DEAR CAROLYN: Ever since my two sons were born (now 19 and 16), my father has sent a modest monetary gift on their birthdays and Christmas. He is a wealthy man and although the gift was not much, it was just lovely that he thought of them.
This Christmas, my father sent me a chatty email explaining that he would not be sending my older son a Christmas gift because it was his policy not to send gifts to anyone over 18. The whole thing is odd because I’ve exchanged Christmas gifts with him and his wife every year.
I was very hurt by this and embarrassed by his lack of generosity. My children only have one grandfather, and although they do not get to see him very often, there is deep affection for him. In my mind, the birthday and Christmas gifts signified that he cared about them and remembered them at these special moments during the year.
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I would appreciate your advice.
DEAR T.: Is this what you want to teach your sons, that monetary gifts signify love and the absence of them warrants pressure for their return?
Since your sons feel a “deep affection” for their grandfather, your primary mandate is not to screw that up. Break the news to them that Grandpa’s gifts stop with their 18th birthdays — with not a molecule of disapproval in your breath — and, as befitting this arrival at adulthood, you recommend they use the occasion to approach the relationship as adults. Where they’ve been conditioned to receive, they can now take the initiative to stay in touch with their only grandfather. To suggest they do otherwise would betray an embarrassing lack of generosity.
DEAR CAROLYN: Sibling D is going through some mental health and substance abuse challenges and is angry at my parents for their failures while we were growing up. I sympathize — I went through a long period of anger myself — but I’ve gotten over it without ever directly discussing it with them.
D is demanding an apology, and seems to believe that without one it will be impossible to get healthy.
Demanding an apology under these circumstances feels like emotional blackmail. I have no reason to believe that my parents are the cause of D’s problems or that it would make a difference if they apologized.
DEAR P.: Ask him why, if he’s so unhappy with your parents’ handling of his past, he wants to put his whole future in their hands, too?
Tell him you’ll stipulate to the errors your parents made. Even allow, for the sake of argument, that your parents’ mistakes back then are directly responsible for his challenges now.
Agree that sincere apologies can be transformative.
Then explain the “but.” By demanding one of your parents — and by putting his life or recovery or whatever else on hold till he gets it — he gives them control over his life. Again. And what if they died tomorrow; no health for him, ever?
I realize how hard it is to choose health when feeling wronged, with that awful sense you’re letting the wrongdoers out of jail free. Your brother likely feels ready to wait in perpetuity for your parents to do their share of suffering.
Don’t negate that feeling. Instead, try describing that choice in non-emotionally charged terms: He’s waiting to be fed ambrosia — the apology — though he has no say in when he gets it, if ever. Meanwhile, there are bran flakes that he can serve himself at any time — as in, a decision to accept what he has and make the most of his life.
As the brother who chose the bran, you can attest to how much better you feel since you did.