Dear Ann Cannon • Every year, we visit my in-laws at Christmas; both are heavy smokers and when they visit us, my husband has banned them from smoking indoors because it stinks up the house for months after. At their house, the boot is on the other foot, and my mother-in-law makes a point of lighting up and even wafting her smoke in my direction. I always get sick after our visits, either from passive smoke inhalation or the long walks hubby and I take (usually in the rain) to get some fresh air into our lungs. Any ideas on broaching the subject without turning Christmas into a war zone?
— Smokeless in SLC
Dear Smokeless • Families! The good times just never end!
Because I don’t know how you get along with your in-laws generally, it’s hard for me to answer this question. I know smokers who don’t smoke in their own homes when they have visitors. Whenever I stay with a good friend of mine who smokes, for instance, she always takes her cigarette breaks outside, even though I really wouldn’t mind if she smoked inside when we’re together.
It sounds like your in-laws haven’t settled on this as an option when you stay in their home. But would they if you actually asked them to? Kindly? Respectfully? Even a little bit apologetically, given the fact that they aren’t allowed to smoke in your house? And, of course, by “you,” I mean “your husband.” They may be more inclined to listen to a son than to a daughter-in-law. And what if your husband tells his parents that you get sick (literally) after visiting them? Would that carry any weight?
Otherwise, sadly, I think you’ll just have to abide by the “my house, my rules” thing — just as they do when they stay with you and your husband. Of course, you could stay in a nearby motel when you visit. Or you could stop visiting your in-laws altogether. This might not help your relationship with them, but I can promise you it would definitely get their attention.
Dear Ann Cannon • How do I parent adult children?
— This Is So Much Harder Than I Thought It Would Be
Dear So Much Harder • Um, I’m still learning myself. It occurs to me, however, that while you shouldn’t treat your children like friends when they’re little — they need parents, not pals — that’s exactly how you should treat them when they’ve grown up. Do unto adult children as you would have your friends do unto you.
Dear Ann Cannon • My adult son and I are estranged. I’ve tried to reach out to him, but he has asked me to break off contact completely. My question is this: Do I honor his request for no contact? Or should I still try to keep in touch with him?
Dear Conflicted • First things first: I’m so sorry you find yourself in this position. It must be very hurtful for you.
OK. You haven’t provided information about the cause of your estrangement, which is fine. Knowing those details probably wouldn’t affect my answer anyway. So, here’s what I’m going to recommend. Give your son plenty of space for now. In other words, don’t show up on his doorstep or at his place of employment, even if you have a plateful of brownies. Don’t go nuts leaving him voicemail messages or filling up his email inbox.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t completely ignore him either. Do send your son the occasional handwritten note, letting him know you love him. Period. Resist the temptation to make him feel guilty, so don’t write stuff like “Can’t you see that you’re breaking your poor mother’s heart?!” As hard and as unfair as it may seem, he’s the one who gets to break off the estrangement.
If, after a while, your son invites you back into his life, just listen when he talks, especially at first. Don’t ask too many questions. Don’t give advice. Don’t try to tell him your side of the story. Not yet anyway.
Just … listen.
Wishing you the best.
Do you have a question for Ann? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Ask Ann Cannon page on Facebook.