Dear Carolyn: My husband’s (much) younger sister had a child as a teenager when she was not at all able to raise one due to drug problems and other issues. We became the baby’s legal guardians and raised her as our own. Earlier this year, at age 15, the child wanted to live with the biological mother, who has gotten herself (somewhat) together.
The child we raised has a sibling, younger by eight years, and the mother only allows us to see them together. I didn’t raise the younger child as my own and naturally don’t feel the same attachment.
I feel torn purchasing gifts for one as I do for my other children while only getting a token gift for the sibling. The biological mother is not being reasonable or flexible in this situation. HELP!!
A: Of course you love the older child as one of your own, and the younger as a (spouse’s) niece/nephew. Everyone would understand that.
Except a young child. At 7, this sibling would know the elder had lived with you, obviously – but having that information is not the same as achieving mastery over the hollow feeling of receiving less attention than a sibling. And of watching this less-than relegation play out,, especially over holidays.
It’s there, it’s primal, and it’s your job as the adult to make sure the younger sibling never receives this burden from you, much less has to carry it alone. (If the sister had gone on to have four more kids, this might be a different answer.)
So spend the extra time and effort cultivating a relationship with the younger, and – by far the easier part – buy the younger sibling a gift “as I do for my other children.” It is, to use the standard you set, the only reasonable and flexible thing to do. And, kind – an example as well as a gift.
Profiting from heirloom
Dear Carolyn: Upon my parents’ death, my sibling and I very equitably and happily divided our small inheritance equally. Each of us, including our children, were allowed to pick items from my parents’ household that they especially wanted. All valuables were included in the estate, sold, and the proceeds divided equally.
Each of the three granddaughters was allowed to pick one ring of my mother’s as a keepsake. She had one we all knew was more valuable than the rest. One of my daughters chose this one, and since she seemed to want it for sentimental reasons, everyone was generous about letting her have it despite its somewhat higher value.
We had the ring appraised a few months after the estate was settled and discovered it was worth almost 10 times what we expected, but again, since it was a sentimental choice, no one contested the issue.
Now, however, several years later, my daughter is talking about selling the ring! I was stunned, and told her I felt she was obligated to share the proceeds with her siblings and cousins after taking a slightly larger share for herself. If my daughter had not taken the ring, we had planned to have it appraised, sold, and the profits divided.
My daughter says she cannot see any reason she is obliged to share this income. I am astonished that she does not understand this. Am I crazy, or does sharing seem like the only right thing to do?
– A Disappointed Mom
A: You’re not crazy, your daughter is being obtuse at best or, at worst, greedy. I’m sorry.
Perhaps a clearer explanation will penetrate the self-interest coating her heart: “Even though having this ring meant you received a significantly larger share of the estate, everyone agreed to it because you seemed so attached to the piece emotionally. Now that you want to sell it, it’s clear there was no attachment.
“Does that mean you owe us all a share of the proceeds? No. Technically, it is yours to do with as you wish. But it does mean you are profiting off our kindness, and it will bother me a lot if that doesn’t bother you at all.”