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Monday question: Kids pro quo

Posted by Robin Abrahams  January 7, 2013 12:34 PM

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Happy back-to-school and general first real week of 2013, readers. What do you think of this lady's lament?

I am asking for your help in understanding a very distressing situation that has happened in my family. I have four grown children and twelve grandchildren , all of whom I have sent a birthday card and cash gift every year. The cards are always carefully chosen to be meaningful, funny, etc and mailed so as to arrive on or before the birthday. Over the years, when I was working, I was always financially generous with them, as well as emotionally available .I have always considered our relationship s healthy and on good terms. Over the years, they have also been thoughtful with gifts, and done special, well thought out things for me as well. 

I recently retired, and was finding it difficult to continue this practice, so, with each of my children's birthday, or their spouses, I enclosed a note saying that I would continue sending them a card and good wishes, but , due to my retirement and financial limitations, I would only give the grand kids ( their children) a cash gift. All of this was put into practice in January 2012, and continued through December, 2012. When my birthday arrived in December, I received no birthday cards at all...only a phone call from each of my children wishing me a "happy birthday".I was so hurt that I can't help feeling there is a connection between my decision and their lack of reciprocating ! I feel there is a "teachable moment" here somewhere, or was it used by my children to teach me something ? I cannot even bring myself to address this with them, as , I get emotional just thinking about it. There is no other issue or dynamic going on in the family that I am aware of. What is your take on all of this ? How, if at all, should I handle this ? Is it better to " suffer in silence " ? And 2013 is about to start up with a whole new round of birthdays.....

My sense is that the LW is blowing this way out of proportion. I doubt her children meant any unkindness. What she meant as a more calibrated statement, they simply took as "Whew, grownups don't have to bother with birthdays anymore." Unless my math is off, these adult children have an average of three kids apiece, which makes me imagine an extremely hectic Christmas season. I am imagining four busy, overcommitted people who aren't fussed by the distinction between a card and a phone call, and who would be dismayed and horrified if they knew that their mother was hurt.

However, this is a family matter, and in family matters, dozens if not hundreds of possible interpretations are possible. So what do you think?

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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