Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom. Each week, we offer a problem for you to weigh in on, then publish the most lively responses, with a final word on the matter delivered by our columnist, Lynn Coady.
A reader writes: My baby-boomer parents are both wonderful, intelligent people. As an adult I've become close friends with them, and generally love spending time with them. However, on evenings when they consume alcohol they always drink too much. After a few drinks, they often begin to act childish - or worse, can become opinionated and rude. I want my parents to get to know my friends, and they do, too, but usually I avoid introducing them for fear that my parents will humiliate me and I will become angry. How can I cope with my own discomfort without making my parents - whom I love - feel that I am judging them?
Accept them or avoid them
Your parents do not humiliate you. You, however, may feel humiliated. It is doubtful at this point that your parents are about to change. As a consequence you appear to have two choices: Accept them as they are, or continue to avoid introducing your friends to them. I wonder whether there was an occasion growing up where you felt humiliated and upset in some situation involving your parents and your peers. If so, if you consider it in the context of your adult existence you might see it as being insignificant and potentially amusing. Once you take responsibility for your reactions you can do something constructive about them.
-Alan Gorman, Toronto
Be happy they're not dead
Having lost both my parents early in life, I am envious of your problem. I have a special place in my heart for all the parents of friends whom I've been lucky enough to spend time with. You'll probably find that your friends will be less judgmental of your parents than you are. If alcohol is a problem, then make the first introductions over tea/coffee and desserts. If alcohol is going to be served, forewarn your friends and allow them to be honest if they are not inclined to repeat the experience. When your parents have passed away, what you feel now may seem trivial.
-Darby Brown, Kitchener
Maintain a distance
It's wonderful that you have a strong, positive relationship with your parents, and although it's nice that you want them to get to know your friends, is this really necessary? If yes, then plan a brunch. My mother and I share a strong bond, and we talk everyday, but I'm very aware of her ability to focus on the negative and she doesn't need to drink to appear very opinionated. So, for the most part, my world of friends and my family world rarely collide.
The Final Word
It's always interesting to tackle a letter from the what-isn't-being-said side of things. Not out of perversity, or out of a desire to fashion myself as some kind of psychoanalytic sage, but simply because a given letter writer's dilemma often doesn't come across as much of a head-scratcher by objective standards. So the problem-sufferer risks being dismissed as a doofus who can't see the solution in front of her nose.
My colleagues above have taken your problem at face value, however, which might account for the note of perplexity in their responses.
Alan says to accept your parents in all their boorish dipsomania or simply continue to avoid bringing round your friends.
Kim concurs, tossing in a thinly veiled "get over it" for good measure.
Darby points out it could always be worse: What if your parents were dead? (And come on, Darby, if interpersonal strife could be brought to an end simply by pondering the death of one's spouse/offspring/parents/boss I'd be prescribing it in these pages every week. Uncommunicative husband? Well, what if he croaked, how would you like that? Back-talking teen? Just hope she doesn't get hit by a car!)
Here's what I think.
On the face of things, this is a pretty easy solve: Don't visit your parents in the evenings - either with friends or alone.
But that isn't the problem - it's a symptom of a problem you've only hinted at, which is clearly a lot more complex.
The puzzle pieces are as follows:
1. Your wonderful parents habitually drink to the point where they are not so wonderful any more.
2. When this happens, they (again habitually) say things to you that you consider rude - things that would humiliate you if your friends were to hear them.
3. You don't particularly have any desire to confront them about this behaviour.
And it's No. 3 that has led to this whole "friends" red herring.
The problem isn't your relationship with your parents, it's with your friends, you say. Otherwise everything would be great, right? Your parents can drink until they become openly hostile toward you every time you go to visit them - no problem. At least no one would be present to witness this antagonism and wonder what on Earth is going on and why you refuse to acknowledge it.
Next week's question
A few months ago, I broke up with my boyfriend because I felt we weren't on the same page. While neither of us is looking for a lifetime commitment (we're both in our mid-20s), I want commitment in the here and now - not just monogamy but also "coupledom" - i.e. thinking of the other person when making plans.
He would often cancel plans, while I made lots of compromises to spend time with him. When I told him I needed stability, he said he couldn't change. So I ended it.
I missed him horribly, though, and when he came by to tell me he loved me very much, we decided to try again. But we quickly fell back into the old pattern. Is there a way to make this work, or should I call it quits for good?
Do you have an answer to this question, or your own dilemma? Weigh in at firstname.lastname@example.org and include your full name and hometown. (We will not print your name if we publish your personal dilemma.)
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy, with another one currently in the oven.