Category Archives: family

Tradition transitions

In Carolyn’s Saturday column, a young woman seeks advice about talking to her (apparently long term, serious) boyfriend about how they spend their vacation time. This year, he plans to spend all of it at his family’s cabin–as apparently he has always done. According to the LW, “It is one of his favorite places on Earth, and he would love nothing more than to spend the entire summer there. The two of us went last year, and I also loved it, and am excited to go again this summer.But, she is nervous this means they won’t go anywhere else, ever, ever again. (For example: while he’s willing to accompany her on visits to her family, he offered to take a week of unpaid leave to do so, rather than shortening his time at the cabin. On one hand, wow, that’s a generous thing to do. On the other, it sort of demonstrates exactly how much it is worth to him–to the dollar–not to change his cabin plans).

Carolyn advised her, wisely, to try to see the biggest possible picture here, and to be brutally honest with herself about how she hopes to spend her leisure time and money in the future. In reply to the question “how seriously should I be taking this?” Carolyn wrote:

As seriously as context tells you to. I don’t think inflexibility on one thing is automatically a sign of trouble — especially something that you can appreciate as “one of his favorite places on Earth,” and especially when he (quickly, it seems) volunteered to sacrifice something valuable to create a little more flexibility where previously there was none.

But that simply means you need to air this out more; don’t just take your consolation week and like it. If you see yourself wanting to go to the beach with him in February some year, or whatever, in addition to your normal week of family visits, then don’t be shy — say it now, and see what he says.

If his answer is, “I have no interest in the beach, and the whole time I’d just be annoyed about my lost week in the cabin/lost pay,” then you have to take that very seriously as a prediction of life with him. I do hope he’d be that honest with you, if that’s how he feels. Speaking a truth that might make us look mean or selfish is far better than saying all the right things and having no interest in following through— yet nerves do falter at truth time.

Even if you don’t feel strongly about variety in vacations, you also need to pay careful attention to other non-cabin things he feels strongly about. When people don’t care much about an area where their partners are inflexible — say, religion — it’s easy to resolve differences by letting the ones who feel strongly have their way. Sometimes, though, the mellower halves go on to find out their mates aren’t just dug in on religion, but instead are one-person Maginot lines of entrenched positions on issues — some of which the erstwhile mellow ones do care about, a lot.

So, try to see as much of the picture as you can before you decide whether this is about a great cabin, which isn’t terribly serious, or inflexibility, which is. Make sure the “give” lines up with the “take” — not just his, but yours, too.

Makes sense, but I was amazed at how quickly many of the commenters on this column jumped all over the boyfriend, when actually we don’t know very much about his response at all. For example:  “this is all of their free time for the rest of their lives doing only what he wants. if she wants to visit friends, or go to Europe or any wish she has — it must be subordinate to his plans for their free time. sounds like a lifetime of a man who doesn’t really care for her or for pleasing her — his way or the highway — I say the highway.

Whaaa?

Carolyn’s advice was consistent with her general philosophy, which is to acknowledge and honestly deal with your preferences and annoyances in (dating) relationships, because no matter how good you think the relationship is, or how much you want it to work out, if on a day-to-day basis you don’t want the same things, and don’t make each other happy, you’re on a track to years of  resentment and misery. This means sometimes you break up over reasons that feel really petty–but actually are reflections of whether or not you are well suited for each other. I think this is really important.

But I also think it’s really important to give people room to consider and accept change, and to gradually work their way out of lifelong, beloved patterns. It sounds like this boyfriend has always spent all his vacation at this cabin. Last year they went and had a great time, so he had no reason to think about changing his plans. This year, it’s in the air that she wants something more, and while he wants to be supportive of her, he’s not willing to change his plans. I think it’s important they talk about it so he can get used to the idea of doing something different, but I also think it’s fair to give a summer or two for that transition to happen, and to come more naturally.

This situation reminds me very much of Christmas 2008. SK had just moved to Michigan, and we were engaged, but not yet married. We’d both done various versions of holiday events with each other’s families for the previous couple of years. We were talking about how we’d handle the holidays that year, and we found that neither one of us was willing to break with our personal traditions just yet. We both had expectations, with lots of emotions attached, about how we’d spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and it was really hard to mash them up. In the end we did go our separate ways for part of the holiday, and then joined up again for the rest of it.

