Dear Carolyn: My sister has four school-age children, and my nieces and nephews have, quite frankly, had to do without.
My oldest niece (who is on the dreaded “spectrum” and has struggled because of this) has started a running program, helping her get out some of her anger from her parents’ divorce as well as sort out some of her other social issues. Because of my sister’s limited income, this child did not have appropriate shoes for this endeavor. So I bought her a pair.
The problem? Now my sister would like me to buy equal gifts for her other children.
I kind of get it, although my sister has a reputation for being a bit of a freeloader. I asked my sister for suggestions about anything special the others needed but received none other than “something for each.”
So now I am left poking around online toy stores and buying stuff for the sake of buying stuff.
I don’t want the others to feel left out, but where do you stop?
– Tapped-Out Aunt
A: You draw the giving line wherever you want. Your money.
And your sister draws the receiving line wherever she wants. Her kids.
You already proposed a loving compromise, to satisfy a similar need for each child. Your sister didn’t bite, but that doesn’t mean you have to do grudging and wasteful toy shopping to appease her. Please don’t, in fact.
What it means is: “Yes, I intend to buy ‘something for each.’ Please tell me when each one needs something special.” Assure her that you’re good for it, then – your justified resentment aside – make darn sure you come through.
Drawing the line on 50th
Dear Carolyn: My husband and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. We’ve planned a family celebration at a resort, covering the hotel and asking the family to pay for their flights.
One daughter (divorced, three children) has asked to bring a male friend. This is a relatively new relationship – less than a year – but she has deeply involved him in the lives of her children.
Aside from the fact that no one in the family likes him, we don’t consider him family and see no reason to include him. Our daughter disagrees. Are we old-fashioned or is she being unreasonable?
A: Probably both, but neither matters.
Surely you understand by now that getting family to behave exactly as you envision is something that happens in movies? If then.
It’s your celebration, yes. However, your daughter has served notice that you can’t have the idyllic trip you planned, because either her man goes or she gets upset. Having me or anyone else pronounce you in the right won’t help you one bit.
But it will help, I hope, if you remind yourself that this is what life with other humans entails: other wants, needs, dramas, moods and broods.
I’ll defend to the very end your right to set limits where you want them, including to insist that this man is not welcome – but I will also caution that the few days of superficial resort-getaway peace you might buy – might – are rarely worth the costs of excluding adult children’s partners.
The perfect trip is no longer possible, so which imperfect trip makes more sense? Life is change, forcing all of us to choose: Resist … or roll with it.