DEAR AMY: We all have stories about hurtful things that parents can say to their adult children, but my mother seems especially clueless about this.
The thoughtful and kind person I talk to on the phone is a hateful, complaining drag in person. She has nothing but depressing, negative comments to share. Attempts to steer the conversation in a pleasant direction get turned toward negative things, and she will always find them.
My sister and I have both had experiences where we reached our limit while in her presence and either blown up at her or left in a huff. Mom always seems confused and hurt after the fact, even though at the moment she is threatening to "never speak to" us again.
I've attempted to diplomatically approach the subject, and this just turns into an argument because I am "picking" on her.
A recent row between my mother and sister has me (again) considering trying to explain things to my mom (perhaps in a letter, so she has to think about it before reacting.) What do you think?
— Distressed Sister
DEAR DISTRESSED: If your mother's behavior has changed recently, and especially if she is confused or really doesn't remember lashing out, she may have a serious medical problem. Help her sort this out.
If she has always been this way, but you have reached the end of your tether, then definitely put this in writing. When you do, take extra care to explain exactly what your mother does that bothers you, your reaction to it and the consequences (i.e. "The next time you lash out at me, I'm not going to sit and argue with you; I'm just going to leave.")
Tell her that you are writing because you love her and want to have the best possible relationship with her. Ask her to get in touch in order to talk about it.
DEAR AMY: In response to "A Concerned Sister," who was concerned that her mother was allowing her younger sister to use tanning beds, I thought a story from a 32-year-old woman diagnosed with melanoma may help shed light on the subject.
In my teens and college years, I was "addicted" to indoor tanning. I went four to five times per week for a period of years and continued when I was in my mid to late 20s.
Now that I am 32, I am paying the price. I visit the dermatologist every three months, have had dozens of biopsies, had seven spots excised and have been diagnosed with melanoma that, thankfully, they removed after two excisions that left a large, red raised scar in the middle of my back.
The diagnosis of melanoma also impacted things I never thought it would, like my ability to get a decent rate for life insurance, even though I have no other health problems, exercise regularly and do not smoke.
I write this as a cautionary tale to all indoor tanning lovers. Like others, I never thought it would happen to me. Well, it did, and now I have medical bills and scars all over my body to prove it. Luckily I have a very good dermatologist who keeps a close eye on my skin, but if I never had my skin checked, I could be dead. Please reconsider indoor tanning, and know that the negative effects can happen to you before it is too late.
— Paying the Price
DEAR PAYING: Thank you so much for offering this real-life example of the impact of tanning. The Skin Cancer Foundation (skincancer.org) has published similar tales (and helpful recommendations for awareness and prevention). Summer is here. Please protect your largest (and most visible and beautiful) organ!
DEAR AMY: The letter from "Mom" cracked me up. Mom told a tall tale about her daughter, who was cleaning up her friend's dorm room when a bottle of Champagne mysteriously opened and spilled over the roommate's laptop.
I had to laugh. Evidently, those wires that hold a cork in a Champagne bottle somehow mysteriously untwisted themselves, and the cork just popped out!
— Amused Reader
DEAR AMUSED: Most important, this mom was trying to clean up her daughter's sticky situation.
Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Amy Dickinson's memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.