I have noticed it for awhile, but it became very apparent when my husband tried to get the kids together for my birthday. As I said, I’m retiring soon and this was going to be a special dinner with just us and our kids. We normally don’t make big deals out of birthdays, but I wanted this one to be important. The boys and their significant others were all in – I mean, who doesn’t want a free dinner? But our daughter texted my husband saying that she and her husband had plans with friends on the night of my birthday and wanted to “maybe” do lunch. Both the boys work weekends during the day, so that rather defeats the plan of having all the family together. I’m disappointed, which I have the right to be, and I’m really trying not to be unreasonable, but this isn’t the first time a family gathering has been displaced by my daughter and her husband hanging out with friends instead.
I don’t know how to even approach this with her because she has a tendency overreact to anything that sounds remotely like criticism (although she’s very liberal dishing it out). This just makes me sad because at the end of the year usually my school celebrates retirees by having their families present, and I’m anticipating nobody will be present for me. After working for years so she could go to college, this hurts. — Not an Unreasonable Mom
You say that normally your family doesn’t make a big deal about birthdays, but this year you wanted your birthday to be important. Did your daughter know that? Was that communicated to her? You are 63, so this wasn’t a milestone birthday. Your reasoning for it being important is that you are retiring at the end of the school year, but I could understand if that connection is lost on your kids without you explicitly making and explaining it (I have to admit – *I* don’t quite understand why your retiring in a few months makes this year’s birthday more important than other birthdays you’ve celebrated?) It’s unfair to have a baseline way of acknowledging birthdays in your family — not making a big deal about them, in your case — and then suddenly changing things this year and getting hurt that your daughter didn’t follow suit when, perhaps, she never got the memo that this was such an important deal to you.
Also, I don’t understand why you’re anticipating no one will show up for your retirement celebration at your school? You say your family is close-knit and that both your sons and their significant others came to your 63rd birthday dinner, celebrated on a weeknight. The only person who didn’t come to your birthday dinner was your daughter and that’s at least in part because: 1) she already had plans; 2) your family doesn’t typically make a big deal out of birthdays and maybe she had no reason to think your 63rd birthday was any more important than past birthdays. If you are concerned that no one will show up for you at your retirement celebration, let your kids know *now* how important it is to you that they try their best to be there. You also need to accept that it might not be possible or realistic for all of them to be there, depending on what time the celebration is and what their work schedules/demands are and that that isn’t necessarily a reflection of their pride and love for you. If a loved one legitimately is unable to be at a certain celebration but suggests celebrating privately at a different time/in a different way, give them the benefit of the doubt rather than seeing their inability to change their schedule as some kind of statement.
Ultimately, what comes across most in your letter is that you are experiencing some regret/sadness that you aren’t feeling as close to your daughter in recent years. This could be due to lots of different factors, but the best way for you to address it is to talk to your daughter and share your feelings with her, in as diplomatically a way as possible. One way you could do that without sounding critical is a simple “I miss you!” You could also check in with her and ask if there’s anything she needs from you. You express some concern that she only contacts you when she needs something, but isn’t it a nice thing to be needed by your daughter? Isn’t addressing a loved one’s needs a form of expressing care? Maybe modeling this kind of expression of care for her, and trying to create a dynamic of asking for and giving help from and to each other, could help bring you closer.
Finally, you say that you and your husband don’t have “any real problems” at the moment, which is great, and I hope you won’t take that for granted. It’s also possible that that isn’t the case for your daughter. She’s in a different season in her life – one that potentially affects her emotional and physical availability, as well as so many other factors. You are upset that she isn’t showing up for you more often; I hope that you are showing up for her.
We grew up together in the same neighborhood and I spent a lot of time with him and his family. His older brother Noah and I were just as close. We were both really both affected by John’s death. We spent nights together, where we would just go over our memories of John and comfort each other, and over time I felt that we were getting super close. Noah was different from his brother, but he reminded me of John. When he hugged me and we kissed though, it felt so wrong. I left him, and I left town. I stayed with my aunt in the countryside for two years because I thought I needed to think straight.
When I returned home, Noah was still there. He still reminded me of John — I guess because they were siblings — but I couldn’t deny the way I felt for him. He wants to get back together and I still don’t know what to do. Any advice? — Confused
If you can find a romantic love and connection with someone who makes you feel good and is emotionally and physically available at a time when you are emotionally and physically available, you do yourself a disservice by fighting that connection.
You say that hugging and kissing Noah two years ago, following his brother’s death, “felt wrong,” and that may be because you were not emotionally available for the kind of connection and relationship that was organically developing between you. Maybe you are now. One way to find out is to pursue what you still feel between you, being honest with him that you aren’t sure where the path is going to take you and how far you’re prepared to pursue it.
I think that John would want both you and his brother to be happy, and if you can find happiness together, that’s a wonderful thing. It’s not a betrayal to open your heart to love.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.