Family Advice -- Dan Savage, Judy Sobiesk -- 8/29/03

WebMD Live Events Transcript

There's no place like home -- for stress, anxiety, and conflict. If your family relationships cause more pain than pleasure, take a look at the one-two punch of helpful advice from WebMD's mother and son duo, "Savage Family Advice" experts Dan Savage and Judy Sobiesk.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: The "Savage Family Advice" team is here and ready to answer your questions.

Dan: Hello, all.

Judy: Hi everybody. It's great to be here. Let those questions roll.

Dan: My mom and I know all about relatives making each other crazy; we've been making each other crazy for years.

Judy: I'm Dan's favorite nag.

Member question: Dear Dan and Judy, I live with my boyfriend and 11-month-old baby girl. His parents and older brother live with us in our home. They do not work, have no money, came here to the U.S. from another country and have lost everything. I'm going mad. Am I being irrational?

Dan: No, you're not. You're being used, it seems to me. Taken for granted, advantage of -- but not irrational.

Judy: You sound sane to me! What do they do to contribute to the household?

Member question: They do not pay bills, they do not clean; they cook; that's about it.

Dan: What's the plan -- is there one? I mean, a plan for getting them all out of the house or have you married or bred yourself into a family where the generations are expected to live under the same roof?

Judy: How long has this been going on? You say they lost everything. Tell us more about that?

Dan: And when are they leaving? And if they're not leaving, when are YOU leaving?

Judy: Can you talk with them or is it cultural that you are expected to take care of them?

Member: The plan is my boyfriend is waiting for siblings to get enough money to move them out, but currently neither work.

Judy: The people who are supposed to come up with the money don't work?

Dan: Well, they'll find work STAT if they have no choice. So you and the boyfriend have to present them a "no choice" option: A date by which they have to be out or get kicked out.

Judy: Doesn't sound like anyone is in charge. Your boyfriend has to take charge now.

Member: When they lived in the Dominican Republic, they were people of money and power; one night during elections for the country there was a blackout. When the power came back the bad guy, so to speak, won the election, they lost all their money and home. Mind you, that they are pretty much retired, mid 60s.

Dan: Well, you may have to take care of the parents, or live with them for a while, but I see no reason why you should have to care for your boyrfriend's Dominican siblings.

Judy: Find a Dominican support group in your area -- people their age who can reach out to them and help bring them into the community. Assuming that you live in an urban area, reach out to other Hispanic support systems if you don't have a local Dominican population.

Dan: If your boyfriend won't put his foot down -- if he doesn't care that you're going out of your mind -- you need to revisit your commitment to him. Good luck.

Member question: Hello Judy and Dan, perhaps you can give me advice about my father. He is hard of hearing, and did wear a hearing aid rather reluctantly. After it broke and was fixed he did wear it again until it broke again. He will not get it fixed, or get a new one. He has the TV blasting, and everyone has to talk very loud.

Judy: This strikes close to home. I don't have a hearing aid but my hearing is definitely going south.

Dan: Don't change the world to accommodate his refusal to face reality and get his hearing aid repaired.

Judy: Did he ever say that he could hear better when he wore the aid?

Dan: If he can't hear you, refuse to shout, or only shout this: GET YOUR HEARING AIDE REPAIRED! You may also want to talk to his doctor about depression, and seek treatment if he's depressed about getting older, hearing loss, etc.

Judy: Start writing him notes. And make sure the TV has closed captioning.

Dan: That's a good idea.

Judy: Have you asked him why he won't return to wearing the aid?

Dan: For the same reason some folks in our family won't, don't you think, mom? Vanity, thy name is... well, let's not name names.

Judy: This getting-old thing is pretty scary so reach out to him and be as empathic as you can.

Member: I do have him using the alarm on the house. I told him anyone could break in and they would never hear it because of TV being on loud. They don't hear the doorbell.

Judy: It does become a safety issue, for sure. Does he drive? Can you appeal to his fatherly and grandfatherly side if it applies? That's what our kids have started to do and we must get going re: hearing aids. Right, Dan?

