A. Nancy's done enough, and unless one of the other sisters wants to take your mother in, it is time for your mother to be in a nursing home. I understand that this can sound cruel and heartless, but there are many wonderful facilities that can offer your mother the physical care and even the companionship she doesn't get by being in a house all day. I have many friends who have gone through the agony of making this decision, then once the parent is in a good nursing home, they wish they had done it years ago. Before this happens, one of you should go with your mother to her doctor and see if an adjustment to her medication can alleviate some of her symptoms. It's understandable your mother would resist this change and be unhappy about it. But if several of you go with her to visit homes, explain she will get better care there, and assure that she will be visited often, she might be more accepting. It's wonderful that your mother has such loving children, but caring for an aging parent should not mean sacrificing your own physical and mental health.
Q. Mistress at the Wedding: My fiancé's best friend Jim left his wife and two young children several months ago to be with his mistress. Now Jim would like to bring his mistress to our wedding (and other related events) as his date. As petty as this might sound, I do not want Jim to bring his girlfriend to my wedding. I will have to interact with her and strive for civility at some point, but I would prefer not to have to make that effort on such a special day. My fiancé and I also addressed the invitation to Jim and his wife, so I feel bringing another woman in his wife's stead is rude. My fiancé doesn't want to offend Jim but understands my feelings. What is the right and polite thing to do?
A: The invitation was to "Jim and Juliet" not "Jim and Whoever." I'm not sure why the invitation to the wife isn't the one that takes precedence here. People in long-term relationships should be treated as couples in matters of wedding invitations. But Jim was in a long-term relationship when the invites went out. Just as you would be within your rights not to want to go to dinner with Jim and his girlfriend at this point, he is not entitled to cross out his wife from the guest list. Your fiancé needs to check in with both the wife and Jim about who intends to come. If the wife is bowing out, I think it's fine for your fiancé to tell his friend that while you both intend to get to know his new love eventually, your wedding is not the occasion for it.
Q. RE: Sworn to Secrecy About Molestation: The campers in question range in age from 11 to 14. Counselors are usually college-age people. Some of the kids have been through really rough molestations—several young campers have miscarried or given birth to kids of their own—so some of the counselors' talks can be about intense subjects. Just wanted to clarify that, and thank you for the advice.
A: The fact that this is a camp for children who have been through trauma means that confessions from counselors should have been carefully vetted beforehand. Your friend just delivered the message that it's the victims' job to forgive the perpetrator. This is a serious mess and action needs to be taken both on behalf of the campers who heard the talk and for your friend and her brother. As I said, tell your parents and make sure they are seeing that the proper authorities are contacted.
Q. My Son Was Conceived From Rape, People Are Curious About His Origins: I have two children, and my younger was conceived from rape. My husband and I decided to continue the pregnancy not knowing who was the biological father. It was obvious when my son was born that he was not my husband's. The rapist was of a different ethnicity and my son takes after him. As a result, we get quizzed about my son's background all the time. Acquaintances who don't know the full story speculate I had an affair. Strangers ask if he is adopted. I usually just say "no" and carry on my own business, discouraging further questions. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Our friends and family know—it wasn't something we could avoid and pretend not to notice. But I absolutely do not want to discuss how my son was conceived with strangers or curious co-workers. It's even worse when people ask in front of my son, now nearly 2, because it's something we'd like to tell him gradually in an age appropriate way. What can I say?
A: Readers dealing with the issue of nosey strangers have offered excellent answers along the lines of, "I'm sorry, I don't know you" or "I don't talk about my family to strangers" or just giving a disbelieving look as you walk away. With acquaintances you can say something like, "Genes are so unpredictable!" and refuse to engage further. Your son is lucky to have two such remarkable parents, and while he will come to know that his origins are unusual he will be reassured that he is totally loved.
Q. RE: Wife/Mother Conflict: This situation isn't about art—it is about being considerate of other people's feelings and being a good host/hostess. Don't you want your guests to feel comfortable in your home? Especially family? Would you purposely serve food you know your guests don't like? Or knowingly bring up subjects that are painful for them? Would you feel the same if it was your best friend coming to visit? Maybe this really a power play/control issue ...
A: Sure, people should be gracious hosts, but that normally doesn't extend to changing one's decor. The key to me is that mother sounds like a royal pain. If it's not the photograph, it will be something else. Maybe this is all just a silly power struggle, or maybe the new wife is sick of trying to accommodate a mother-in-law who will always be mad about something. With people like that it's generally better to draw some boundaries and refuse to be drawn into their melodrama.