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Dear Patricia: My dad is too weak to leave my moaning, bullying mother

I come from a family of six, and I am the only girl. As long as I can remember, my mother has been depressed. She was in psychiatric care when I was younger, but she has not taken medication in the last 30 years, hence her downhill spiral. Visiting her is like Negativity Central. My brothers don't care, and we are not a close family.

My main concern is my dad. He is a quiet man who is bullied all day every day, walking on eggshells, he says, in case she explodes. He worked all his life. My mother didn't. But she controls the money and gives him small amounts. Yet she spends serious money on very expensive clothes for herself.

She accuses him of attracting other women, and there are many women she hasn't spoken to for years as she thinks they fancy him. She tells tales about him, for example that he tried to push her, when in fact, as my father explained, she had got into a rage at him and tripped over.

He still does all the shopping and cooking, but I am very worried, as they are getting old. She stays in every day, moaning and crying. I hate visiting her, as she will not listen to any helpful suggestions. Everyone else is to blame, not her. I no longer allow my children to visit as they feel uneasy when they are there.

I am married to a wonderful man who doesn't understand why I still visit. But I am still drawn. She has never hugged me or shown any emotion. But my dad always hugs and smiles, even though he is unhappy. She is making me very unhappy too. She needs help but won't accept any, and my father is too weak to leave her.

What do I do? It can't go on like this. Do I stay away and just ask my dad to visit us? Christmas was another nightmare.

Patricia replies:

YOU clearly love your dad, he clearly loves you, and it's wonderful to have that relationship. You can't, however, fight his battles for him. You can't change his relationship with your mother. You can't defend him from her bullying. Those are all tasks he can choose to do, or choose to avoid. And he's clearly choosing to avoid -- for now, anyway. So be it. You must accept his decision.

With your dad's battles out of the way, you should have a somewhat clearer picture of your own battle with your mother. Because, of course, you're also fighting to get some love or recognition from her.

I don't think you'll get it, one way or the other. She doesn't sound like a rewarding kind of mother. But you certainly won't get it by trying to make helpful suggestions on how to solve her problems.

Don't you see? She doesn't want to solve things, she wants to complain. It's part of the dynamic of her personality -- and the dynamic of her marriage, too, for that matter.

Just imagine what it would be like if you totally accepted that you can't change her. Wouldn't that make it a whole lot easier to be around her?

I mean, could you envisage fulfilling some sense of duty towards her by simply visiting, or helping out in some practical way, from time to time, without the burden of believing it's your task to fix things? Because to answer your husband's question about why you visit her, dumping all duty towards a parent is very hard to do. Most people try to make a go of it, which is what you're doing. And I think that's right, in as far as you can manage it, of course.

You'd definitely find the whole situation far more rewarding if you settled for enjoying your dad, as and when you can.

I don't know if he'd come and visit alone. Maybe he would. Either way, the time with him should be about enriching both your life and his, not by fruitlessly trying to change things, but by revelling in the happiness of loving each other.

So you both bear the burden of your mother. Fair enough. But that could just be accepted, and set quietly to one side.

Couldn't it? And wouldn't it be nice?

Sunday Indo Living