Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My sister just turned 21 and has just started dating a 30-year-old. I think the relationship is inappropriate given the age difference, but when I bring it up with her, she becomes defensive and the conversation almost always ends with one of us hanging up on the other. To add a little context, she met this man at college. They are both undergraduates, but he has previously been in the military and is getting his degree at an older age. Am I right to be suspicious of an older gentleman’s intentions, or am I overreacting? How can I approach this productively with my sister?
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DEAR ANONYMOUS: (1) Overreacting; (2) Bite your tongue.
She’s 21. Stop hovering, stop thinking you can or should cushion her world for her, and go to the window to say hello to 2013. “An older gentleman’s intentions”? Click.
DEAR CAROLYN: Recently my husband and I and our two young kids settled about equal distance from my and his parents, about two hours away in different directions. His parents say, oh we’ll get all this baby stuff for our house to make it easy for you to visit! My parents say, why should we get stuff for our house when you’re not here very often?
Not that I expect either set to go out of the way for us; we are perfectly capable of traveling with what we need. But the attitude extends to the visits themselves: His parents have kid-friendly food, wake up early to play with the kids, etc., while mine sleep in late (so we feel we have to keep quiet), don’t buy anything extra, don’t do much playing.
They are very different people, I get it, and honestly I have a fine, but distant relationship with my parents while my husband is very close with his.
My mom definitely notices how much more time we spend with my in-laws, and I’m not sure what to say to her. I enjoy spending time with them a lot more than with my parents, and so do my kids. We do split our time at holidays and major events as equally as possible. Any advice on how to handle my mom’s increasing hostility over this?
DEAR UNEQUAL: Tell her the truth. “Mom, I love you and want you to be closer to the kids, but this is a practical move on our part: The in-laws’ home is very young-kid friendly, and yours is not. I respect your choice, and expect we’ll correct any visiting imbalances as the kids get older. I’m taking the long view here.”
Then: “If you’re not OK with that, then I’m happy to talk about ways we can start shifting it now.” Mention equipment, kid food, early wake-ups, willingness to play. She says, “Why equip the house if you don’t come”? You say, “We’ll come if you equip the house.” Establish cause and effect, and repeat as needed. It’s not personal; it’s merely logistics.
The only catch: You do need to visit equally if she makes these changes.
If she balks at accommodating you, then suggest correcting the imbalance with having them visit you more — an imperfect solution, but one that at least shifts the decision to her.