Magazine article Psychology Today

Unconventional Wisdom

Magazine article Psychology Today

Unconventional Wisdom

Article excerpt

HONOR THY FATHER (BUT HOW MUCH?)

My father died a few months ago, and he had a partner for the last 18 years, after my mother died. I first met the woman many years ago and I avoided her then. As his partner, she was unpleasant and rude to all three of his children, of whom I am the youngest. When my father became ill, she declined to care for him. I stepped up. and he died In my home. Some time after the funeral, which she asked us children to organize, I tried to visit her, but she slammed the door on me. I felt relief that we would not have this woman in our lives. But I am now troubled. I feel that to honor my father I should have some contact, although there is no guarantee she will welcome it.

HOW ADMIRABLE YOUR concern for honoring your father's memory and spirit. It is not uncommon for those who move into a stepparenting role to act with hostility toward even adult children. In part, it may be a defense against what they perceive or anticipate as a hostile attitude toward them by their partner's family. That doesn't excuse bad behavior; it may simply explain some of it. By the time we're adults, we're all in charge of our own actions and reactions. You can't control anyone's actions but your own. This is what you appear to be wrestling with-whether to act decently in accordance with your nature and your regard for your - father or to respond to the woman in kind. Follow your best instincts; you always have to live with yourself. Make the effort to visit. She may well be hostile, but you can't act in expectation of such an attitude; that would likely shape your actions in such a way as to elicit continued bad behavior from her. And here is where you may be able to do some good. Regardless of the woman's response, you can tell her that you would like to stay in touch and wish she would welcome occasional visits. At the very least, it could be a way of exchanging memories about your father and keeping his spirit alive. …

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