Dear Ann Cannon • At church I have to work closely with a woman I dislike. She really dislikes me, too. Other than practicing Christian kindness and humility, what are some pointers for working with someone in the most effective and least painless way when you hate being around each other?
Dear Frustrated • Well, in this specific instance, you might think about seeking out your priest/pastor/bishop/preacher/spiritual leader and asking her/him to reassign you and/or your church co-worker. (Wow! So many slashes!) Short of that, keep the contact you have with each other to the necessary minimum, relying on texts and emails to politely communicate whenever possible. Meanwhile, follow your own advice here. Do your best to opt for Christian kindness. And remember — you won’t have to work together forever.
Dear Ann Cannon • I am constantly asked whether I have children. I do not have children, which is a long and complicated and painful answer in itself. I definitely do not want to share the details of this life’s journey with strangers. I’d like to just say, “no,” and move on, but that tends to make the asker feel uncomfortable. Perhaps they sense a complicated history or just don’t know what to say.
Lately, I’ve been answering the question with “I have stepchildren,” mostly to alleviate the feelings of the asker. But I don’t define myself through my stepchildren and am not eager to enter a long conversation about their lives either.
I do sense that many people ask this question as an entry point to talk about their own children. What do you suggest as some other answers or workarounds for this endlessly painful question?
— Tired of Questions
Dear Tired • Thanks for writing. My guess is that more than one reader can relate to your situation.
I’m going to give you essentially the same advice I gave a reader whose son committed suicide. I think you can answer any way you want to, depending on the situation and your inclination in the moment. Smile and say “no” if you feel like it and leave it at that. Don’t worry about whether this will create a moment of awkwardness. The moment will pass, especially if you immediately follow up your response with a question about the asker’s children. The same holds true if you feel like saying yes, that you do, in fact, have stepchildren. Again, turn the focus away from yourself by following up with a question about the asker’s children. Just be prepared for the possibility that you might hear way more than you want to hear.
And now that I think about it, you don’t have to ask about other people’s children at all. Just give a brief friendly answer and then change the subject. Remember that you’re not obligated to share more personal information than you want to just because someone asks. Truly.
Dear Ann Cannon • My daughter has two children and has been divorced for seven years. Her children now want to spend most of their time with her ex-husband because the living situation is better at his home. I agree with my grandchildren for many reasons, but I want to continue to have a relationship with my daughter, who is devastated and feels like a failure. Any suggestions?
Dear Grandmother • Even under the best of circumstances, mothers can feel like failures. Feeling like failures is what mothers do. And right now, these are NOT the best of circumstances for your daughter. She’s in a tough place for sure.
How can you help? Reassure her whenever possible that she is a good mother, that she has been a good mother and that she can continue to be a good mother, even if her children ultimately decide to live with their father. You say that you understand your grandchildren’s reasons for wanting to do so, and, of course, a child’s welfare should be everyone’s first concern. But I’d resist the temptation to “help” your daughter see your grandchildren’s point of view right now. She’ll only hear that as criticism.
It’s hard to watch the people we love suffer. Unfortunately, we can’t always make things “all better” for them. Perhaps only the passage of time can do that. But we can always choose to express love and encouragement whenever possible.
Wishing you all the best.