Dear Carolyn: I am in my 30s and live on the opposite coast from my family. We speak about once a month and exchange casual emails. Our relationship is generally fraught and I have gone years at a time without more than cursory communication with them.
I got divorced this year; it was as amicable as possible. I decided to try being open with my parents about it, and they ramped up our communication to phone calls every other week and more frequent emails. They also gave me a significant sum of money to clear some debts, which I did not solicit but have really appreciated, and they know it.
I had wondered when I'd have to pay for their kindness, and the answer is now. They think I should give up my career and life here and move back in with them. I've refused this, but we had agreed I would come stay with them for Thanksgiving week. My sister, who lives locally, will also be staying there with her cats.
. I was prepared to grit my teeth and get through Thanksgiving to show my thanks for the money and try to improve our relationship, but not if I'm expected to play second fiddle to some cats and arrange my future to my parents' convenience. I feel like I'm being blackmailed.
How do I handle my parents? I need to begin repaying this money, right?
More Important Than My Sister's Cats
Yes, you do, in the biggest installments you can manage.
More important, though, you need to recognize that taking offense reflexively at each bizarre thing your parents say is undermining your goal of getting along with them.
Instead, take a step back and look at your mom's call in the context of your years of tetchy relations. You might instead see her whole detour into cat psychology as a convenient proxy for her fear this visit won't go well.
Couldn't it be that your parents are fretting (anachronistically) about your social and financial place in the world post-divorce and their subsequent duty toward you?
Assume instead they're trying their best — and remain focused on your let's-all-get-along goal