“My Daughter Skipped My Important Birthday Dinner”

I’m a 63-year-old soon-to-be-retired high school teacher. I’m happily married, am a mom of three grown kids, and have a close-knit family with no real problems except that over the past three years I have felt taken for granted by my oldest child. I’m not one of those unrealistic moms who expects kids over for dinner every Sunday or demands to have their way with holidays, but while our younger two kids call or come by on their own and actually seem to like to do things with us like going to baseball or hockey games, my daughter only seems to contact us when she needs something like her car being worked on or access to our season tickets.

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.

My boyfriend “John” and I were on and off quite often, and when he died in a car crash, we were not together. Still, I was deeply affected and devastated by his death.

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.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.


  1. LisforLeslie says:

    LW # 1 – When you talk to your daughter, do you have conversations or just catch up on family / friend gossip? Do you offer advice even when she’s not asking for advice? Do you treat her like your daughter or like your friend? What kind of relationship would you like with her – friend or daughter? Does that work for your daughter or is she holding you at arms length because she wants a different relationship? If you had to guess, what kind of relationship do you think she wants with you?

    In this case, it seems you made plans without checking with her at all. You gave her the date when she was expected to show up and she had other plans. That’s mother/daughter – not friends. You would offer your friend an invite but not be upset if they had other plans.

    As a 30+ year old woman, it may be time to change the dynamic of your relationship.

  2. Avatar photo courtney89 says:

    I feel sympathetic towards LW 1 maybe because i see the dynamic with my mom and sister and know how much it hurts my mom that my sister just doesn’t put any effort into contacting her unless she needs something or needs to vent about something (Lucky mom..) LW, let your kids know now about the fact that retirees get a celebration and you would really love to have all your family there for it and you will let them know as soon as the day/time is announced so they at least know it’s forthcoming. Be grateful that you do have kids who show up and make an effort, i know it doesn’t make it any easier, but.

  3. LW – I agree that you are asking her to drop plans that she had well in advance. So obviously, this was important to her and I don’t think it is fair to base your relationship with her on the fact that she didn’t abandon her word to someone else.

    Now, I think you are going through a very normal life change. This happened with my family. Once I was married and had obligations to my spouse, it changed the relationship with my mom. Now that my siblings and I are all married and have kids, it takes an act of congress to get everyone in the same room. That doesn’t mean we don’t love each other, but it means that everyone needs to adjust. I know my mom and I had a few heart felt conversations and found a way to schedule phone calls on my commute on the way to daycare. We many times do family holidays in the month of the holiday just to make it happen. But you need to tell her how you feel and try and set expectations. Tell her you love her and miss her and want more time from her. Then see what she can give.

  4. LW1, you are a bit unrealistic. “Kids” are adults now and busy. To expect them to show up the exact day of your birthday is probably too difficult, especially if they weren’t informed months in advance. My parents organise also sometimes beautiful dinners for their birthdays, but they call everybody to set a date well in advance, send cards, and this date won’t be the exact birthday date if it isn’t possible for all (and it rarely is). If your daughter is expected, but then you have to adapt the party date to her availability. I wouldn’t necessarily block my mother’s birthday date in my schedule, unless I am informed in due time that she expects to unite the family that day. This is all about communication.
    By the way, you can make a more positive narrative : your sons were there, and perhaps you can make it up with your daughter. You could invite her and her husband at a restaurant, at the time that fits to them, saying that you really would like to celebrate also with her, as she couldn’t make it for the big day. Then you have some quality time with her too and she sees that this is important for you.
    I think you feel a bit emotional because of the changes in your life: your children are now adults, you are not anymore at the center of their life and your retirement comes soon. This all implies a lot of transitions but look:you succeeded beautifully in your personal life. Embrace more confidently your perspectives and be more flexible, accepting with natural changes.
    For your retirement celebration, do send cards of invitation and say yourself, face to face, to your 3 children how important it is for you that they be present.
    Perhaps your daughter feels your pressure to comply as a “kid”, but if you try to connect with her as an adult woman, and adapt to her duties, you will adjust your relationship with her.
    And don’t be afraid to give your help to her: good if she needs you. Don’t make it transactional with your kids. Parents give and give and give. Adult children will be present if they don’t feel pressured, if the parents are realistic with their schedules and well organised in their expectations.

  5. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    “After working for years so she could go to college, this hurts.”

