DEAR AMY: I am a married mother of three special needs children.
My husband is the love of my life, my best friend and a wonderful husband and father. My problem is my mother. She is very critical and especially harsh on my husband. He works close to 60 hours a week, is a veteran and when he's home he takes care of our kids so I can work.
We only ask my mother to baby-sit in emergencies. I have no siblings, and his family lives far away.
My mother is single and active and lives close by. I call her often (maybe too often), as I know she is lonely.
I don't complain about my husband to her, as I know she'll be critical of him. She frequently complains about his eating habits, bathroom habits and hobbies. Yesterday she started telling me that after she watched a TV show, she is concerned that one of our kids is a psychopath. When I speak up for my husband and kids, she denies being critical.
I do not want her help or her money. All I want is her support. She's never been able to remain in a relationship with anyone for long.
I was fortunate to have wonderful grandparents and mentors in my life as a child. I love my family and I don't know if I should cut her off.
Any advice? — Mom Times Three
DEAR MOM: I think you call your mother often, too often, because you are lonely.
Given your extreme challenges, I can well imagine your exhaustion and loneliness. Your duty is to yourself and your immediate family. You can certainly cut your mother off and spare yourself her litany of opinions and criticism. Before you cut her off, however, you might experiment with ways to respond to her that might retrain her, at least to some extent.
You should put her on notice that certain topics are off-limits and certain statements intolerable. Any support you receive from her will be conditional.
I hope you can put whatever spare energy you have into finding friends and confidantes to whom you can turn for an understanding ear. You deserve this.
DEAR AMY: I will be a sophomore in college next year and am considering living at home rather than on campus. The money I would save would be worth the 45-minute commute, but I am reluctant to return to a tense family dynamic.
Both my parents suffer from depression, largely due to the delinquency of my 16-year-old brother, who is also mentally ill. My father is coping with unemployment, two chronically ill relatives, constant physical pain and an anxiety disorder.
My parents insist they enjoy having me home when I visit and thank me for being "such a good girl," but my frustration with the situation often leads to painful arguments.
On campus I feel better about my life. I am physically healthier. However, I am uncomfortable borrowing several thousand dollars, all of which I would be responsible for paying back. The jobs in my field of study do not pay well.
My parents say they will support whatever decision I make. What should I do? — Opposite of Homesick
DEAR OPPOSITE: You should do everything possible to maintain your own health, happiness and sanity, partly because this is what a maturing person should do but also because your family will likely need you later.
If you move home and the situation there deteriorates, your ability to do well in school would be compromised. You would not be any good to anyone if you can't complete your studies.
My insight is that in order to finance your own future, you should choose a (different) field of study in which you will be able to leap into the job market and receive decent pay.
DEAR AMY: A letter signed by a sister living "On Exile Island" talked about how one sister confronted an alcoholic sister via email, copying all the other family members on it.
I wish you had pointed out what a lousy choice this was. Email is not the way to communicate with someone about her drinking. — Upset
DEAR UPSET: You are so right. Thank you.
(Send questions via e-mail to askamytribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611. Amy Dickinson's memoir, "The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them" (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.)