Dear Amy: My mom and stepdad recently invited themselves to visit my husband and me. Since they live several states away, most of our communication is done by e-mail or phone.

Each call is answered by Mom, who immediately puts the phone on speaker, so he can listen in.

They share a cellphone and e-mail account. He often deletes or responds to my e-mails addressed to Mom with a generic response; often my mother has no knowledge of it.

Their recent visit lasted nine days. I had high hopes for spending even an hour alone with Mom.

Each time my patient husband tried to suggest activities for the guys to do, my stepdad quickly jumped on board with what the ladies were doing. He wouldn't leave our sides.

They have been together for over 20 years, and his cling-on tendencies and eavesdropping are increasing.

I haven't had one-on-one time with Mom in a decade. I get a lump in my throat realizing that I may never again have time alone with my mom.

Please help me to understand what could be causing his insecure behavior, and how to address it.

Amy says: Your stepfather sounds very controlling, and his behavior is interfering with your relationship with your mother — and isolating her from you. Dementia might be influencing his behavior, but maybe not.

You may have to be much more proactive, and insistent.

The next time your mother answers the phone, tell her, "Please, take me off speaker, Mom. I want to have a private conversation with you about some things going on in my life."

Your stepfather's interference with e-mail communication addressed to your mother is alarming. You should try to discern if she is overwhelmed by this constant surveillance, interference and isolation. Does she have friends outside of her marriage? How is her health (and his)? Convey to both of them what you want — the ability to have private talks with your mother, and to have e-mails addressed to her actually shared with her.

If your mother is caught in this, it could be very challenging for you to influence her. The most important thing is for you to keep communicating. You should also try to visit her on her home turf.

Understanding is key

Dear Amy: I have a friend who has struggled with mental problems as a result of growing up with an abusive mother. My friend is 57 and now cares for her mother.

She works and has been sober for 30 years.

Last year she confided in me that she had not bathed or showered in many months. I have noticed her body odor.

She is working with a therapist to get through this issue. My problem is that she visits with me for a long weekend; I have a small apartment and the odor becomes obvious.

I'm not comfortable saying anything to her. Any advice?

Amy says: Your friend has already been honest with you about her hygiene issue. This is a fairly common symptom of depression.

I give you a lot of credit for maintaining this friendship in such a supportive and compassionate way.

One suggestion is that you set up your own bathroom for a "spa" experience for her. Provide fluffy towels, scented bath soaps, candles, soft music, etc. Tell her that if she would like to enjoy this luxury, you will give her plenty of privacy to do so. Tell her you hope she will accept this gift and take good and gentle care of herself, but don't pressure her.

Cook good and healthy meals together. Talk, share and listen.

Your friend is seeking professional help to try to develop strategies to cope with her illness. Your friendship could be an important lifeline for her.

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