Dan: Right, mom! If you're worried about his safety, be firm. Maybe you can you take the hearing aide in to be repaired yourself. Again, I would talk to his doctor. Like my mom said, getting old can be scary -- and depressing. Untreated depression is a huge issue for older folks in the U.S.

Judy: Amen.

Member: I keep telling my kids to NOT ever let me get this way.

Dan: You may live to eat those words. It's amazing how people swear they won't act like their parents and then do; they can't help it. I act more like my mom every day.

Judy: You're welcome. :)

Member question: First of all, I'm 18 years old. I have problems with my family. They blame every little thing on me; I get yelled at for nothing. I do something and it's not the way they want it to be done, I get yelled at, and a whole bunch of other things. I want to move out of the house because I have depression from it and I just can't stand being home. I told my parents plenty of times that I want to move out; they say, "Don't even say that." Since I'm 18 years old, do I have a right to get my own place or move in with someone even if my parents disapprove?

Dan: YES, you have the right to move out. You're an ADULT. You've reached an age when you should be listening to your parents, taking their views into consideration, and then MAKING UP YOUR DAMN MIND. Move, move, move. It doesn't sound like they want you at home much anyway, despite what your mom claims.

Judy: You can move out when you are 18. You have to stop worrying about what they think. They obviously don't worry about you.

Dan: But, hey, about depression -- you may be depressed from the treatment you're getting at home or you may be blowing things out of proportion because you're depressed. Get your own place and see someone about being depressed.

Judy: The adult behavior is to move and start taking care of yourself.

Dan: Parents do shout at their teenagers, right mom? That's pretty normal.

Judy: A counselor can help you sort it all out -- whether you are depressed or the situation is the problem. You and your parents might get along much better if you don't live together. Right, Dan?

Dan: Right. Adults are controlling, and when you have kids, or you are a kid, and suddenly everyone in the house is an adult, no one is the kid anymore. Well, it's not a recipe for peace, is it?

Judy: Amen.

Member question: Hi, I have a 16-year-old daughter who never did a "chore" in her life. No dishes, taking out trash, she does not even pick up after herself daily, leaves her personal articles, trash, etc., all over the living room, dining room, etc. I have to tell her numerous times to do something and it MIGHT get done. I end up picking up after her daily because I can't stand to look at it! The biggest problem that we argue over is the statement she likes to make when I tell her "this is my house." She feels because I "rent" and do not "own" this home I "have no right to tell her how I want to keep it." (CLEAN). I try to explain to her it's my "household," which I think is basically the same as saying "it's my house" and this is how things are going to be done. Her bedroom is "uninhabitable", trash, clothes, dishes, etc. but MOM has NO say because this is HER room! I need some HELP!

Dan: Let her room be her room. My mom let us live like pigs in our rooms, and her neat-freak thing stopped at the doors to our bedroom. It helped keep the peace. But that line about you renting, I'm sorry, that is classic 16-year-olds' logic, and when she hauls it out, you should laugh in her face. Or, heck, get your landlord to come by, the person who actually owns the house, and ORDER HER TO CLEAN UP.

Judy: You have created a monster by picking up after her when you can't stand it.

Dan: Mom's right. Just pick up what she drops and toss it in her room. And if she leaves shared areas a mess, bar her from using them. And, remember, this will end shortly.

Judy: You are the parent and the adult. She is the child, I mean the teen, who needs to live by the rules of the house. I don't hear that you have rules. Anything she leaves around I would toss out -- not more to her room, toss out. Or have her start paying for a cleaning lady.

Dan: I hear her letting herself be dragged into arguments about the legitimacy of the rules. You don't have to reason with your teenager. Lay down the law. But leave her some space of her own, her room, where she's the boss, and can do what she likes. Her bedroom is not a reflection on you.

