. Make sure she knows how to use lists so that only the people she really knows and trusts that can see her personal information, if you can’t convince her just to leave that information off her page altogether.

It’s quite possible she hasn’t considered the risks of Facebook the way you have. She may change her ways entirely once you tell her the risks, or she may not. She’s an adult, and you can only do so much to influence her ways.

You can also tell her that there is etiquette to Facebook that she may not be aware of. Commenting on everything makes you look kind of obsessive.

Keep in mind that she may have things to say about your behavior (on Facebook or elsewhere) that you may not be ready to hear, too. She’s your mom, after all. She may get defensive. Try to make the conversation more about your concern for her safety than your meddling in her personal life (which is what keeping track of someone’s Facebook habits is, FYI).

But do not expect her to change her behaviors at all. You need to just let it go. The fact that you’re upset by your mom’s behavior is pretty natural (close relationships bring easy annoyance), but obsessing over it is worse for you than her Facebook habits may be for her. Take a deep breath and remember that Facebook is not real life. Everyone has limits to what he or she does with Facebook, and your mom’s limits are just different from yours.


xmas gifts for your mother-in-law

Reader N. K. asks:

Christmastime is coming, and I am in full gift-hunting mode. What do you get for the new mother-in-law you’ve only met a few times? She likes quilting and hunting — that’s all I’ve got. I am completely out of ideas here.

Dear N. K.:

Congrats on having a new mother-in-law, I think! That’s pretty exciting.

But other than that, I think the stress that comes with trying to find relatives gifts is pretty common over holidays. In our modern era, you spend even less time with in-laws and even first cousins than generations past, so it’s no wonder we hit Thanksgiving with no clue what to get people.

However, I am of the mind that a gift should reflect the giver as well as the recipient. So before you go trotting off to buy your new mom-in-law something you know nothing about, consider things that would make her think of you, too. Furthermore, you two have one more thing in common: your spouse is her off-spring. You might consider him (her? are you in Hawaii?) when you get the present, and I would definitely recommend getting his/her opinion or going in on a gift for her together.

I’m going to take you on a tour of what you could get and what each item would say about you and your relationship to mom-in-law.

In order of difficulty, from least to greatest:

A gift card to or Target or anywhere generic.

What it says: I don’t know you, I admit this, here’s some cash.

Why do it: Honestly, you don’t know her. And you won’t be getting her something she hates.

Why not do it: It could come across as lazy and careless.

Gift card or certificate to nearby quilting or gun store.

What it says: I kind of know you, like, enough to know that you like quilting and/or hunting, but not well enough to get you something too specific.

Why do it: Because I have never seen a gift certificate to a gun store before.

Why not do it: Once again, it could give off the “I really don’t care” vibe.

Empty boxes

I would not recommend giving empty boxes, even if they are pretty. Image: Francesco Marino /

A subscription to a hunting or quilting magazine.

What it says: I know your hobbies, and I’ve done a bit of research into what folks who do your hobbies probably read.

Why do it: Keep that magazine industry alive! Starving writers need their $20-per-article pay checks!

Why not do it: She may already have a subscription to every single hunting/quilting magazine that exists. Or she may hate reading.

Scented candle, bubble bath, bath set

What it says: I know you’re a girl, too, and while I don’t know that much about you, I know this is stuff that I, at least, would like to have. Also, I care greatly that you schedule some relaxation time.

Why do it: Everyone could use a scented candle or other bath accoutrement from time to time.

Why not do it: It can be generic. Also, what if she hates smelly stuff?

Quilting instrument you know every quilter needs

What it says: I know you love quilting!

Why do it: Every quilter needs this!

Why not do it: What if she already has it?

A gun.

What it says: I’m crazy.

Why do it: Shock value, only. Or to send a message to your mom-in-law that you MEAN BUSINESS.

Why not do it: I don’t think you can technically buy guns for other people, really.


not so thankful

Reader T. B. writes:

Thanksgiving is next week and I’m supposed to go home and “celebrate” with my family. The catch is: I hate my family. What should I do?

Dear T.B.:

My first words to you will be words of comfort. Find solace in this fact:

Everyone hates their family during the holidays.

gourd family

I'm sure the pumpkins wish they weren't related to the acorn squash. Image: Bill Longshaw /

Oh, sure, you’ve got your Goody-Two-Shoes friends who will deny that vehemently and say they love their family, all the time, but in all truth, there is nothing to love about a group of stressed out people who only visit each other once a year and are only loosely tied to each other through DNA and know exactly how to press each other’s buttons.

Of course, some people hate their families less than others. And some have reason to hate their family to a greater extent than others.

So on that note, I have two suggestions for you:

1. Don’t go. Cancel your plane or train tickets, regardless of how much they cost and who bought them. Call Mom right now and tell her you’re putting an end to the madness. If you hate your family that much, she’ll probably be relieved, even if she does get angry at you or try to guilt-trip you. Stand up for yourself. Refuse to come, no matter how much of your favorite dish Aunt Jane is ¬†going to be making. Deny your grandmother’s right to see you one last time. Hold your own orphans’ Thanksgiving with people you DO like, or just stay home and watch whatever marathon of whatever TV or movie series appears on whatever cable channel you can get while sipping your favorite beverage of choice.

