DEAR AMY: I am a married mother of two young boys. I grew up in a volatile home, because my mother was verbally (and sometimes physically) abusive toward us, especially my father.
We were all constantly under her watchful eye, and had to live according to her obsessive cleaning schedule. We never knew when her next blowup would occur.
She is now married to her third husband. He is a nice man and doesn't seem to know about her past.
Because of the way she has mistreated her immediate and extended family, I am the only one left who will see her voluntarily and/or talk to her. And I do it for my sons, not myself.
They love her and her husband, and love spending time with them.
Because she no longer has outbursts or uses foul language, there is no reason she shouldn't see them.
Amy, I love my mom, but I don't like her. She wants to see us literally every weekend, and I can't take it anymore.
If I don't return her calls right away, she sends e-mails dripping with guilt.
Because she is mentally unstable, it has always been very hard to confront her. How can I get her to realize that I cannot see her every weekend, or even every other weekend?
— Weary Daughter
DEAR WEARY: Your mother is toxic, but according to you, her abusive behavior has changed and she is no longer a threat — at least to your kids.
You need to establish clear boundaries with your mother and steel yourself to the fact that she will use whatever tricks she has at her disposal to get you to comply with her demands.
You may not be able to get her to understand things from your point of view, so you will have to be stronger than she is and be certain that your choices are best for you and your family.
Your mother might respond to your expressing a clear decision on visits — with an established, non-negotiable schedule that she can anticipate and plan for.
Let your mother know that if she steps up the pressure, you will back away proportionally — and then do so.
DEAR AMY: Our daughter got married in September 2007. Now, the marriage is on the rocks, and the couple is divorcing.
Today, our daughter called to let us know that in packing up her belongings, she found, buried beneath other stuff, a $500 check that my cousin wrote to her as a wedding gift.
The check says, "void after 90 days."
Our daughter could use the money, but it would be very awkward to contact the cousin, thank her belatedly for the gift, and ask her to write another check when the marriage is ending.
My inclination is to contact my cousin, explain that the check had been misplaced, thank her profusely on behalf of my daughter, and let it go at that.
I'm willing to write my daughter a new $500 check.
What should we do?
— Awkward in Seattle
DEAR AWKWARD: You should do nothing.
Your daughter should contact the cousin, tell her about the check and apologize for not acknowledging the very generous wedding gift. She should not ask for further reimbursement to celebrate a marriage that no longer exists.
If you want to write your daughter a check for $500, that's your business, but doing so seems like papering over your daughter's negligence.
DEAR AMY: "Gender Confusion" wrote in because she wanted to know the gender of her unborn baby but her husband didn't.
I was in the same situation. My friends, family and I were able to keep this secret from my husband through my pregnancy. It was a lot of work, though. I had to be careful to refer to the baby as both "he" and "she." My friends helped by giving us gender-neutral items for the nursery (I hid those items that weren't neutral until after the baby's birth). My husband said he was completely surprised when our baby turned out to be a girl.
— New Mom
DEAR MOM: Several readers let me know they had pulled off this very challenging trick.
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