I don’t know about for him, but for me, that year was really important. It was a chance for me to experience my childhood traditions with the knowledge that it was probably going to be the last time, or at least the last time they’d be quite that way. With that mindset, I was also able to see with clear eyes that the traditions had changed, too, and things weren’t always going to be “the same” anyway. It also gave me a chance to realize that I wanted us to spend the holidays together more than I wanted to go through the motions of the events that I thought made the holiday. I needed to do things my way that year, but it wasn’t purely selfish inflexibility. It was a turning point for me that made me ready to plan our holidays as a couple in the future.

Now, this couple isn’t engaged or married, so I’m certainly not advocating that she spend one or two or three more years just waiting to see what happens when summer vacation time rolls around. But if they are together for the long haul, I guess I would just add to the converstion that the seemingly stubborn decision of one year, even if it seems hard and fast (and reduces one party to piteous weeping), can be the beginning of the conversation, not the final word.

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Vacation Interrogation

Carolyn’s Sunday column (both of her weekend columns come out Friday afternoon) features a letter from a woman who feels that her daughter-in-law is too nosy:

Dear Carolyn:

How do I handle the multitude of questions that come from my daughter-in-law regarding activities or trips I’m taking? To my son I say, “I’m going to the mountains for the weekend.” He responds, “Sounds like fun,” and that is it.

Daughter-in-law says, rapid-fire, “When are you leaving, is X going with you, what will you do there, when will you be back?” I know it is her nature to be a bit nosy and I have nothing to hide, so I find myself pouring everything out like she was a soul-sister.

Unfortunately, she stores the information and later throws little digs my way, like she is keeping a scorecard on where I go and whom I’m with. Her timing with these digs is remarkable, always implying that I don’t spend equal time with her kids. I need help in not buying into her nosiness in the first place.

Snow Bunny

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Why I ottaman…

I was out at a furniture store this weekend and encountered something I’d never seen before (though maybe I’m just new to the furniture store circuit):  a cocktail ottoman.

….a what?

Basically, it’s a giant, flat ottoman (the one I saw was a huuuuge black leather square.  Like, I could have stretched out across it diagonally).  It apparently functions as a footrest/coffee table–although, counterintuitively, the one I saw had an uneven, buttony texture so any cocktail you set on it is sure to spill.

May I offer you a Turkish Coffee? Get it, because it's a coffee table, and an Ottoman....um. Sorry.

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Friday-ja vu

Last Friday and this morning both featured duplicate letters.  Last week, Margo published a letter that appeared in Prudence’s live chat a couple of months ago.  This morning, Amy published a letter that Prudence published yesterday.  Hmmmm…….

Last Friday’s Dear Margo:

Dear Margo: I am a young (early 20s) Muslim woman. For more than 10 years, I chose to wear a scarf on my head, but my problem is that I don’t want to wear it anymore. I started wearing it on my own because I believed in it, but I’ve been reconsidering for several years now after much thought and study.

I wish I could just take it off, but there are problems. One, my family is very religious and would freak out if I did. (I tried to bring up the subject once, and they were horrified.) I am a college grad currently looking for a job but haven’t found one yet, so I’m stuck at home and, therefore, financially dependent on them. Two, should I take it off, the small, tight-knit Muslim community in which I live would talk endlessly about it, which would “ruin” my family’s reputation. At the moment, they are held in high regard, particularly my dad, who is seen as a religious leader. I don’t want to shame my family or alienate myself from them, which is what would happen if I took it off. We are close. Just to make it clear, my family members are not religious extremists in any sense, just devoted to their religion and terrified that I am drifting away from it. What to do?

— To Wear or Not To Wear

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Grandpas laying down the law

The week the columns are rife with fathers unhappy at the prospect of raising their errant daughters’ babies.  But really?  Shouldn’t Papa #2 wait for the babies to exist before he gets all huffy about them?  Or will his “proactive” stance really get his daughters make better choices?

Papa #1 (third letter in the column)

DEAR ABBY: I have three daughters who seem to be incapable of functioning as adults. None of them is employed or in school. My oldest is a single parent of two kids she doesn’t want.

I love my grandkids and I know I should take them, but I raised my daughters and feel I’m too old to be Dad to toddlers again. Am I being selfish? — DAD OF THREE DAUGHTERS IN NEBRASKA

DEAR DAD: No, you are being realistic.

Um….helpful much? Thanks, Abby.  What should he do, then?

