Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships
Dear Stacy: *We are facing a tricky holiday situation that’s only going to get worse every year unless we do something. Basically, my mom is very…difficult. She lives several states away and we had a major bust-up around my wedding a few years ago. I have tried to patch things up, but when one deals with a person who always chooses to look on the negative side of things, I’m never going to win. I had to make a hard decision to just stop trying to repair things with her once we had our daughter. It was too risky to go visit her (she refuses to visit us) only to wonder if our suitcases would be thrown out a window at any random moment when mom thought my husband looked at her wrong.
The current issue is that mom continues to send gifts to her granddaughter, now age 3. I need to know what to say when she asks who those presents are from. How do you explain “borderline personality disorder” to a preschooler? -Fed Up in D.C.
Dear Fed Up: I am so sorry you have to strategize for this. The honest answer, which you already know, is that you don’t explain borderline personality disorder to a preschooler. I’m sure you agree that as an adult, it’s a hard concept to grasp, multiply that by 10,000 and you’ll get close to how impossible it would be for Daughter to truly understand. What you can do, first, is to be proud of your decision to shield Daughter from what you experienced as a child – that could not have been an easy decision to make. Next, we can rest in the knowledge that Daughter is not old enough to understand the complexities of estrangement and healthy boundary-setting. She will take her cues from you, so I’d put on my cheerful/gratitude face and follow a script along the lines of, “These are from your Grandma. She lives far away and we don’t see her very often. Let’s look at what she sent!” If nothing changes with Mom’s approach to your family, you will have to have a more nuanced conversation in the future, but with the powers of redirection still at your fingertips (e.g., “Look! Shiny!”), I’d say you are off the hook for a few more years.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to firstname.lastname@example.org.