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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Deflect mom’s ire during visits with dad

Dear Carolyn: My 72-year-old father recently had quintuple bypass heart surgery. My mom decided “he did this to himself and now I’m stuck with his problem.”

She has always been health-conscious, whereas Dad has not. He’s not overweight, has always been spry and was pretty healthy until this. Of course, good genes help Mom, whose 100-year-old mother has no major health problems, either.

Mom made it clear he “wouldn’t get any special treatment” and she didn’t want to sacrifice her schedule of tennis, golf and Pilates to accommodate his needs as he recovers. She planned on dropping him off for his surgery and going in to work (she works less than 20 hours a week) as well as having him go by himself to his doctor’s appointments.

My siblings and I (four of us) have decided, against Mom’s wishes, to take turns flying in from all corners of the country to be sure my dad has the care and moral support he needs, as well as to urge and “guilt” my mom into doing the right thing. My mom feels we’re making a big deal over nothing. Every visit goes against Mom’s “no special treatment” edict, which only makes her angrier with us.

How can we care for Dad without further alienating Mom? – A

Well, you can lay off the guilt trips. Her choices are her business, not yours, even if they’re reprehensible ones.

Your mercy trips, meanwhile, are none of her business. Just because she has prioritized Pilates doesn’t mean the four kids have to follow her lead. Presumably, you’re staying with her – but even she has to know it’s your father’s home, too. Fly in as you wish, show compassion as you can, deflect Mom’s ire as you must.

But do not, do not take her on. Is her treatment of your father coldhearted, verging on cruel, a possible indication she’s a raging narcissist? Sure sounds that way. Two reasons I won’t bite, though: One, I haven’t been a witness to their marriage myself, and neither have you, in a way. You can be so sure of something about a couple, only to discover one small thing about them later on that forces you to go back and change the very foundation of what you always believed. There are countless things to which even children aren’t privy.

That’s why cases of estrangement – which this is, for sure, emotionally – tend rarely to be as black-and-white as your tone suggests this one is. Most involve years of gray. What seems like emotional abuse on her part now, for example, may be the fruit of his emotional abuse for the entirety of their marriage.

Maybe she begged him for decades to take care of his heart.

Or, they could just be through with each other.

Or, she’s been this way all along – in which case, why is anyone expecting better of her now?

The second reason I won’t point fingers is that it’s beside the point.

Your father is ailing. You’re able to help. So, stick to your plan. If your mom tries to obstruct you, you always have this: “He’s our father.”

Besides, you’re easing the “problem” for her.

While you’re there, keep your eyes – and mind – open to the truth of their marriage. These trips can benefit your health, too.

E-mail Carolyn at, or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at