Papa #2

Dear Carolyn:

I am an old-school dad with Christian morals. I have three teenage daughters, 14, 18 and 19. Only the eldest is dating at this time. I tell them every day that I love them.

I have told my daughters for a few years now that if they get into a relationship, move in with a guy and decide later to get married, I will not pay for the wedding or reception. I would go to the wedding, give them away, but nothing else. That is the consequence for their action. If they do things right, I will pay.

Also, I’ve told my daughters several times that I will not raise my grandchildren because of their poor choices (I would in case of death or illness, etc.). They will have to find somewhere to live. If they want to make adult choices they can pay the adult price.

I have several friends with unwed daughters who are raising their grandchildren (the fathers are nowhere around). These grandparents want to relax, retire, etc., but now it’s like starting over taking care of a child. The little children are a blessing and are loved, but my friends have told me all the stress it has caused.

I would love and forgive my daughters if one of these things happened, but they would pay the price for their actions. Do you think this is too harsh?

D.J.

Too harsh on your daughters? Not at all. With weddings, anyone grown up enough to get married is grown up enough to pay for it, period. If parents want to pitch in as a gift, then they’re free to do so on their terms — just as children are free to decline the money if they don’t like the terms. I applaud your firmness and clarity on that stand.

For the record — and entirely without relevance — I do balk at your phrasing, because “do things right” is, to me, nothing more than “do things your way.” We’re not talking life and death here, or the Golden Rule; your “right way” to get married might not be right for every couple on Earth. But it’s your money and it’s your world view, and you’re entitled to attach strings from one to the other when the stakes are so delightfully black-and-white.

When it comes to thoughtlessly conceived children, on the other hand, the stakes turn gray, and fast. Yes, anyone adult enough to breed is adult enough to secure ample support — and, I have to think it’s good for your daughters to grow up with the expectation of being held accountable.

I think if you talk a bit more to these put-upon grandparents, though, you’ll find a few who used to think as you did but have since had a change of heart. The reality of a parent who’s in over his or her head is inescapable: The one who suffers most is the child

The answer may still be to make accountability the tent pole for any shelter you provide, but when an innocent child, your grandchild, is at risk of hunger or neglect, the you-made-your-bed morality you espouse might become a luxury you can’t afford. Humility is old-school, too.

I’m with Carolyn on the first part of this, I suppose.  He’s not obligated to pay for weddings, and if there are circumstances under which he’s not willing to contribute, that’s fair.  If that’s how he feels, I guess it’s good that he’s straightforward about it now, rather than waiting to things to get ugly post-engagement.

What I don’t like, though, is that this is in no way a neutral statement on his part.  I mean, of course it’s not–he’s obviously taking a moral stand on a lifestyle he doesn’t agree with, or want for his girls (never mind what they want for themselves).  But what I mean is, he doesn’t really mean, “move in with a guy if you want to, but I won’t pay for your wedding.”  What he means is, “don’t move in with a guy, or else.”  That is, his withholding money that he otherwise would have given isn’t, in this case, just any old “you missed the bus, you gotta walk,” consequence–it’s some combination of threat and punishment.  And it speaks volumes about his relationship with his daughters: he’s not interested in guiding them to loving, healthy relationships–just in being punitive if they, um,  shack it up.

The same is true of his comment about their hypothetical children.  One of his daughters–a 19 year old–is dating someone, and all he seems able to think about is that all three are going to live in sin, come after him for money, get pregnant, not want or care for their children, and leave them on his doorstep. With the caveat, of course, that if they die a tragic and early death, he’ll overlook their transgressions.  Thanks, Dad.

He’s got it all planned out, but all he can seem to see is the dark side of something that hasn’t even happened yet. I guess he thinks by laying all this on the line ahead of time he’ll somehow keep them from wandering down what he perceives as a dark, dark path.  But he seems to expect–and think–so little of his daughters, that I can’t help but think he’s pushing them farther down that path, rather than leading them away from it.

But with the Papa #1’s out there, does Papa #2 have a point?  Hrmm….I hope not.

Picture this:

Really?  Twice in one week family members are pretending there are no brides in the family wedding pictures?  Ay yi yi.  But is it worth taking a stand?

