While I'm away, readers give the advice.
On dealing with historically mean elders, Part 1:
K.G.: My cruel stepmother outlived my father. When he died, I thought I would be done with her. But I just couldn't do it.
My decision while she was living and as she neared the end was a version of warm civility. I called her on the phone to chat monthly, sent birthday and Mother's Day cards and visited when I was in her town. Did I really want to? No. Am I glad I did? Yes.
I realized years ago that she was who she was and that she was largely oblivious to the collateral damage of her behavior. It wasn't pleasant, but it wasn't about me either. So I just let it go.
Don't Tread on Me : In my own case, my husband's parents were vile (his word) to me before we married. I made only one token visit to them after we married and said, "Never again!"
I know this might be too extreme for most young people to pull off, particularly if children are involved. But they will have, sooner or later, as children come and their relatives age, the power in these relationships.
On people who don't say, "Thank you":
L.: I used to be "quirky" like that. My problem was that I felt overwhelmed with guilt if anyone gave me something because I believed I was unworthy — low self-esteem — and because I felt paralyzed by the sense that a mere "thank you" would be woefully inadequate to compensate the gift-giver for her kindness.
Basically, I felt enormous anxiety at receiving a gift, and responded by freezing.
Perhaps this will help people with normal self-esteem speculate why recipients of gifts can have a hard time looking at their givers in the eye, and expressing gratitude.