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Ask Amy: I’ve tried to set boundaries


Dear Amy: I was adopted as an infant and found my birth mom when I was in my 30s. She had gotten pregnant in high school and gave birth to me at 17.

We lived in different parts of the country and after I found her, we saw each other once a year for over a decade until she died suddenly last year.

After her death, her brothers and sisters, who I’d only met once before, started regularly calling, sending constant texts and inviting me to family holiday dinners and on family vacations.

I don’t feel a connection to them, don’t consider them family, and find it very uncomfortable to be around them.

What do I owe them? (And what do I owe to my birth mother?)

Is there a way to limit contact without being unkind?

– Dis-connected

Dear Dis-connected: You ask what you owe to these biological family members.

My answer is that you don’t owe them anything – but the fact that you see the connection this way reveals the guilt you seem to be carrying. What an unfair burden!

You also don’t owe your late birth mother anything. You found her, connected with her, and seem to have accepted her distant position in your life. If there is any unfinished business left to conduct, it would only be to accept this teenager’s long-ago choice to place you up for adoption and – if necessary – forgive her for it.

These other biological family connections are bound to bring up ambivalent feelings, and it is completely within your rights to distance yourself from them.

I suggest that you communicate a polite version of: “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

You can do this by saying, “I am glad that I found my birth mother and was able to get to know her. You are so kind to keep in touch and to want to include me in so many family events, but at this point, this makes me quite uncomfortable. I have your contact information and know how to reach you, but for now I’d like to regain some privacy. Thank you for your attitude of kindness and inclusion.”

Dear Amy: I have an intrusive neighbor that refuses to acknowledge my non-verbal signals when I don’t want to have a conversation.

I live on a very friendly street and have a casual relationship with most of my neighbors.

The lady next door always insists on interrupting me whenever I am outside. She enjoys sharing her opinion about my yard and garden.

It’s gotten to the point where if I go outside and see her, I promptly turn around and go to the privacy fenced backyard or go inside and wait for her to leave.

I’ve tried to set boundaries. I have told her directly that I don’t want to chat when I’m in the middle of mowing my lawn, but she will stand in front of my lawn mower and force me to stop.

What can I say to this woman to be left alone?

– Intruded Upon

Dear Intruded Upon: You seem capable of delivering a direct statement to your neighbor (good for you), and so let’s borrow a technique from my favorite nursery school teachers, and kick it up a notch.

Try saying, “I need you not to come into my yard. Can you agree to respect the boundary between our properties?”

Ending with a question should inspire a positive response. If not – or if this intrusion continues – you might need to ask a lawyer to draft a letter reminding this neighbor not to trespass onto your property.

You can then post a small “no trespassing” sign at the edge of your yard. Further intrusions might necessitate a call to your sheriff’s non-emergency line to ask their advice.

Dear Amy: “Living a Lie” said he had lied about being a Vietnam War veteran for the last 50 years. He has been carrying a burden of guilt for all of that time.

I am a decorated Vietnam veteran.

With that said, I wish I could sit down with Living a Lie, talk with him, and forgive him.

This man accepted his draft notice. He didn’t flee to Canada like some of my friends did. He took his physical and would have served, had he been able.

He doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of in my book.

– Michael, in Fort Wayne, Indiana

Dear Michael: The outpouring of compassion and support to “Living a Lie,” especially from Vietnam veterans like you, has been truly inspiring.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)


Amy Dickinson , 2024-05-20 10:30:35

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