Judy: It doesn't sound like the two of you can have a constructive conversation re: the house and rules. Why don't the two of you go to a counselor who can help you write rules together and facilitate the beginnings of a talking relationship? That is as much of a talking relationship one can have with a 16-year-old. Remember she won't be 16 forever.

Dan: You talk, she sulks. But she has to listen. It is YOUR house.

Judy: I do support the pigsty bedrooms Dan referred to. Common areas of the house are another issue.

Dan: Well, I wouldn't say you supported them, mom. You endured them. Tolerated them. And look at me today: Neat as a pin.

Judy: I did tolerate them. But my plan backfired. I thought that as my kids got older they would adhere to my cleanliness ways. Wrong. Some of them seem to view the world as their bedrooms! Not Dan, of course.

Dan: Of course. I have Terry to clean up after me.

Judy: And I have Jerry to cook for me.

Member question: The family member who is driving me nuts is my "older" sister. I put older in quotes because she's only older chronologically. We come from a very dysfunctional family with almost every kind of abuse there is. She was allowed to marry when she was 13 (no that's not a typo). That marriage was very abusive physically and emotionally. She is now living in the same city as I do and I'm helping her financially and emotionally. The problem is that she got herself deep in debt by using credit cards. She asked us to help her so, of course, we did. I made a budget with her and she vowed to stick to it as closely as possible. Not! She has been using her check card to spend money and then lies about it. We are more than willing to help but she needs to take some responsibility also. She keeps spending anyway even though she promised not to. I'm at my wit's end and my husband is fuming. How can I be a good sister and help her?

Dan: By refusing to bail her out anymore. She won't learn to stand on her own two feet so long as you're willing -- and your whole family is willing -- to play the role of crutches. Stop it -- stop listening to her yak about her problems, and stop bailing her out, and don't give her any money.

Judy: By helping her financially, I hope you don't mean you are giving her money or bailing her out of her problems. The most loving thing you can do is get her to a credit counselor. Support her emotionally, and encourage a new way of life but don't give her a cent.

Dan: There is, mom, a point at which you can stop listening to someone, even a sister, talk about her problems. She knows how you feel, you've given her advice, and she chooses to ignore it. So tell her you're done with the subject.

Judy: If she continues to lie, tell her you can't be involved in any way with her problem. Sad, but the only thing you can do.

Member question: I have been a widow for seven years and have met someone very nice, but my children will not accept this new relationship and I am torn. My children's ages are 23, 22, and 18. The oldest two are on their own. I would like to sell my home and move in with this person but my children will not cooperate. This situation makes me very depressed. Please help.

Dan: Well, it would help to know why your children object to this man. Hopefully they don't object to the idea of you dating again, or having a relationship. But if they have cause to worry -- How long have you known this man? -- you would do well to hear them out. There are men out there who prey on widows, take 'em for what they're worth...

Judy: It's your life. As much as you would like your children to "cooperate," that might not be in the cards. It's your home and your decision to sell and move or not to.

Dan: Mom, I agree, but adults in love, even moms in love, sometimes need help seeing clearly. Love is blind, even if the person in love is someone's mom.

Judy: Take your time and look carefully at the whole situation. Ask some friends and relatives what they think. If others are leery of your choice, think twice before making the move.

Dan: I would be against her selling her house and moving in with this man -- with all the money -- if they've only been dating a short time. What's the rush? But, yes, my mom's right; ultimately you have to make the choice to make this move, and your kids can't stop you, really. Just make damn sure it's the right choice, and don't rush in to "prove" your kids were wrong about this guy or to punish them for having the guts or wisdom to challenge you.

Judy: I agree, Dan. I wouldn't want her to move if this is a new relationship. But I've seen kids be very difficult (not you or your siblingss) when the widowed parent wants to date and get on with life. The spouse of the deceased grieves differently than do the children.

Member question: What can I do about a mother that won't back off? My husband and I have been married for almost 15 years, have had a lot of problems along the way and now I want to have a baby. He is undecided. My mother, however, keeps hammering me about how my husband needs to get a better job and be OK with having a baby. I am stressed out enough just trying to deal with my marital problems (which I do not discuss with my mother on purpose) without her making it worse by pushing me and telling me I have to push my husband. What is a good solution to this?