From Prudence’s live chat on Monday:

Q. Incomplete Family Picture: My husband and I have been married a little over a year. My mother-in-law recently decided to display a “family picture” taken at our wedding in her house but chose one without me in it. (The photographer took the same picture with all of us as well.) I found this incredibly hurtful, especially because this is the only picture from our wedding day she chose to put out. When I approached her about how hurt I was, she brushed me off by saying that she hadn’t yet found a frame she liked for the picture of my husband and I that she ordered. My problem isn’t that it’s the only picture she has out but that I am excluded from the family picture on the day I supposedly became a part of their family. Am I overreacting, as my husband claims, or do I have a right to an explanation and possibly a replacement photo?

A: You already voiced your objection to the photo, and your mother-in-law said there’s one of you and your husband she’s planning to put on display.What’s your plan now: staple a photo of yourself into the “family” photo, take the family photo off the wall and substitute one of you, boycott your mother-in-law’s home until she displays your likeness? You’ve only been married a year. Presumably, you have decades ahead of interacting with your in-laws, so don’t poison things out of oversensitivity. Your mother has a right to display whatever photos she likes in her own home. Take your husband’s advice and drop it.

I agree with Prudence–if there really is an issue between the new bride and MIL, it will become apparent soon enough, and there will be other battles to fight.  Let this one go.  Insisting on her “right” to anything in this situation can only lead to ugliness (is there a Bill of Rights for in-laws wall ornaments?  I was unaware). Can I also say this is a good argument for why not to do 8 million family pictures, covering every possible permutation of relative?  If this problem was going to cause hurt feelings, the place to avoid it was when it was taken, not when someone decided to actually display it (I mean, she had to know this was coming, right?  Who would want a picture of just the groom’s nuclear family besides the groom’s parents?).  A Little Help’s wedding tip of the day: Save time, money, confusion, frustration, and hurt feelings, by not taking tons of pictures that each exclude a different person.

Of course, it turns out you still can’t stop folks who are determined to shape the family photo how they want–even decades after the fact:

Dear Abby, on Wednesday:

DEAR ABBY: I have been married 11 years to my husband, who is one of nine children. My sister-in-law has asked me for a copy of one of our wedding pictures, which is the last time all of them were together. Since the wedding, one of my husband’s sibs has died and another is serving a long stretch in prison.

The problem is, she wants to digitally remove me from the picture! I don’t want to give my sister-in-law a copy knowing I’ll be edited out. It’s hurtful, and after all these years it makes me feel like she hasn’t fully accepted me as part of the family. Am I overreacting? — BLOCKED OUT IN TEXAS

DEAR BLOCKED OUT: Your sister-in-law wasn’t very diplomatic, but what she is trying to memorialize is the last time her biological family was intact. The situation is poignant, really. My advice is not to take this personally. Give her the picture before any hard feelings “develop.”

Oh, Abby.  Groaaaaan for the pun.  And “oy” for this sister.  Her request is a bit odd–but you know what else is going to be a bit odd?  This scanned, doctored, printed family photo on her wall, with a big blurry hole in the middle where the bride’s been airbrushed out.  I mean, in a wedding picture, it’s unlikely the bride is off to the side or in the back, right?  So really, this is going to be the sister’s issue to explain, time and time again, when people wonder what happened to her picture.  If anything, erasing the LW is only going to draw more attention to her absence.  And the beauty of digitization is that her doing this has absolutely no effect on the LW’s copy of the picture (it’s not like she wants to take a pair of scissors to it).  So, why not?  Whatever, sister.

Save your battles about in-law respect and inclusion for actual events, not for the display of pictures taken months or years ago.

Summertime Blues

It’s that time of year again–the season when friends, relatives, and paid caretakers apparently contrive to tromp on the vacation fantasies of their friends, relatives, and employers.  The switchboard has been lighting up this week on this topic–read on!

Friends (Annie’s Mailbox, August 8 )

Dear Annie: For several summers, my family has overlapped vacation time with a nice couple we have known for many years. Now I’m not sure I want to keep seeing them.

They bring their two dogs, one of which is high strung and barks constantly. And last year, the husband questioned why we go to church. I like going to Mass with my family, especially in this beautiful small church on the harbor where we vacation. One evening, the four of us stayed up and talked, and I ended up having to defend my more traditional values against his anti-religious and very liberal views.

His first wife was a blonde, and his present wife is a brunette. My wife is a redhead. I’m beginning to think he has designs on her, and that his attempts to start arguments with me mask his true intentions. My wife thinks my suspicions are crazy and is willing to meet up with them regardless of whether I go or not.

