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Carolyn Hax: Sister-in-law changes party date, son upset he can’t attend

Hi, Carolyn: My overbearing sister-in-law just moved her son’s birthday party to a week later. When we originally talked a month ago, I asked when it was planned and said – great, because my son will be on a Boy Scout retreat the following weekend.

Now, she moved the birthday party and is mad that my son won’t be there. We already paid for the retreat, and my son is torn because he wants to do both but can’t. Your advice?

– Family

When people are being reasonable, your obligation to them is to be reasonable in return.

When people are being unreasonable, your obligation to them is ... to be reasonable in return. (Trick advice.) Her losing her mind over her own mistake does not obligate you to scramble to accommodate her shifting expectations.

Your son will be on a Boy Scout retreat and will have to miss his cousin’s party. There’s no need for your son to be torn; he sticks to his first commitment, and learns a valuable lesson about not being everywhere one wants to be as a basic fact of life.

Cheerfully stick to the facts with your sister-in-law. “Hey, no hard feelings, we hardly expect you to memorize our family’s schedule.” It’s possible to be both reasonable and wholly disinclined to apologize for imaginary wrongs.

Concerned about adult sons

Hi, Carolyn: I feel sad and worry about my sons, who are around 30. Both have college degrees, promising careers and a decent network of friends, and both have had past relationships. But each lives alone and neither is in a committed relationship. I know it’s better than being in an unhealthy relationship, but I worry that the older they get, the more difficult it will be to find a lasting relationship. Each says he is doing OK (but not an enthusiastic “I’m doing great”), but can you give me a new perspective?

– Sad Mom

I can try, but I’m up against your finish-line mentality – the notion of set positions in life that define success. You implied your race results:

First place: healthy relationship;

Second place: no relationship;

Third place: unhealthy relationship.

For a new perspective to stick, you need to be open to believing that people can want and choose to be [alternative to happy commitment here], and be better for it.

Or be better for it even when preferring to be paired. Maybe living alone makes your boys stronger.

If pre-empting sadness is your concern, please consider that an enthusiastic, “You’re doing great,” from a proud parent can go a really long way.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax.