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Dear Captain Awkward,

I don’t want to get too into backstory here, but my mother was a Darth Vader parent. The abuse was never physical, but emotional/verbal abuse and gaslighting were common. Darth Mom died last year. My sister and brother-in-law—let’s call them Leia and Han—are now expecting a baby girl. I don’t think anyone has said anything to *them* yet, but multiple people have told *me* that they’re disappointed that the baby won’t be named after Darth Mom or that they’re “so very sad” that the baby will never get the chance to meet her “wonderful grandmother.” And I just. No. A world of no. All of the NO.

Han is taking most of the blame for the name thing because he was named after a deceased family member and he wants the baby to have a name of her own. So that’s a script I’ve been using when people bring up the idea of naming the baby for Darth Mom. But I have no idea what to do when people tell me how sad it is that the baby will never meet Darth Mom. I understand that they mean well and they don’t know that Darth Mom was secretly a Sith Lord, but I am so relieved that the baby will never have to meet her grandmother that I kind of want to throttle these people. I have no idea what to say here and I’m afraid I’m going to snap and start airing dirty laundry, and nobody wants that.

Any kind of script or even a mantra for this situation would be much appreciated.

Thank you,

Luke

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Oh Captain My Captain:

I’m running into a communications problem, and could use some advice.

First the backstory: I live with my parents. My mother, who is nearing seventy, is having arthritis issues and needs a little bit of extra help around the house; generally more help that I can reasonably provide while being a full-time student. A year ago, a friend of mine had to choose between an abusive situation and homelessness, and I convinced Mom that we could offer her a third option. Now we have Kat in our guest room, doing dishes and minor housecleaning tasks for ten dollars a day plus room and board.

Now, the problem: Mom is unhappy with Kat’s performance. A lot of this is coming from the fact that Mom isn’t actually talking to her. She doesn’t remind either of us of routine tasks (because we’re intelligent people and she shouldn’t have to explain the obvious), and deals with extraordinary requests by telling me that they need to be done (with the unspoken riders of “so get Kat to do it” and “you should already know how I want that task performed” and “I will be Very Upset if you do this yourself instead of making sure Kat does it to my specifications.”) When, somehwere along the line, communication inevitably breaks down and something *doesn’t* meet with her approval, I get to listen to Mom rant about how she’s not getting what she’s paying for and how Kat isn’t ever going to be able to make it in the real world if she can’t complete simple tasks. Mom does not, generally speaking, ever voice concerns directly to Kat.

Do you have advice/scripts/etc. for how to stop being the Mom-to-Kat translator in this arrangement?

Sincerely,

The Messenger Is Tired Of Being Shot

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Dear Captain Awkward:

My father and his lovely new partner – she’s really nice – recently visited my area. They planned to spend a day or two with her relatives first, but wanted to know if I wanted to meet up with the two of them after that, for a meal at my brother’s new restaurant.

I agreed. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of spending cab-fare to the city for a sub-standard meal (my brother hasn’t changed things yet), but wanted to see them, so sucked it up, gathered up my introvert spoons and headed out into the wilds.

I got a text about an hour before the meal – my father asked me to change the booking from 3 to 5 people.

Wait, what?

Apparently they wanted to bring along NewPartner’s granddaughter (teenager) and one of her teenage friends.

I didn’t handle that very well.

The next hour was a tangled blur of considering “calling in sick” to the meal, changing the booking at the restaurant, frantically checking the number of social-interaction spoons I had remaining (not enough for sudden dinner plans with strange teenagers), and resigning myself to my fate.

The reality was even more awkward than I’d feared. I sat there for a good 30 minutes of tense, stilted conversation.

I made my apologies and fled before the mains arrived (I hadn’t ordered anything).

Dad called after I got home, worried that I might not have been feeling well.

I ended up admitting that I just hadn’t wanted to stay. That I didn’t want to spend time with his partner’s family. He said he was disappointed in my behaviour.

I’m honestly not sure what to do.

I love my father, and want to be supportive of his relationship. I also really like his partner, I’d hate for her to feel bad in any way.

But I don’t want to spend time with her family. It feels weird and creepy when they’re around. I feel like my father is thinking of us as one big, happy family – when I barely know their names, and don’t actually want to get to know them better. I end up feeling stressed and resentful.

Part of me thinks that the best thing to do would be to talk to my father about it – to come to a new shared understanding of what our expectations are of each other going forwards.

But another part of me worries that, if I do that, I might end up with no relationship with my father at all. That I might have irreparably damaged it anyway. So I’m currently a little bit paralyzed with fear.

Am I being unreasonable? What do you think?

– Possibly unreasonable person.

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CA,

I have a great stepdad, and a pretty not good dad. My dad has been in my life the entirety of it, so he’s not an absentee dad- but he’s controlling, emotionally abusive, financially manipulative (he’s a millionaire, and uses that to try to exact control over you) and just pretty cruel in general. He is married to a woman who hates me and my siblings, and they have both been honest with us about this since we were kids and they got married. They both think we haven’t tried hard enough to get her to like her or to “earn” our way into being part of their family, which we currently don’t deserve (his words.) I have tried to keep him in my life as much as possible and do what I can to prove to him I’m a good person, and always have.But he’s been pretty consistent in his vocal belief I’m not a good person, and never will be.

Now I’m an adult and I take nothing from him, and pay my own way 100% of the time. I wanted him to see what I wanted was the relationship, not the money. When I got engaged, he offered to help with the wedding, which I should have just said no to. But I was seduced by the idea we could all be a family and do this big day together, and as dumb as it is, I love my dad. Of course, by two weeks after our engagement, things had devolved. My dad, and then his wife had called to insult me and my mother (whom my dad still hates, almost two decades later) and call me names etc. My dad was apparently in the room and let her do it. We haven’t spoken since. That was 3 months ago.

I don’t want his money. I just wanted him to be a good dad. The shitty part is, I LOVE my dad! I wanted him to be a part of it and walk me down the aisle and be my dad. But I don’t think he can be. My stepdad is a good dad and always has been. I want him to walk me down the aisle, but I know this will break my dad’s heart. And frankly, now that my dad can’t show off his money, which he loves to do, and the event won’t be about him, I don’t even know that he’ll come.

My fiancé hates him and doesn’t want to invite him. I don’t want to invite my dad’s wife, but know I will have to if I even want a chance to have my dad there. Which I’m not sure if I want, either, to be honest.

How do I even begin to decide how to handle this? to be fair to my dad, my fiance, and my stepdad all at once? And most of all, to keep our wedding the happy day it’s meant to be, and not the Divorced Family Dysfunction Hour?!

Thanks,
K

PS- Yes, I do have a therapist. Specializing in family conflict. And a great support network.

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Hi Captain!

I’m going to be going on a vacation with my family soon. We are visiting multiple countries in Europe. I have planned every detail of the entire vacation because I plan all the complicated travel that our family does. No one else knows how to internet and I’ve been on a lot of trips by myself and have a lot of experience with them.

The problem is my mom. My mom does not really like to go out, let alone go on expensive trips, but she’s going anyways because of the family culture and I already know she’s going to complain about everything. (She’s done it before, on other trips I planned.) I feel bad for her- we suggested to her that she stay home several times, but she refused- but I also feel very attacked and unhappy when she starts to criticize the things that I spent so much time researching so that everyone would enjoy them. When we went to Vegas she pitched a fit because she wanted to see ‘a show’ but didn’t want to go to any of the shows we offered to take her to. She does this- picks something, decides that she wants it, bullies everyone into going with her or sulks when people don’t want the same thing, or sees how expensive it is and decides she doesn’t want it after all. I tend to plan things very carefully, so it’s really annoying when she just decides to go off on some improbable side path. Now that we’re going to Europe, I don’t trust her not to decide that she wants to go to some random city in Italy and then sulk when it turns out that we can’t do that because we already booked our hotels.

I’ve already tried asking her in advance if there was anything she wanted, and her initial suggestions were impossible (I want to go from Paris to Madrid by train- and I want it to take three hours!) When I explained why that wasn’t really doable, she sulked and now refuses to give me any input at all. I put a lot of effort into planning these trips and I really want people to enjoy them. Do you have any advice on getting her to complain less or for helping me feel less anxious and attacked when she does complain? I know on a surface level that these complaints aren’t always directed at me, but I still feel very unhappy when I hear them.

Best,

Harried Planner

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Dear Captain Awkward,

One year ago my father passed away. It was a several year battle against cancer that he eventually lost, and I still miss him deeply.

My mother has struggled in the aftermath. She has been overwhelmed with loneliness and sank into a depression. She loved my father deeply and he was her rock, both emotionally and in a more practical sense (bills, caretaking, house upkeep).

Lately she has struggled more deeply because a chronic pain issue flared up. She has been to numerous doctor appointments, tried multiple medications and treatments, with no improvements. The medications make her groggy and confused, and she has been having trouble sleeping on top of everything. It seems like her life is a waking nightmare.

I love my mom very much, but I am struggling with how to help her. I am an only child, and we have few extended family members – none she feels she can rely on. She has friendships, but does not trust her friends easily/well and has withdrawn lately because she is too exhausted to reach out. She usually rejects the idea of outside/paid help and feels very vulnerable.

My relationship with her has always had some tension. She is a wonderful mom and a caring person, but our personalities have always clashed. She has always needed more from me than I felt capable of giving, but that need has grown immense and my ability to help her has, if anything, decreased. My own life has been challenging – a stressful new job, a wonderful-but-complicated marriage, and grieving for my father.

I try to visit as often as I feel can, have offered help in various forms, but visits are filled with her lamenting that she doesn’t have anyone to help, and my offers of help are turned down more often than not because they aren’t the right ‘kind’ of help (she has rigid parameters and a deep need for control). Her control issues are also triggering for me, because control issues are something that I struggle with as well.

I have always found visits with my mom draining, and even more so now in this acute time. Every interaction with my mother has the ability to send me into my own tailspin, but setting boundaries makes me feel incredibly guilty in the face of her deep need – and the fact that she is a good person and mother.

How can I navigate this tricky balance? How can I help my mom without losing myself in her bottomless pit of need? How can I maintain my own mental health without feeling like the worst daughter ever?

Sincerely,
A

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Dear Captain and Crew,

Ten weeks ago I asked my husband why sex and some other things hadn’t happened on a long weekend at home. He out-of-the-blue responded, “I’ve been thinking I don’t want to be married to you anymore.” It took several days to sink in, by which point we were out of town on vacation. On the seventh day after his announcement, I couldn’t stop crying and texted my sisters, one of whom called back immediately and saved my sanity.

After we returned home and visited our couples counselor, I put an aggressive self-care plan into effect of daily exercise, masturbation, journaling, and eating well plus weekly time with friends, my personal therapist, massage, etc. The self-care is working. Most days I keep myself balanced on the two positive long-term possibilities: 1) we end up with a stronger happier marriage or 2) we head off to separate new adventures, reconnecting as friends after a break.

After an exercise break due to illness, I’ve been teetering, sometimes to optimism that he’ll stay based on his “I love yous,” warm hugs, and clear attraction to me and sometimes tripping into the short term “14 years, he doesn’t want to be with me; I can’t share this incredible pain” mud.

So far the only friends and family who know of our limbo are my sisters, his mom, his sibling, and one of his friends. I’ve waited to tell my parents, afraid mom will say “I told you to get a handle on your mood swings years ago,” or “Where’s your faith that he’ll stay?” instead of comforting me. Yesterday husband announced he bought a plane ticket to spend Mother’s Day with his mom, so my mom will want to know why I’m coming alone to visit her that weekend.

And I don’t want to be “the woman who cried divorce” asking for friend help she didn’t really need or to bias my friends against husband if he does stay. In a month – he says he’ll decide by then – a good chunk of far-flung Team Me has our annual gathering. I am really looking forward to it, but also wonder whether I should tell my friends about our marriage-limbo.

1. Do you have any script suggestions for when/what to tell my parents?

2. Do I wait till/if we separate to tell my closest friends? Is it self-centered to want to tell them before the annual fun times, even before I know for certain, just so they can support me? Is it fair to my recently widowed friend to feel sad in her presence about my Schrödinger’s husband?

Thank you.

(P.S. I have read 250 and 16, several times, which helped me to draft the letter to Team Me for if we separate of please this/not that.)

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