DEAR ABBY: I adore my son-in-law, “Tom.” He’s a wonderful husband to our daughter. He’s always inviting us to dinner along with his parents and family. We get along with them but can’t stand how they treat Tom. We have never seen parents treat their children the way they treat him, especially the father. Tom is practically begging for his approval and attention on a daily basis.
The last time we had dinner together, you could see the hurt and embarrassment on Tom’s face after his father spoke to him. I desperately want to say something to the father, but I don’t know if I should. What would you do in this situation? — Desperately Wants to Help
DEAR WANTS TO HELP: I’d sit down with Tom and tell him how much I love him, how I appreciate the wonderful way he treats my daughter and say what a joy it is that he is a part of my family. Then I’d tell Tom his father’s behavior is uncalled for, and how painful it is to watch because he doesn’t deserve it.
I would explain that some people in this world try to control others by withholding affection and approval, and regrettably, it’s a technique abusive parents — and sometimes lovers — use to exert control over those who love them and want only to be loved and accepted. And then I would ask him if he wanted me to call his father on it, because watching it happen is painful and prevents you from enjoying the dinner.
P.S. Counseling might help Tom recognize what’s going on and give him the tools to handle his father, if he’s open to it.
Find an adult to talk to after dad’s death
DEAR ABBY: I’m 17 and feeling so sad because I just lost my dad. I can’t talk to my stepmom because she’s too busy hanging out with her friends, drinking and partying. My dad died a couple of months ago, and she’s already having sex with my dad’s friends. I heard them talking about it. I have no other family that I can go to. I really hate her right now! Please tell me what to do. — Grieving in Florida
DEAR GRIEVING: Please know how sorry I am for the loss of your father. It would be helpful for you to find another adult to talk to about your feelings. Because you have no family other than your stepmother, perhaps the mother of one of your friends would listen and guide you. If that’s not possible, and you belong to a church, you should talk to the minister.
Hating your stepmom isn’t the answer. She may be acting the way she is because she’s trying to cope with the loss of your father by attempting to distract herself from the pain. It won’t work, by the way, but she may have to learn that by trial and error. A grief-support group could be helpful for both of you.