Mother's Day advice from Dear Prudence: A swearing granny, a distant daughter, and a combative wife.

Advice on manners and morals.
May 5 2011 7:04 AM

The Mother Lode

Dear Prudence offers Mother's Day advice regarding a swearing granny, a distant daughter, and a combative wife.

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Dear Prudence,
My mother's manners are atrocious. The problem is, I have two sons, ages 4 and 6, who adore their Nana. They see her a couple of times a month, and they've started to bring her rude language home with them.  Phrases like "gimme that," "this sucks," or "get outta the way." Another of her favorites is, "I'm gonna kill you!" (in response to something innocent like dropping crumbs on the floor). She also likes to have loud, racist arguments with me in front of the boys. I asked her to dial it down around the children, and her response was: "What are you trying to turn them into? Mr. Manners?" She adores her grandsons and is very loving toward them. For now, my husband and I simply remind them of the manners we use in our house, which they are usually pretty good about following. But I can see this getting tougher as they get older. How do I deal with Nana?

—Sometimes I Wanna Kill Her

Dear Sometimes,
Think how thrilling it must be for your children to be confronted with this rude, crude dame. Of course your sons want to try to be like their rule-bending Nana. You're doing exactly the right thing by explaining that Nana's manners aren't yours. So even if Nana yells, "This sucks!" they aren't allowed to follow suit. I disagree, though, that keeping them from copying her will be harder as they get older. As they grow up they will likely come to understand their Nana is more of a character than a role model. Don't be surprised if they conspire to provoke her to pop off, then fall on the floor laughing when she does. Just continue explaining that even though you can really love someone—and you love Nana—that does not mean you always like everything they do and say. But there is bigger lesson to be taught, and that is that racism is not acceptable. Explain to your mother that you have no desire to police her thoughts, but it is your responsibility not to let your kids think that disparaging people of other races is OK. Tell her you two are no longer going to discuss race anymore—if she baits you, you'll leave. Add that if your kids come home mouthing racist remarks, their visits are going to be severely curtailed.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Unwanted Dog Doting

Dear Prudence,
My daughter seems to be drifting or maybe paddling away, and I don't know whether to wish her a good journey or to be angry and hurt. She is in her early 30s, has a demanding job, and is completing her doctorate. We are both broke; I was laid off two years ago, so we decided to skip Christmas and birthday presents and just exchange letters or phone calls. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's Day, my birthday—no calls were placed to me, and she did not return my calls. For her birthday, I wrote her a children's book illustrated with pictures of her pets. For Christmas, I sent her 12 stories I illustrated about her childhood. When I heard nothing by mid-January I phoned her at work, and she admitted that she "hasn't had time" to open the gifts. I have called her twice at work subsequently to ask her if I had done something to hurt or offend her. She said no, she was just busy and would call me that weekend. I never heard from her. We've had our ups and downs but have always been buddies and stayed in touch. I'm feeling abandoned, but I don't think communicating this is going to make our increasingly distant relationship any better. Any advice?

—Sad in the Mountains

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Dear Sad,
The image of your lovingly crafted mementos sitting unopened makes me sad. But I can also understand your daughter's dread, at feeling the weight of your beating heart inside your packages. Some daughters would love your illustrated gifts. But for your daughter I bet it's an emotional wallop, a cry to go back to a time when all she wanted to do was curl up on Mommy's lap. However, unless there is something about the "downs" in your relationship you are not mentioning, no matter how busy your daughter is, she is behaving cruelly. Even if she feels that she can't handle what she possibly sees as your neediness (and what you see as just keeping in touch), you do not deserve to be treated this way—especially since she knows you are in distress. So you need to stop the gifts and have a blunt communiqué. Since she won't open your letters or return your calls, and is strained talking to you at work, try sending her an email. Say that you understand she is under enormous stress, but you're saddened your contact has dwindled to virtually nothing. You've asked before, but you would like to know if there is a reason for it. If there isn't, it seems harsh to you that there is no room in her life for a phone call a couple of times a month, but if there isn't, you are going to accept that. Say that you are going to fall silent for the time being. While you can't promise her you'll be incommunicado forever, you're leaving it up to her to initiate contact for now. Then keep yourself from stewing by staying as busy as you can. In between looking for jobs, do some volunteer work—you obviously would be fantastic teaching art to children. Let's hope your daughter turns around the boat and paddles back.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Several years ago, I started a relationship with a beautiful, tempestuous woman in my academic field. She got pregnant, and we married. Things have been both rocky and great. We have a gorgeous 2-year-old. But my wife hates my mother for no good reason. I talk to my mother on the phone every few weeks, share occasional emails, and visit her from across the country once or twice a year. My mother is a nice, friendly woman, and from the beginning she was welcoming and respectful toward my wife. In return, my wife has been suspicious and nasty. My wife gets upset if I am on the phone longer than five minutes with my mother. She claims mothers always hate wives and try to undermine them. Now that we have a daughter, my mom has visited a few times. These have been disasters, culminating in my wife acting horribly. Afterward, my wife makes accusations that my mother insulted her. My mother has continued to be almost entirely nice and patient throughout. But I can tell her feelings are hurt and her patience is wearing thin. My wife refuses to acknowledge her role in any of this and won't consider family therapy. What do I do?

—Perplexed

Dear Perplexed,
It sounds as if your wife's "tempestuous" nature sometimes veers into the paranoid. Her attacks on your mother might be a sign of deeper psychological problems that you are going to have to deal with. You have a child, and I hear from too many people who grew up with an unbalanced parent that the entire dynamic of the house was devoted to keeping that parent from having a "scene." Even if your wife won't agree to therapy, you could go yourself, because I have the feeling you're going to need professional help for more than just the issue of your mother. As for your mother, you should do her the courtesy of acknowledging what is going on. It is not a betrayal of your wife (since you've already confronted her about this) to tell your mother you're sorry about the way your wife treats her and you know it hasn't been provoked by anything she's done. Then say you're trying to work out a way for her to see her grandchild. You need to start drawing some boundaries with your wife. Let her know you are entitled to talk to your mother uninterrupted, and that your daughter needs to have a relationship with her. Explain you think the best solution for the latter would be for you to take your daughter solo on a visit to your mother. Let's say your wife tries to forbid this. That's when a therapist can help you negotiate how to deal with the demands of an irrational person.

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