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Posted on Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 5 a.m.

Daughter feels forced relationship with "aunt" is unreasonable

By Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn:

My mother's college friend was one of those family friends you refer to as "aunt." I see her usually at Easter, Christmas and random family events. I do not chat with her beyond that. I am in my 30s and it has always been this way.

My dilemma: My mother will prompt me and sibs to communicate with her. This has become more frequent since both of their mothers died. If she is lonely it can't hurt to send a card, but my mother also requests that we get her Christmas gifts, drop notes, etc. This is the only person she requests this of.

I am not close with this "aunt," and have found her increasingly uncomfortable to be around (she feigns a closeness that isn't there, and has asked -- in all seriousness -- for my husband and me to try to have kids around her birthday so she would feel special).

I'm not sure why these requests rub me the wrong way, but they do. My mother is usually a very reasonable person, but with regard to this friend can become illogical and emotional. I'm not sure if it is one of those things I should just suck up or if I should speak up.

-- Forced "Aunt"

Celebrate excess, choose both.

For a usually reasonable mom, indulging one irrational, mildly inconvenient request makes a thoughtful gift. Drop the occasional note.

But also act on your very legitimate interest in knowing the reason behind your mom's request. To help bypass her defenses, declare upfront that you're not going to fight her on this, you'll keep in touch with not-Auntie, because it's obviously important to your mom and your mom is important to you.

Then ask one thing of her in return: that she helps you understand why it's so important to her.

Your mother is entitled to some degree of privacy, so provide an example to demonstrate just how vague an answer will satisfy you -- say, "Maybe she did something for you many years ago, and this is something you can do for her?" Acquiring that missing bit of logic can turn a bizarre chore into a kindness that enriches you all.

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Dear Carolyn:

My mom is out of remission for ovarian cancer, and I am concerned for her health and quality of life. But she also is acting extremely childishly and not making good health decisions. My brother and his wife, who live closest, are trying to bully/coerce/shame my mother into doing the right thing. My mother reacts by having fits, crying, and saying everyone is "mad" at her.

I tell her she is an adult and is responsible for those decisions and their consequences. But I feel heartless saying that because I do want her to get better. How can I find some enduring compassion -- without feeling shame about correcting her for behaving like a spoiled toddler?

-- Childish cancer mom

First the cancer tells her what to do, then her kids do. Compassion is there for the feeling, no?

Instead of correcting her, express love and respect for her autonomy, please, for as long as she's lucid: "I don't want to lose you, Mom, but if you want me to back off, I will." As always, a local hospice provider can counsel your family; please call.

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