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June 2012
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Symptoms of abusive streak

Dear Annie: I have a friend I've known for at least 15 years. A month ago, I invited her and her husband for dinner. When both of my kids told me they didn't want her over, I couldn't believe it. I asked why. I told them that she's always been good to them and she'd love to see them, especially my son, who has been away at college.

My son told me she isn't really my friend, that she only pretends she is because she thinks I am an abusive parent and she feels sorry for my kids. Apparently, she has felt this way for years, ever since my daughter was having a birthday party and I wouldn't let her have cake because she wouldn't eat her dinner. He also relayed her thought that I am a horrible parent because I won't play games with my kids. I have a really bad fear of playing games with people, which is no different from being scared of snakes or being claustrophobic.

I asked my daughter whether this is the reason she doesn't want this woman over, and she said yes. She said the only reason she did not tell me about this sooner was that she didn't want to hurt my feelings. I asked myself and my kids, "Am I really abusive?"

Both of my kids told me that I am a little stricter than the average parent and have a tendency to scream a lot, but not more than most parents when they're angry about what the kids did or did not do.

I'm still going to have dinner with this woman. After dinner, the children will probably take off and go to their rooms, as they truly don't want anything to do with her anymore. I thought I would confront her after dinner and give her a chance to explain why she has tried to turn my children against me. I really did think she was my friend for so many years.

Do you think this is the right course of action? -- Hurt and Confused in Kansas

Dear Hurt: Yes, talk to your friend -- but think of it as a conversation rather than a confrontation; otherwise, you're setting yourself up for a hostile interaction. Give her a chance to explain herself. There's a lot to be said for hearing it from the source. You might want to go for a walk or out for coffee, to be in a neutral space and away from the kids.

And I would suggest looking inward. Is it possible you do raise your voice too loudly and too often? I know we all lose our cool from time to time, but there are better ways to get one's point across than yelling.

Dear Annie: In response to "Grieving for Snoopy," you printed "The Rainbow Bridge," a poem by Steve and Diane Bodofsky. I know that the poem was written with good intentions, but it never did a thing for me. The best advice to give a grieving pet owner, in my opinion, is to suggest that when she's ready, she should go find that special dog or cat waiting at a local animal shelter. It won't be "the same," but it will be an individual with a unique, lovable nature. I still miss my old dog from way back when, but I no longer grieve.

Five years ago, we reluctantly took care of a kitten. It was "just for a while" because we didn't want a cat. Now he's the heart of our family, the mellowest of fellows. As Mark Twain said, a house is not a home without a cat. Or a dog. -- Kay from New Paltz, N.Y.

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