Dan: If you're having marital and financial troubles, gee, maybe this isn't the best time to have a baby. Maybe your mom is concerned that she'll end up raising it. On the other hand you're an adult, you can do what you like -- seems to be the theme of this chat, doesn't it, Mom?

Judy: Whether or not she is giving you good advice, I get the impression that you have not invited her into the situation.

Member: No, she butts in like a bull!

Dan: Butt back like a bullfighter.

Judy: Tell her your china shop is off limits.

Dan: And you don't have to invite her to hammer you, either. She can't hammer if you're not there to be hammered, so to speak. And you can't be pushed if she can't get close enough to push you. So maybe you need some space right now, and you should tell your mom as much.

Judy: If she "hammers" about lots of stuff and has for 15 years, I would tell her to back off and mind her own business. But, if what she is saying has merit, don't discard it just because of who is offering it.

Member: Good point. Thanks. I need to take a stand with her. Tell her that I have too much stress without feeling more from her.

Dan: Good luck.

Judy: Stand your ground.

Member question: I have a 4-year-old and 10-month-old boy who has taken to hitting his caregivers, when puts him in time out. We have taken privileges away and tried rewarding good behavior. My husband's response is "boys will be boys" and it is stressing me right out. Thanks for any help.

Dan: This is something you all need to work on. Small kids do hit, and everyone in their lives needs to reinforce the "not good" message.

Judy: Boys will be boys, but hitting is unacceptable. It's age-appropriate but now is the time to let him know that you don't approve of hitting.

Dan: I would also take a look at what kind of TV you're letting him watch. So much kid TV has a great deal of hitting -- from Powerpuff Girls to those awful Japanese shows. He's seeing it somewhere, learning it somewhere. Don't let him sit in front of the TV for hours watching people solve their problems with violence and then wonder why he's doing the same. And tell him he can be mad without hitting. He has a right to be mad, to be angry, and he can express it, just without his fists.

Judy: Teaching them to separate how they feel from what they can do is critical at this age. And they will understand, as long as you talk on a 5-year-old's level.

Member: No Powerpuff or Japanese shows -- just another boy in his class. Rocketpower and Rugrats mostly, only a half- to one hour a day, two or three times a week.

Dan: Well, that's nice to hear. Keep it up. If the other boy in his class is part of the problem, reach out to his parents and you and the teachers and the two sets of parents should all work on the problem together.

Judy: When he touches in a loving way, like hugging one of you, compliment him and say how good it feels.

Dan: And be cool about it. This is a common problem. Your son is not a budding Jeffrey Dahmer. This is normal boy stuff, like your husband says, but you have to be vigilant about flushing it out of him.

Member: Thanks. I will keep at it. Just wanted to hear another point of view. Have a nice day.

Moderator: Good luck!

Member question: My sister always leaves her child with me without asking me to watch her and it's hard for me to say no. How can I tell her with out being rude about it?

Dan: Uh, gee, you can tell her, straight up, and if she thinks it's rude, well what can you do? Just be direct: "Can't do it right now, sorry, and I would prefer you ask me in advance." But be nice to that little kid. Don't take your frustrations with your sister out on that innocent kid, OK?

Judy: Just tell her she's being rude. Be direct.

Dan: If you do get stuck with the kid, be nice to the kid, and firm with your sister that you're unhappy with her actions, not with her kid. If your sister freaks, well, that's her problem. She can't use you if you won't let her.

Judy: And don't do it within earshot of the child.

Dan: Right! It's not good for any kid to hear two adults arguing about who's going to get stuck with the kid.

Judy: She probably exhibits this behavior in many areas of her life and everybody buckles. You need to be the one to stand up to her.

Dan: Go get her, tiger.

Moderator: Thanks to Dan Savage and Judy Sobiesk for answering our questions. Be well!

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