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Secrets, neglect make things worse

Dear Annie: I come from an extended family that is mostly successful. However, one of my cousins was born mentally and physically handicapped, and the family story is that her parents have incompatible blood types. However, they had another child 10 years later, even though they claim the doctor told them not to, and this child was born completely normal.

A few years ago, my mother disclosed that the cousin was really born with fetal alcohol syndrome. (My aunt drank heavily during that pregnancy.) However, whenever anyone broaches the subject, that person is verbally attacked by the entire family and written off as evil.

What bothers me is that my aunt has always shunned her first child while doting on the younger one. During family functions, my older cousin is mostly ignored. I feel I’m the only one who has real conversations with her and cares what she has to say. I am considering writing my cousin a letter to say that I know the truth and am so sorry she has been robbed of a normal life. The only problem is if she shares my letter with the rest of the family. How do I help my cousin and bring the truth to light without causing World War III?

— At a Standstill

Dear Standstill: You don’t need to expose your cousin’s condition to the rest of the family. They already know. Forcing it into the light will not help and may ostracize you, preventing you from being a source of support. Please keep listening and talking with your cousin, making her feel valued. Also contact the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (nofas.org) at 1-800-66-NOFAS. They offer resources that can help your cousin and also provide information for you in dealing with this.

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Dear Annie: My husband and I travel via RV six months out of the year. I often strike up conversations with strangers. My husband, who never initiates conversations with anyone, will then butt in and take over. He rambles on and on, always talking about what he’s done or where he’s been. He won’t let the rest of us get in another word. How can I make him stop?

— Jane in an RV

Dear Jane: There are myriad reasons why people interrupt and take over conversations: insecurity (the need to impress others), hearing loss (if he doesn’t let anyone else speak, he doesn’t have to respond to things he cannot hear), narcissism (no one else could possibly be more interesting than he is), control (you shouldn’t be making friends on your own), or simply cluelessness and anxiety. Talk to your husband, tell him how annoying and intrusive his behavior is, and explore the possibilities. He may not even realize he is monopolizing the conversation, so perhaps you could work on a signal to let him know when he needs to stop talking. He surely will not want others to find him boorish.

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Dear Annie: I have another response for “Paducah,” who said his relatives make a big deal about his alcohol consumption, but say nothing about overeating. He claims there is no difference between people who are addicted to alcohol and those who are addicted to food. It’s all addiction, and people should stop being hypocrites or making excuses for food addicts.

I’d like to tell him the “difference” is that people who overeat do not get in a car and kill some innocent person because their driving skills are impaired.

— Shreveport Lass

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Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Email your questions to [email protected], or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254. To find out more about Annie’s Mailbox and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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