If It Were Me | April 2016

By Elizabeth Oates

Have Questions?

Hello, friends, and welcome back to the Wacoan’s new monthly advice column. As a wife and mother of four, I am excited to read to your questions and share my thoughts on whatever trials you might be facing relating to marriage, family, parenting or general women’s issues. What qualifies me to dish out my opinion? Good question! I earned a master’s in marriage and family studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, although I admit this means nothing in the real world. Ha! I have studied harder in the school of life than I ever did in seminary.

Over the past eight years I have mentored countless young women and I have heard it all — nothing shocks me. Do you a have question you need answered? Go ahead and send it in. That’s what I would do … if it were me.

Q: My sister-in-law is super competitive. Every time we get together she tries to one-up me, whether it’s flaunting her new Coach purse or bragging about the Alaskan cruise her family took last month. It’s getting to the point where I dread getting together for family holidays and events. — J.M.

Dear J.M.,

When you married your husband, you married his whole family … for better or for worse. That being said, competitive relatives can make for some rough family get-togethers, so you need to have a game plan. First, you must figure out the motivation behind your sister-in-law’s behavior.

Is your SIL insecure? If so, what she is searching for is affirmation. Instead of rolling your eyes at her latest Prada purse (or was it Coach — it’s so hard to keep track), try complimenting her. Instead of dreading the play-by-play account of her last vacay, ask to see pictures. Slowly she’ll start to see you as a friend instead of a competitor.

Is she self-centered or arrogant? If so, then according to “experts” the proven tactic is for you to brag about your accomplishments. Arrogant people only respect other arrogant, confident people; they have no reverence for the humble. If you take the high road and don’t point out your own awesomeness, they’ll walk all over you.

Personally, I am not in favor of the boasting tactic, even if it earns you respect. I think it’s shallow and immature. I vote for a different option if your sister-in-law is of the arrogant species. As I tell my children: Just walk away.

If you don’t want to listen to her endless babble, tell her you need to check on your kids or the casserole in the oven and then make your way to another, friendlier relative. Over time she’ll either take the hint or she won’t, but either way you hold the power to indulge her braggadocious behavior or not. You can’t change her — you can only change whether or not you tolerate her.

Q: My co-worker and friend is on the brink of divorce. She confides in me every day at lunch, and I’m not sure what I can do to help. It keeps me up at night, and I am starting to feel stressed out for her. Any suggestions? — Helpless in Hewitt

Dear Helpless in Hewitt,

I commend you for being such a good friend and caring so deeply for your co-worker. That being said, I want to offer you a word of advice before I address your friend’s situation. You need to make sure you don’t become your friend’s unprofessional, unofficial counselor. No one else’s problems should keep you awake at night.

It’s time to draw some healthy boundaries so you are not serving as her sounding board every single day. Decide how many times per week is a healthy number for you to eat with her before you start feeling overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted. Then the other days either go out to eat with another friend, take a walk or run some errands — anything to get out of the office and catch your breath.

But that wasn’t your question, was it?

The best thing you can do for your co-worker and friend is offer a listening ear and moral support. Many times we feel like we need to provide answers and fix the problem, when in reality our presence is our present. If you still want to do something tangible for your friend, here are some ideas:

Take her dinner one night. Chances are she hasn’t felt like cooking and a home-cooked meal communicates thoughtfulness and caring.

Buy her a mani-pedi gift certificate. She is in the middle of a crisis and a little self-care will nourish her soul and show her you care.

Contact a friend or your church for a list of counselors. She needs a trained professional to give her insight into her situation, and maybe her husband will agree to go to counseling with her. You said they were “on the brink of divorce,” which I interpret as headed in that direction, but not there yet. There is still hope for this couple to work through their issues and come out on the other side even stronger.

Blessings to you as you minister to your friend.

Q: My dad, a widower, recently retired. He doesn’t have many hobbies and doesn’t have a lot of friends either, and he’s having trouble filling his time. I am married, work full time and have three children of my own. So while I love my dad and want to support him, I can’t be responsible for entertaining him every day. — Jennifer

Dear Jennifer,

First of all, you can start by not using the words “entertaining him” when you talk about your dad. He’s not a toddler — he’s a grown man. So before you do anything, make a mental shift. Right now it sounds like you view your dad as a burden instead of a blessing. You have already lost one parent; don’t forget to appreciate the parent who is still here.

You never state specifically what your dad expects from you. Could you be jumping to conclusions? Ask yourself, “What can I reasonably offer my dad?” Can you call him every other day and on the opposite days have your kids call him? How about offering a standing Sunday lunch after church?

One thing we do for our kids’ grandparents is at the beginning of every sports season, we email them a list of the kids’ games and give them an open invitation to come to any or all of them. If we have time afterward, we try to eat dinner or lunch together.

Also think about your family’s regular activities. If you take your kids to the park on a Saturday, invite your dad. If you go get ice cream on a Friday night, invite your dad. The point is not to carve out extra time you don’t have, but to include your dad in what you are already doing.

Especially post-retirement, older people struggle with finding purpose in life. If your dad doesn’t have any hobbies, then maybe you can help him find one. Start with your kids’ interests. If your daughter is on the swim team, ask your dad to take her to practice. He might discover he likes water aerobics or swimming laps.

Could your dad volunteer? Organizations such as Meals & Wheels, Christian Men’s Job Corps, Storybook Christmas, Mission Waco, American Cancer Society, Fuzzy Friends Rescue, Friends for Life and many more are always looking for volunteers. He can go to volunteermatch.org to learn more about which organizations might fit his interests and skill set.

I realize this might take some hand-holding at first. Many men are not as inclined to get involved in their church or community as their wives were. I suggest you volunteer alongside him at first until he is comfortable. Not only will that ease him into his new season of life, but it will give you some quality time with your dad.

Remember, this is an adjustment period. It will take everyone some time to adapt to the new normal. Balance your truth with compassion toward his needs.

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