Reader wonders: Does aunt get to play because she pays? Carolyn Hax says this generous relative didn’t just pay up, she showed up.
Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi, Carolyn: When my ex-husband and I divorced about eight years ago, he left town and I got full custody of our daughter, “Jane,” and remained great friends with his family (from whom he is estranged). His sister especially helped out with a lot of the logistics of raising a child, like after-school coverage, and she has also come to school plays and activities with me. In addition, she is wealthy and has been amazingly generous to Jane over the years, buying clothes, taking her on wonderful trips, etc.
I never asked Aunt for these things, and have been able to support Jane OK, just not as well as Aunt can. Aunt offers gifts directly to Jane or just outright gives in a generous if overbearing way. Jane loves her Aunt, and not just for the stuff. That’s all great.
Now Jane is headed to college and Aunt has offered to cover any amount we need (about half, wow!). Jane and I are accepting this amazing gift but now I am uncomfortable with Aunt’s plans to come with us to school for the big drop-off and whatever else goes on when you leave your child at college. Is it too late to draw this boundary now, with Aunt about to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on Jane’s education?
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I want to have the college road trip and drop-off just for me and my daughter. Does Auntie get to play because she pays? Jane is OK either way; she is used to her Aunt inserting herself.
— Jane’s Mom
DEAR JANE’S MOM: What I’m seeing is not an aunt who pays to play, but a close relative who practically surrogate-parented to play. And if that’s too strong, then at least invested herself and her love significantly over the years. Afterschool coverage and going to her events and traveling with her make Aunt a huge part of Jane’s life.
I find myself mentally replacing the aunt in this role with a grandparent, or a partner you found post-divorce who became essentially a pinch-parent (I like that better than surrogate) for the past eight years, and if I were in that person’s place I could understand wanting to see Jane off. Hoping to see Jane off, let’s say, and not expecting or assuming it.
In your place and Jane’s, I could even see wanting that grandparent or partner along for the big launch.
Of course this argument exists independently of your feelings, and your feelings about wanting to make this a just-you-two event are fair and valid. I just don’t think it’s right to minimize the aunt’s place by reducing it to a money issue. It’s about presence, and Aunt’s presence has been steadfast.
That could be the heart of your frustration, in fact. Aunt established her presence not because you wanted her company and invited her in, but because you had various needs you didn’t want to have and she was there to fulfill them.
It’s ultimately your decision, you’re the mom — but please at least dig into your discomfort enough to understand it and put it to rest. Aunt didn’t just pay up, she showed up, and deserves to be treated as such.