By Debra Darvick
By Debra Darvick

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Dear Debra,

My mother-in-law is not just camera shy but camera phobic. She refused to be in any but one photo for our wedding album. Our son, age 4, has picked up on Grandma’s behavior and now refuses to be in any family photos. We gather often and like to have memories of each family event. I am really annoyed that my mother-in-law is influencing our son in such a way. I have engaged a professional for a family portrait (my husband, kids and me) and am afraid our son is going to act up for that, too.

— Out of Patience    

Dear Out,

Some people really don’t like the whole camera thing, and with the ever presence of cell phones and folks snapping every breathing moment, it can get quite intrusive. You didn’t mention your husband’s take on his mother’s stance, so I assume it’s either not an issue for him or he learned long ago to leave Mom alone on this.

Because you gather so often, how important is it that your son be in every photo? When the next Kodak moment comes around, instead of turning it into a tug of war quietly ignore your son. Take the picture with whomever is around and get back to socializing.

Don’t make a big deal about the family portrait in advance — no lectures about your expectations, no bribes for good behavior. The day of, get everyone dressed and state simply, “Today we’re having a family portrait.” Period. If your son begins to resist, let the photographer handle it. S/he will have a bag of tricks to get the best shot of everyone. The more you focus on the behavior you don’t want, the more you are going to get that very behavior. Not a pretty picture.

Dear Debra,

I am recovering from a serious illness. It is taking longer than I ever dreamed, but I know I am getting stronger and challenge myself to do a bit more each week.

The problem is my sister, who thinks that I should be “farther along in my recuperation.” Before I became ill, we had standing dates for long runs each week. My sister is approaching my recovery as if I’m in training, telling me to increase my distances and introduce intervals of fast walking and even jogging into my walking routine. I am simply grateful I can walk around the block.

Although I miss our runs, I am still adapting, emotionally and physically, to the limitations my illness has placed on my life for the time being. My whole world has been turned upside down and all my sister can think about is our next run. How do I tell her that things have changed and I am doing the best I can?

— Recovering at My Own Pace

Dear Recovering,

Short answer: “Sister, things have changed, and I am doing the best I can.”

But you wrote me for a longer answer, so here goes. Doubtless, your illness has set off all sorts of frightening thoughts for your sister as I’m sure it has for you. Instead of meeting you where you are, your sister is doing the very understandable, but unhelpful, thing of denying your new reality.

Continue to set your own goals for your recovery. Invite your sister on one of your walks and address the elephant in the room — you have lived through something scary; you miss what you both shared; you are doing everything you can to regain your strength. She can help best by supporting you as you meet your weekly walking goals and whatever other challenges you have set for yourself.

Sometimes people hear things better from the professionals. If it’s comfortable, bring your sister to your next doctor’s appointment. Have him/her explain the trajectory of your recovery and how she can help you get there.

Or perhaps involve your sister in your recovery in other ways. Would she recite a Mi Shebeirach (Judaism’s prayer for healing) for you? Or research new walking trails for you two to enjoy together? Find a new activity you do together that has nothing to do with physical achievement. Perhaps a drop-in book club at your local library or a fun art class like Zentangle.

If she continues to act like your trainer instead of your sister, you may have to set stronger boundaries. Until she can support you where you are, you may have to limit, firmly and compassionately, your time together. Now, more than ever, is the time for you to put your own needs first. I wish you a complete recovery and healing. *

Debra Darvick shares her unique take on life, books and more at