This would appear to be the cruel and callous way to go. It’s selfish. You’re hurting everyone’s feelings. But let’s take a step back. Sometimes it’s ok to be selfish. You can’t please all the people all the time, and sometimes you need to make sure you’re actually happy. I have forgone a Christmas or two myself because my mental health couldn’t handle it, and let me tell you, I am one of those Goody-Two-Shoes who says she doesn’t hate her family. Sometimes you just need a break. It can actually be better to remove your grumpy ass from the supposedly happy occasion to let everyone else breathe a little than to show up and be the terrible cousin who’s sulking. At those moments, for me, James Bond and Jack Daniels are all I need to make a worthwhile holiday.

But of course, there have been other seasons in my life, which brings me to option 2:

2. Get over yourself and go hang out with your family for two days. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Unless they’re going to physically or emotionally or mentally abuse you (and I mean, really abuse you, not just tease you about that time you wet the bed when you were seven), toughen up and just go. I can almost promise that this Thanksgiving holiday won’t kill you. (There are always those people trying to fry their turkeys who burn down the house, so I won’t make any absolute promises.)

As Americans, we are so adverse to being around people we haven’t chosen to be around that we forget the world is populated by others. Smelly others. Annoying others. Others who voted for the wrong person or talk too closely or watch stupid TV shows. Sometimes those others also happen to be related to you. Being around people who annoy you builds character. It teaches you patience.

And furthermore, if these annoying people are biologically related to you, you can learn a thing or two about yourself that you’d be completely blind to if you’re only allowing yourself to hang around people you like (and who, hopefully, like you, too). You may have one of those surprising movie-script moments where you learn your dad sacrificed a lot to get your family through some giant, meaningful crisis you weren’t aware of when you were seven. Or you may get so mad at one of your siblings that the potatoes end up on the wall with the gravy following soon after. Either way, you’ve got a story to tell, at least.

Plus, why is it always someone else’s job to watch out for your feelings? Make Thanksgiving enjoyable for you, even if you do have to spend it with your crazy family. Just change your perspective and look for the positive side of things, and you’ll probably actually end up hating your family less by the end of the weekend.

I’m never going to advocate “blood is thicker than water” — I think sometimes our families can cause us more harm than good. If your family is truly abusive, I think it is your duty to take care of yourself and stay away. But for the rest of you, who are just annoyed that you have to spend a weekend away from that bar you go to every night anyway, I’d say give Thanksgiving another shot. Enjoy your crazy family. Get some stories to tell your chosen family of friends at that bar for when you all get back. I’m sure they’ll have a few good tales of their own.


moms and money

Reader P. J. asks:

who does mom's yard work?

Image: Michal Marcol /

My mother-in-law lives alone in an enormous house and has no income, although she does have enough in savings that she can live comfortably for a while. We’ve tried really hard to get her to move into a more manageable house, because the one she has needs a lot of work — yard work, roof work, floor work, etc. My husband and I live pretty far away from her, and we both work and don’t have time to take care of little details for her. We found out she just grossly overpaid for some lawn work (full disclosure: none of us could come over and do it for free), and I’m worried she’s going to spend her savings unwisely because she just doesn’t know how much certain things are worth. What can I do?

Dear P.J.:

This is a really tough one. The problem with taking care of adult parents is that they’re adults. Your m-i-l has been making her own life decisions for decades now, and unless she lives with you or is under your protection due to mental or physical infirmity, you don’t really get much of a say about what she does, even if it’s wrong. Part of being an adult in this modern age is living far away from your parents, which can be both a blessing and, as you know, a curse.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about monitoring her expenses. She’s going to have to decide how to spend her money, especially if it’s on work that she can’t get her kinfolk to do for free. (Which, btw, could be seen as mooching — I don’t think you’re wrong or a bad daughter-in-law to tell her she has to find a professional to do work for her.)

However, you could ask her to call you whenever she’s about to make a big purchase or pay someone for work so you can discuss how much she ought to pay. Make sure she knows to do it BEFORE she pays them or has them come out. Also help her with the estimate process — if she doesn’t know how to Google how much she should pay, do it for her. You can be a help from a distance without having to give up your entire adult life to go do her yard work for her.

Hopefully this arrangement won’t hurt her pride too much. If she’s unwilling to ask your advice or help on these things, maybe you can recommend that she talk these issues over with an accountant, or even a trusted family friend. But I think if she’s willing to ask you to do her lawn or housework for her, she should be willing to accept your advice on paying someone to do it.

I think the biggest takeaway from this is that you can’t feel guilty or responsible for her decisions if she’s in her right mind and is a capable adult. If she had Alzheimer’s or another debilitating illness that kept her from being able to do her own research and make intelligent decisions, then perhaps you should feel you have to step in. But adults make bad decisions all the time, and you have to let them do it, even if they’re your mother-in-law.

post everyone else likes best

topics i’ve written about

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 195 other followers