Family Feuding through Facebook

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Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC offers advice on family planning and parenting, LGBT issues, disability issues, education and work issues, relationships, ethics and “unusual” social issues. Send questions to Tim for future columns through his website

Hi Tim,
My sister and I are in our 30’s, both have kids, and we are trying to organize a family reunion. We have a group on Facebook, but every time we seem to agree on a venue, somebody eventually objects and puts a kink in our plans. Some are ugly about it online, and this has led to my sister and I contradicting each other in the group which led to more ugly comments about us “control freaks,” then an argument between us, now it is 2 months before the planned date and we have not been speaking for 2 weeks! I know my sister has not been talking to anyone or making plans for location, etc. Is there any way to pull this thing off and have our families get together for the first time in five years, or should we just cut our losses and cancel altogether?
– Family Feuder

Hi Feuder,
I want to be honest with you up front. I am not a fan of the particular social media site you referenced. I have never had a personal page on it. There is only a basic contact site for this column. It always seemed phony and creepy to me, and exponentially more so after I learned of their deceptive research practices. That said, to each his or her own. I can suspend my personal bias and tell you that no matter what mode your communication, when it has been determined to not work multiple times, then drop it. I cannot remember how many times I have advised folks that some people cannot handle social media or texting, even if you can, and those people should quit or be quit; preferably, both.

You are trying to organize a simple event to unite and stay in touch with family members. Do just that. Keep in touch by calling or emailing them, possibly with a digital flyer. You could also start a website easily with very little cost, if you plan to repeat the event and this is a great way to avoid an overcrowded site with a lot of commenting and cattiness, but no real cooperative planning or participation. The key difference is that an invitation to call your phone, email you directly or visit a specifically purposed website is that the people who show up in those places, however fewer in numbers, are showing genuine interest in achieving a group objective and not simply bored or seeking a session of thumbercise to let off some steam and create multiple and confusing threads of messages.

We do not have to poll and review the enthusiasm away for every event in our lives. You asked around, got some date and location suggestions and you are donating your time and your best effort to accomodate as many invitees as possible. That should be enough. It is too easy for people on social media who invest nothing in an idea or group, and will likely never show up or help anyway, to carp and needle away at constructive suggestions, eventually polluting the entire discussion with doubt and exhausting participants who burn out and cancel.

Once you have some responses and a venue confirmed, maybe a live, real-time telephone call to your sister followed by a coffee or lunch date will help patch things up and you can ask for her help making this event a success.

Proud Granny

Hi Tim,
I am a proud middle-aged Mom to my gay son “Billy”, 22, and happy to show it. I have gone to Pride with him, my husband and I have always been very supportive and welcomed his boyfriend of 2 years, and we do everything we can short of joining PFLAG. I also have a very straight pair of older children, his brother and sister, who have two boys and a girl between them ages 6, 3 and 2. My other kids love Billy although we can tell they are uncomfortable around him since he came out at 18. They have spoken to me about limiting the time the kids spend with Billy when he is home from college on the weekends, the most popular time for the kids to visit, too.

I don’t know what to say, how do I limit their time together, the grandkids love Billy and he is great with them. Yes, he is “flamboyant,” I personally don’t understand what the big deal is, but they have sat down with me together and asked me to run interference when Billy is around, not let him talk about dating boys and such, because it would confuse them. Is this true? Please tell me what you think.
– Proud Granny

Hi Granny,
“Some boys love other boys and some girls love other girls, and they get married to each other and have their own children just like boys and girls marry each other and have children. No one can decide who to love or tell another person who to love, it just happens naturally. We are all the same no matter who we love, and more love just makes the world a better place.” – Tim White

You are welcome. Tell your grandchildren that and be done with it. If they even ask, tell them yes, Uncle Billy prefers to date men. Children are so remarkably open and intelligent. If there is any garbage or confusion or anxiety or fear you can set your watch by it; that stuff came from an adult. Perhaps via their own progeny at a shared day care facility or school, but the negative messages do not come from a child and his or her developing, inquisitive mind. They were absorbed as they swirled around in their environment, or in some cases were crammed in there intentionally. Tell your other kids, preferably together, that they either feel comfortable with their kids around Billy or they do not; you cannot police them around your house waiting to interrupt or tackle Billy to the ground if he uses the wrong pronoun or otherwise invokes the “G-word.” It is telling that they could not even talk directly to their own brother about the matter. Maybe you do not need to join PFLAG, but referring your straight kids to this resource may provide them with just the education they need to raise healthy, tolerant children.


