Parents punish adult kids with silence

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Dear Amy: My siblings and I are all middle-aged, married and live relatively close to our parents. I was the last to marry, so during my single years I bore witness to my parents' continued hurt that my brothers and sisters all "forgot" about them in adulthood.

My parents were hurt that my siblings only contacted them when they needed money or a favor. They complained that the only times they ever saw their children was when the spouse was in tow or for holidays. Through the years, it seems my parents "take turns" being furious and not speaking to one sibling after another.

After I got married I went out of my way to make it a point to call them, have them over for dinner or stop in on occasion without my husband with absolutely no agenda beyond saying hello. After a few years of being "the good daughter" I realize that my parents have never called my home or invited my spouse and me to their home. Maintaining contact has fallen upon my shoulders. During my visits I still hear how upset they are with my siblings. Now, although I have tried my hardest to please them I am now on the "receiving" end of the silent treatment.

I do not want to be like my siblings and write them off, but I am at the point that I can understand how the relationships became this way. I am very hurt by how my parents treat me. I have tried to say something in the past, and it just makes their attitude toward me worse, so I have let it go. My parents are getting up there in years and not in the best of health. I am really in a no-win situation here and have no idea what to do.

— Still the Good Daughter

Dear Daughter: The dynamic your parents have established requires that one child after another must be punished. You now realize that your behavior doesn't really make a difference in their treatment of you, and so I suggest that you only need to make one change. This will be internal; no one else is likely to notice it, but you will feel completely different.

You need to start to do what you want to do. If you want to visit your parents, then do so — with joy. If you want to stay away for a while, then do that. Your folks may fuss and blacklist you, but they are already doing that. Your attitude will help to set you free. It will also make you less susceptible to your parents' machinations because you will see that it takes two parties to engage in emotional blackmail — one to blackmail and the other to tacitly agree to it.

The goal is to liberate you enough to be authentic and truthful in your own life, while also being accepting and forgiving of them — because you cannot change them at this point. I recommend the book "Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You," by Susan Forward (1998, William Morrow).

Dear Amy: With the holiday season here, I wanted to give some gift ideas for people living in nursing homes. Photo albums or scrapbooks are always appreciated; these should be labeled with who is in the photo and also the relationship to the person (helpful for those with memory problems and for reminiscing).

Greeting cards are helpful when they are addressed and ready to send. CD players with favorite CDs. Playing cards, lotions, ChapStick, gripper socks, soft blankets, smaller lap-size blankets, fresh flowers every month for the year, a magazine subscription or a treat of live musical entertainment.

I hope these ideas are helpful.

— Long Term Care Nurse

Dear Nurse: The giving season doesn't stop today — these suggestions are great.

Dear Readers: I want to wish everyone a very merry Christmas. I know this time of year can be challenging, sad and stressful for many — but it is my fervent hope that each of us can reach down deep and recover some of the hope, light and joy that this season represents.

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