I have two beautiful preschool-age daughters. My youngest was diagnosed with autism a year ago. Since the diagnosis, my mother-in-law has been treating the girls very differently, inviting only my oldest daughter to dance recitals, holiday celebrations, movies, etc. She just called to invite her on a weekend getaway. I told her no, it wouldn't be fair to my youngest daughter. I believe she is ashamed or embarrassed by my little girl. My husband doesn't understand how his mom can be this way. I am this close to prohibiting my in-laws from seeing the children. My youngest is going to understand soon that she is being excluded from events. I was so afraid of how strangers would treat her, and the real problem lies in the family. What should I do?
Dear Fed Up,
Your mother-in-law may be ashamed or embarrassed, but she also may just be afraid. Afraid that a child with autism is too much for her to handle, that your youngest daughter may act up in a way that leaves her baffled and helpless. Instead of getting angry, you and your husband should have an open, nonjudgmental discussion with her. Start by saying this diagnosis is painful for all of you and means a readjustment of your expectations of your family life, but that you can all agree you love your youngest and everyone wants the best for her. Allow your mother-in-law to air her concerns, and then come up with constructive ways to address them. Educating herself and getting to know other grandparents dealing with this would be particularly helpful. Direct her to the Web site of the Autism Society of America, where she can get information about autism, find a support group in her area, and get a list of books that will help her understand her granddaughter better. You might want to give her The Way I See It, by the remarkable Temple Grandin, a distinguished scientist with autism. But also don't insist that your mother-in-law always take both girls. In any family, it's wonderful for each child to get time alone with their parents and grandparents. Your youngest daughter, by necessity, is going to require a lot of attention and extra help from you and your husband. You will all benefit if your older daughter can enjoy some special time with her grandmother.
I'm in my early 30s and have never had what I'd call a stable, mutually beneficial relationship with a woman. Almost a year ago, I started seeing a former co-worker who I've known for years. She's divorced and has two wonderful teenagers. Our relationship is unlike any others I've had. We both treat each other with respect and kindness; there are no wild emotional swings, abrupt, half-hearted breakups, or vindictive behavior. We enjoy being together and share similar interests. We make each other better. So why am I worried? She is very much in love with me. Yet, for whatever reason, I have not fallen in love with her. I have been honest with her about this, and for now she seems to accept this as the way things are between us. Is it wrong for me to remain in a relationship like this if it seems unlikely I will fall for her the way she's fallen for me? Or is there a chance that my feelings for her may evolve as our relationship progresses? Her children seem to be getting attached to me as well, and I have no desire to disappoint or hurt any of them.
It's possible you're not in love with her because you think love requires a moody vindictiveness your girlfriend lacks. Perhaps what you need to do is rethink your notion of what love feels like. It sounds as if you've had your share of dramatic, deeply unsatisfying relationships that bring out the worst in you. Now you're seeing a woman with whom you are happy, and you're grateful for how she treats you. More than that—what a breakthrough!—you feel good about how you treat her. By your own testimony, your life's better because of her. Unlike many single people dating someone with teenagers, you are also delighted with her kids. Excuse me for asking, but what more do you want? If you need a dose of Sturm und Drang to feel it's real, maybe you should just enjoy faking it. In answer to your question, yes, of course, feelings can do lots of things the longer you're together: grow, change, deepen, lessen. It would be cruel, however, for you to hold your inability to love over this good woman's head indefinitely. So imagine breaking up with her and starting again your search for "love." If that makes you feel lonely and sad, maybe you've already found it.