Hi Tim,
I am a man in my 20’s with a good job and nice life. I grew up in a nightmare, with a drunken father and bipolar mother, they were both in and out of treatment for my entire childhood, with more drama than I could possibly describe from the time I can remember.

They have slowed down a little since they are getting older, and we have maintained a civil relationship with some healthy distance, but here is my problem. Whether I lose a job or a relationship doesn’t work out or I have to move or decide to go back to college and finish as I recently did, they never fail to make some comment about how they are mentally ill or alcoholic, even diabetic, and I most certainly will be, too. My mom will even take a piece of cake out of my hands and tell me she just saved my life. Any disappointment I try to share with them or even extended relatives ends in a sad prediction for my future life as unstable and unhealthy, when in fact that is not true. I am very healthy, I have never had mental problems, just garden variety boring life or transition issues, no more than anyone else. If everything is just a direct genetic guarantee, what is the point in trying any more to be happy?
– Doomed

Hi Doomed,
Please, please, please read this little snippet from the National Institutes of Health about genetic predisposition vs. genetic causation. It is one of the most misunderstood concepts I have encountered with clients for 20 years. This applies to all diseases so just put the names and labels aside for a few minutes and digest this information. Predisposition is not causation. You may be predisposed to a long list of conditions and never know because they may never be activated. Predisposition to this or that may increase your risk, but the actual development of a disease may depend on multiple other factors. The only person you should be listening to is your primary care physician. He or she will likely already know your medical history and be vigilant about testing or observation of any other symptoms that may be manifested. If not, make it clear that you want them monitored. Follow 100 percent of recommendations to decrease your risk. Do not spend the rest of your otherwise happy life waiting for the other gene to drop.

You are not your parents or any extended family members. Their persistent “concerns” are far less about medicine and science than they are about their struggles with guilt, insecurities, anger, jealousy, and mortality among who knows what else. Your parents may be unhappy or even depressed about their circumstances and past poor choices, and other family members may be doing the same or misdirecting their anger at your parents. They get emotionally immature needs met by undermining your success and happiness, bringing you “back to reality” with their paltry predictions. Tell them to cancel the medical amateur hour routine immediately, unless they want the civil relationship you share to gain even more distance.

Fit Fretter
I am a girl, 16 and I was overweight in my early teens, but I transitioned to vegan and eat healthy and exercise and I lost over 60 pounds. Now I am fit and feel great, but the change has really made me more aware of my family’s issues. My parents and 2 brothers are all overweight, eat junk and drink soda and exercise very little. I want to help them change their lifestyles, but they are so defensive if I even bring it up. They tell me to butt out of their business and focus on myself. How can I help my family get healthy without embarrassing or upsetting them?
– Fit Fretter

Hi Fit Fretter,
You are in an awkward position. We know that parent’s healthy choices and lifestyles can positively affect their children, but what to do when the child gets there first and cannot make the family budge? First of all, congratulations on getting healthier, and what a noble effort to bring your family on board. Good luck with the vegan conversion. I have been unsuccessful so far converting family members to vegetarian. If you win over even one family member consider it your piece de resistance. Small victories would likely be more realistic. 

Be mindful of your language. People who are overweight know it; they do not need you to remind them. Anything that begins with “You should…” or “You need do…” or “You would look so good if…”will not work. Please do not play the diet or health expert and lecture or quiz about food choices, exercise or health problems. Likewise, do not play the trainer and threaten weigh-ins, or suggest shopping for “goal clothes.” Let them figure out the details on their own. Lifestyle choices are just too personal and coaching can be met with some tenacious resistance. 

What you can do is provide a living example. Work out extra hard, make your own meals ahead but eat with the family to show them how manageable change can be. Be happy and celebrate your success; get out and socialize and have new experiences. Let them try your cooking, invite them to run, swim or workout, do a charity run/walk together or go to a healthy restaurant. When they see the results of you eating healthier and being more active they may eventually be inspired to make changes of their own.

Editor’s Note: The opinions offered in this blog are the author’s alone. Tim White, and any experts he may consult and/or quote in responses to letters, will never provide medical or psychological advice, diagnoses, treatment, or counseling of any kind. General advice, opinions, and suggestions may be offered with no obligation on the part of readers to accept or act upon the content published within this column. Anyone in immediate crisis and/or mental/physical distress should call 911 or related resources of assistance.

Photo courtesy zeevveez, licensed under Creative Commons

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