A: Everybody Loves Raymond, with its next-door in-laws constantly in and out of each others' houses, went off the air a few years ago. So you have to bring your version of this sitcom to an end. From the outside it's kind of amusing to think of you as a prisoner in your own home as your mother-in-law takes over the porch with her tatting and smoking. But relatives who live next door have to have a kind of psychological invisible fence along the property lines so that they don't drive each other crazy. Your husband should be the one to step up here and explain to Mom and Sis that while it's great you get to see each other all the time, in order to make this work, everyone needs privacy. He needs to say if either of them want to visit, they should call you, with the understanding that sometimes, for reasons that don't have to be articulated, a visit is not good at the moment. Then, when they continue to barge in or park on the porch, you have to have the guts to say, "Arlene, I'd love to see you on Thursday afternoon, but today is just not good." Ultimately, I think you're going to need the services of a real estate agent. I doubt this is going to get fixed until you find a place across town.
Q. Something's Gotta Give: I work for a large, well-known nonprofit. I'm a college grad, and truly love what I do, even though it isn't the most lucrative career. I socialize frequently with my friends from college, and for the most part, life is good. The problem is that one of my friends is always bringing her kids' fundraising brochures, for scouts, sports teams, school trips, etc. She even brings her kids to ask in person at times. The problem is that while some of my other friends are fine with this and will buy an item or two of the overpriced stuff, I simply can't, as my budget is very limited. She has gotten upset with me, and has complained (not to my face) about my "miserly ways" given that I "obviously believe in charity" because I work for one. My other friends seem to think this is rather amusing and so I am at a loss as to what to do. Continue to act oblivious to her comments? Confront her directly? Say so long to my college crowd?
A: I don't understand what's amusing—being constantly hit on to fund someone else's children's activities or listening to the bad-mouthing of a mutual friend. The woman with the kids is way out of line. First of all, there should be a limit (maximum of twice a year) that this mother hits up her friends for these fundraising activities. Second of all, she has to be humble about it and teach her kids to be polite to people who decline. At all this she's failing abysmally. Obviously, someone in your group has reported to you her bad-mouthing, but I don't know in what spirit this was said. If it was, "Oh, it was so funny when Maureen went on and on about a miser you are!" then your group sounds rather obnoxious. The next time Maureen hits you up you can simply say you know it's a good cause, but it's not within your budget. If she is anything but polite, then you can say being pressured to write her checks is causing a serious strain on your friendship. I hope your other friendships with the gang are robust enough that they will survive this blip.
Q. Re: Charity requests: Since she can affect having inside knowledge of the charity game, OP should decline along with a comment about how little this type of activity actually raises for the school, and how much it earns for the fundraising company. Only about 10 percent goes to the charity. When I was in high school and we realized this, we found other ways to raise funds for activities.
A: Good point. I'm happy to write a check for a worthwhile school activity. And while many dedicated parents put hours of effort into these fundraisers, I don't like having my contribution skimmed off by overpriced gift-wrapping manufacturers.
Q. Getting Back to Normal Life After a Trauma: Several years ago my son was born under emergency circumstances. I often arrived at the NICU to find a team gathered around my baby, trying to save his life one more time. Two years of intensive care stays, specialists, operations, and sudden crises followed. We are incredibly lucky to now have a happy, healthy 3-year-old with no major medical issues. Our lives have been essentially normal for about a year now. My problem is that I don't know how to carry a normal casual conversation anymore. I used to be funny and friendly, and making friends was easy for me. Now I feel solemn and closed off. I've been trying to make friends at my new job and through team sports, but I struggle to connect meaningfully with regular people. Obviously, referencing my recent experiences in any way is a nonstarter, especially when other young moms want to share anecdotes. My good friends now live in other states. I'm so terribly lonely and I worry that this is just who I am now.
A: That you have been changed by two years of fear and trauma is no surprise. But I think you can get back to your previous emotional set point, you just need some help getting there. There are effective therapeutic approaches to post-traumatic stress disorder, and you must explore some. You committed yourself solely to your son for several years. Now you must commit yourself to rediscovering the funny, friendly person you used to be. You now have a happy, healthy boy, so think what it will mean to him to have a mother who can be open again to joy, to being care-free. Of course your experiences are going to be part of who you are, but you need help releasing yourself from a state of constant vigilance so that you can enjoy your life and your son.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
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Correction, May 29, 2013: This article originally misspelled the name of Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet.