Dear Annie: I am a single father with sole custody of my 8-year-old son, "Brad." My ex-wife, "Nancy," used to have a constant stream of people drinking and using drugs in her home, and she often took late-night car rides while intoxicated. I did not want to expose Brad to that lifestyle, but I did not discourage the relationship.
Of course, Nancy never stuck with the visitation days, paid less than six months of child support, had several of her men friends threaten me, and once had me arrested for domestic violence. I found it necessary to distance myself from her, and Brad and I did not see or hear from Nancy in three years.
Two weeks ago, I saw Nancy at the grocery store. She proceeded to give me all the details about her life. I was polite, but distant. Last week, at the same store, Nancy came up to me and said she would like to see Brad. I pulled out his most recent school picture. She gave me a withering look and said she meant in person. I knew exactly what she meant, but am reluctant to permit it. Now, Nancy's parents, whom I have not seen in ages, have started calling my parents, asking for my phone number. (I am unlisted.) Nancy also calls my office every day, asking to see Brad.
Should I allow her to have contact again? Brad was 5 years old the last time he saw his mother and barely remembers her. My dread is that Nancy will give him false hope that she is back in his life, and then she'll disappear again. I don't think I could bear that. Any advice? Dad in Nevada
Dear Dad: In most instances, it is best for the child to have a relationship with both parents. It also is possible Nancy has changed in the past three years. After all, she is going through a lot of effort to speak to you. And keep in mind, if she takes you to court, you will likely have to permit visitation anyway.
Talk to Nancy about her obligations as a parent and how important it is that she not abandon her child. Make it clear how emotionally damaging it can be if she does not live up to her responsibilities. Discuss the situation with Brad, so he understands that his mother went through some rough times, but she still loves him and wants to see him. Then talk to your lawyer about setting up a supervised visit.
Dear Annie: I am a 32-year-old woman. I love my family more than words can say, but I have a hard time with my mother. Mom is always saying she is sick, hurting or tired, and she is often so medicated I can hardly stand to be around her. Mom does have some real health issues, and I know she is sometimes in pain, but the real problem is she refuses to help herself feel better.
Mom should be out walking, even if it is only for a few minutes. Does she? No. She should watch what she eats, but does she? No. I love my mom, but I cannot deal with the way she ignores her health. I have talked to her about it, but I swear I can see the words flying out her other ear. Help! Washed Out in Washington
Dear Washington: You cannot force another adult to change his or her behavior, no matter how distressing. Talk to Mom's doctor, and ask him or her to intercede. Invite Mom over for dinner now and then, so she eats something healthy. Offer to take walks with her. There is, unfortunately, little else you can do.
Dear Annie: This is about the guy who said his dad shouldn't be driving. I had the same problem with my dad. I called the secretary of state's office, and they sent me a form to fill out. When they called Dad in for retesting, he didn't pass, and they took away his license without bringing up my name. Bob in Michigan
Dear Bob: Thanks for the helpful suggestion. Readers, take note.
XE-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to: Annie's Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, Ill. 60611.