December 27, 2010 in Features

Annie’s Mailbox: Mother wants to help, not enable

Kathy Mitchell/Marcy Sugar

Dear Annie: I need to know how to react to my 32-year-old daughter when she tells me about what her emotionally abusive husband has said or done to her.

“Joan” is a nurse at a hospital. Her domineering husband, “Ray,” is currently unemployed. The two of them are like oil and water. If she says the sky is blue, he says it is raining. The same goes for their parenting styles. Their 3-year-old daughter has frequent tantrums. Joan started taking away the child’s bottle because Ray was putting baby food into it so he wouldn’t have to feed her. Joan wants to start potty training, but Ray says he doesn’t have the time and wants to keep her in a diaper.

Joan has become very passive. Ray has convinced her that she can’t drive the baby to my house (150 miles away) because she will surely have an accident and kill them both. If I want to see my daughter and granddaughter, I have to go there.

I understand these are control issues. I just don’t know what to say when Joan calls and repeats these things. I want to help her, but my friends say I enable her to stay with Ray by making things better for her. I love them and want to do what is best. Please advise. – Sad Grammy

Dear Grammy: It is not enabling if you are providing a shoulder to lean on. Abusers manipulate their victims in order to make them feel helpless, incompetent and dependent. It is especially difficult when there are children and a parent feels reluctant to upset the marriage. Your visits and phone calls may be the lifeline Joan needs to find the strength to get help, and we hope you will encourage her to do so. Meanwhile, reinforce your daughter’s confidence in her ability to stand up for herself.

Please e-mail your questions to, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Ste. 700, Los Angeles, CA 90045.

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