The problem is, my opinion on this annual vacation scenario has me coming in a distant fourth. This is our time together, and I don’t want it used to please everyone else. What do you say? — Madness in Maine

Dear Maine: We say you are wildly overreacting. This man’s anti-religious and liberal viewpoints have nothing to do with your wife. And her hair color is irrelevant. Is he making a play for her? Does he try to get her alone? Does he call, text or visit her without your knowledge? If so, you have cause to worry. Otherwise, we don’t see it.

You don’t have to please everyone, but you should try to please your wife. If she likes to socialize with this couple, you might make the effort for her sake. Discussions on religion and politics can engender extreme reactions. We strongly recommend you pick other subjects and see whether you have more in common.

Relatives (Dear Prudence Live Chat, August 9)

Q. Vacation With the In-Laws: My husband and I have had a rough year—changes in my career, buying a new house—and had to cancel our plans for vacation earlier this summer. We decided that we’ll visit his parents down South the week of my birthday late next month. His parents are wonderful people, and staying at their home is like staying at a resort—private pool, three golf courses to choose from, and the beach nearby. About two months ago, his brother and his wife started visiting us every Sunday, for hours on end—sometimes leaving at midnight. While his brother is really funny and his wife is really sweet, I have nothing in common with these people other than a last name, entertaining them has become a chore (afternoon visits should never exceed the length of a typical workday), and my weekends have been hijacked because of their now-expected visits. Well, they caught wind of our vacation plans, and they want to join us. My husband told them, “We’ll see,” but now they have it in their heads that we are definitely driving together (12-plus-hour trip down), and told the parents. When I explained to my husband that we need alone time—we need this to reconnect and relax, he was completely with me, but he refuses to tell his brother that we want to go by ourselves because he thinks it’s a jerk move and it will anger his brother and their parents. Honestly, I can’t bring myself to go on this much-needed vacation. (I haven’t taken time off since last Christmas, and it was an entire week with the in-laws!) Do I make up an excuse to stay home? Was it really that horrible of me to ask my husband to tell his brother no? Do I suck it up and go?

A: Has anyone in your family heard of the hospitality industry? That’s where you pay other people to whom you aren’t related to provide you with rooms, food, and entertainment. It’s fine that your idea of a vacation is hanging with the in-laws, but that means you’re not really in a position to decide which in-laws are going to hang with you. If you don’t want to see your brother- and sister-in-law, then find the money to go somewhere else or have a staycation. And speaking of in-laws and hospitality, what’s up with your brother- and sister-in-law? They sound wacky, but you sound just as wacky in your inability to say, “We can’t do Sunday open house anymore. We love seeing you, but we’ll have to do it at a mutually convenient time, and I’m afraid we’re tied up for the rest of the summer.” If they show up anyway, greet them at the door and say, “I’m sorry, we were just on our way out. We’ll let you know next time we have a free weekend.”

…and paid caretakers (Ask Amy, August 9)

Dear Amy: My husband and I bought a vacation home in another part of the country.

A local couple very generously offered to visit the house periodically (they live a mile away) and let us know if anything needs to be fixed.

We paid the gentleman for necessary repairs. He’s very good at his craft.

We gave them permission to hang out at the house to enjoy the view, and at one time we let them have their son stay there with his family overnight.

It turns out that they have had at least one large party there. They set off lots of fireworks on our property.

The man painted our fountain a color of his choice, even though it didn’t need to be painted and we didn’t approve the color.

Throughout the past year, they invited additional family members to stay at our home without asking us, and some minor damage was incurred.

We requested that they clear it with us first if they wanted to have anyone stay there in the future.

We like this couple and want to keep them as friends, regardless of their actions.

However, they say that since we don’t trust them, they’ve returned the keys to the house.

They haven’t responded to a friendly message.

What is the appropriate action to take at this point?

— NM Bound

Dear Bound: After you change the locks and hire someone to serve as a caretaker of the property, and after you repaint the item you never wanted painted in the first place and repair the damage these people inflicted in your absence, you should sit down and examine the statement they made to you about trust.

You don’t trust them because they haven’t been trustworthy.

Your neighbors left you wide open to theft, damage and the liability you might face if someone was injured on your property. This is an extreme violation of the agreement you made with them.

Chalk this up to an error in judgment on both your parts.

If they are able to acknowledge their violation, then you might be able to move on. Otherwise, unlike the material damage to your property, the damage to your relationship might be irreparable