DEAR AMY: My mother-in-law is a "Negative Nancy." She has nothing positive to say about her life. All conversations revolve around how terrible her life is, including obsessing about her divorce as if it happened yesterday (it was more than 30 years ago).
This woman has traveled the world several times, has four beautiful grandchildren and has been welcome to spend time with us without strings attached. Her criticism takes in everything and everyone around her.
I can't take it anymore. Having just gone through a serious and debilitating battle with alcohol (I am now gratefully sober) I am motivated to stay positive. I still have bad days, but these days don't drag me into the dark places. I have found sobriety to be fantastic and need to surround myself with others who encourage this behavior.
I want to invite her to spend time with us on Thanksgiving but don't know how much of the memories and negativity I can take. My husband stays as far from the conversations as he can when she's around and abandons ship. What can I do? Is it OK to institute a "code of conduct"?
Can I state from the beginning that there be no talk of the past, and insist that we stay on track with the present and future? It really drains my energy, and just thinking about a long meal with the negativity does make me want to "take the edge off."
DEAR SOBER: You should not institute rules for your guests to follow. This will only lead to frustration for you as you watch your family members leap over your boundaries.
If you are determined to invite your mother-in-law to share this meal with you, anticipate her negativity and arm yourself with some simple avoidance techniques and a sense of humor. Prepare with support from your recovery community.
You might be able to guide your table conversation by asking your guests to play a conversation game. The kids can participate by making up and writing down questions. A sample would be, "Tell us three things about your favorite pet." These open-ended queries can spark fun and positive conversations as guests read their questions aloud and share them with the group.
DEAR AMY: I have my first homecoming coming up soon, and my parents and I disagree on the time I need to be home. The dance is over at 12, but they say I have to be home by 11.
I am not sure why they feel this way. I have said everything I know to try to change their minds — including the fact that teachers are everywhere at this dance. I just wish they'd give me a rational reason for this restriction.
Do you have any advice on how to convince them to let me stay out later? Is it really that unreasonable to want to stay out until the dance ends?
I am going with a large group of friends who are planning on staying together at the dance, and I don't have a boyfriend for them to worry about.
DEAR CONFUSED: I agree with you that it is reasonable to stay at the dance until it ends, but I'm assuming you are in ninth grade and your folks want to be careful and prudent until they figure out how you handle these situations.
If they won't bend their rules, use this as an opportunity to prove to them how well you handle yourself. If things go well at this dance, they may change their restrictions in time for the winter semiformal.
DEAR AMY: "Mum on Spelling" was worried about a letter sent home by a teacher, which was riddled with spelling errors. Naturally this parent was wondering about this teacher's competency.
As a teacher, I can tell you that not all letters sent home are actually written by the teacher; sometimes these are generated by another school professional but not proofread by the teacher. I agree that Mum should notify the school about the need for spell-check.
— Also a Teacher
DEAR ALSO: Great point. Thank you.
Send questions via e-mail to email@example.com. Amy Dickinson's memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.