Ask Amy

Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 11:55pm

DEAR AMY: I have been worried about my mother's mental health for some time now. I love her dearly, but I (and many others in my circle of family and friends) have suspected that something is wrong with her for many years.

After much research and consulting with two therapists, we believe that she suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, and because of this she does not respond well to criticism and will not receive treatment.

I am now expecting a child, and I want my mother to be a major part of my child's life, but with her unpredictable behavior, I am not certain I even want to her to be around my child.

My siblings and I see no alternative other than to cut her out of our lives until she agrees to seek help. Amy, we are quite confused and could use some advice for how to handle to situation.

— Concerned Daughter


DEAR CONCERNED:
Diagnosing other people is a tricky business for untrained people like you (and me), and the problem with ultimatums is that in order to work, an ultimatum may have no wiggle room.

Bringing a child into the family fills a new parent with equal measures of hope and anxiety, but these two states don't allow for the grand middle-ground of experience, where things are messy, complicated and changing.

If you were able to force your mother into treatment but the treatment didn't work, would you still want her in your life? If you were able to completely cut yourselves off from her, would you suffer or be relieved — or a measure of both?

The best path might be one of understanding, clear boundaries and vigilance. Of course, you shouldn't tolerate abuse and you shouldn't expose your child to a person who may harm her (or you), but your mother might be tolerable in small, controlled doses, and the grandchild's presence may prompt her into treatment.

I hope you're visiting therapists not just to confirm your hunch about your mother. It can't have been easy to grow up with this kind of parent; you should get professional help to sort it out.


DEAR AMY:
I am in my 40s and consider myself open to most things.

While attending the 4 p.m. Christmas vigil mass at my church this year, I was shocked.

I look beyond the fact that no one dresses up for church and that talking across the pews seems to be a normal occurrence, but what happened this year is beyond me.

During the Holy Communion mediation song (with only 10 minutes left to the service) the women behind me started to breast-feed her baby.

This was very obvious and accompanied by loud comments of, "Oh, who's hungry?"

I find no reason that the woman should not have gotten up and headed toward our parish center or some other place.

What's your take on this?

— No Feeding in the Pew

DEAR NO: The Christmas Eve commotion is frustrating for regular churchgoers, but when you think about it, the kids, chaos and breast-feeding should take you back to what the holiday is supposed to be about: the celebration of a birth.

Would you have minded if this mother bottle-fed her baby in the pew? If not, then you should ask yourself why a mother feeding her child naturally bothered you so much.

Many churches offer "quiet rooms," where the service is piped in where parents can feed or comfort their babies. My church has a glassed-in room with rocking chairs expressly for this purpose.

If your church has such a room, you could have politely suggested that the mom visit it.


DEAR AMY: I have a solution for the person who complained about a relative's habitually sending Christmas gifts long after Christmas.

The next time gifts arrive well past Christmas, don't open them until the following Christmas. Then you can send a nice thank-you card and remark on how early the gift was this year.

— Happy to Help in Chicago

DEAR HAPPY: I dare say there are many fruitcakes that would improve with time.

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