    This last statement was off putting to me. You’re saying you only worked so that your daughter could go to college. It had nothing to do with anything else. Nothing to do with wanting to have a career. Nothing to do with putting away money for retirement. Nothing to do with supporting your family as they grew up. Nothing to do with sending your sons to college. It just happened so that your daughter could have an education.

    That line can’t be true and it makes you sound like you want to be a martyr. If your daughter picks up on that tone she won’t want to be around you. No one wants to be around the martyr who tries to guilt them into doing things.

    One of my coworkers will excuse demands she makes on her son because she spent 22 hours in labor giving birth to him. I guess he owes her for life because she chose to have a baby and her labor lasted 22 hours. You remind me of that attitude with your final statement. Your daughter didn’t ask you to work to send her to college. That was a choice you freely made.

  6. Canada Goose says:

    While I agree with everyone who flagged the necessity of the LW communicating what she wants to her kids, I don’t think she’s out of line in wishing her daughter made her birthday dinner a higher priority than a night with friends. Like Wendy, I really don’t understand why 63 is an important birthday simply because the LW is nearing retirement. Those dots just don’t connect.

    Still, I can’t imagine telling either my mother or my mother-in-law that I couldn’t make her special bday dinner because I had plans with friends. People shift friend plans all the time and being asked by your mother to participate in a rare bday dinner with her siblings is a pretty valid reason. I would in no way be put out if someone changed plans with me because of that. Unless the daughter had a special event, it would be reasonable for her to shift. And if she did have concert tickets or something? Then mom shifts the bday dinner to the next week all her kids can make it. Flexibility is a good thing.

    1. I could imagine telling my MIL no to something like a birthday because she has historically had terrible boundaries and unrealistic expectations. And she’s horrible about planning ahead. She used to call us the day of an event and expect us to be there. At the time, we were both working jobs with strange hours, but we’d bend over backwards to show.

      The worst was my husband’s grandmother’s 90th birthday. Apparently the party was set for two weeks before her birthday. My MIL, who helped plan the party and knew it was happening well in advance, called us the morning of the party, an hour before it started, to let us know that the party would be happening in a location that was a 2 hour drive away. She was very upset when we weren’t there (as was Grandma). We visited Grandma later to celebrate her birthday, and told my MIL if we didn’t get at least a 2 week advance notice of anything, we couldn’t guarantee we would be there.

      After a couple of years of us no-showing to family events, she finally realized that she would have to give us plenty of advanced notice. Now it’s much better and we have a stronger relationship with her, but we do still skip the unimportant stuff if she doesn’t ask us in advance.

    2. Ele4phant says:

      I would make my moms event and cancel with friends if I knew it was super important to her.

      But I wouldn’t think a non milestone birthday is a super special event.

      And I wouldn’t cancel on my friends just because my mother or MIL requested my presence.

      My friends are important to me too – and at this point in our lives it’s hard to coordinate. If I cancel on them, there needs to be a good reason, not just because my mom let me know that was a time she wanted to get the family together.

      I don’t fault LW for being bummed – but she should review how clear she was in letting her daughter know how important this dinner was, and she should be mindful of giving her daughter a lot of lead time. Her daughter has her own life to balance.

      And maybe someday soon she may find her sons too are building their own lives and won’t be available whenever she wants, either.

  7. Allornone says:

    LW1- My sister has a husband, two young kids and a highly-successful and demanding job. Even if those things weren’t factors (which obviously they are), she’s not someone who would reach out on her own regularly. It’s just not who she is. She does things with logic rather than feeling. As such, she really puts very minimal effort into keeping contact with my parents. Me? I have a moderately-paying, fairly-low-stress job that leaves me with plenty of downtime, a small apartment with a boyfriend who does his fair share of helping out, and no kids. I am also very emotional and a people-pleaser. As such, I call my mom daily (usually just a five-minute check-in, something we started when I was a kid and just didn’t stop doing), visit her three-four times a year (she lives a six-hour drive from me), call my dad weekly, answer his regular texts, and visit maybe once a month (he’s local). Do I love my parents more than my sister? I doubt it. Possible, I guess, but I really don’t think so. Different people are different. They have different responsibilities, different motivations. Do my parents wish she kept in contact more? Of course. Do they take it personally? Honestly, sometimes. But at the end of the day, they know that’s who she is, better or worse, and accept it. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you; it just means she’s kind of bad at showing it.

    1. Avatar photo courtney89 says:

      Good perspective @allornone, as i’m in a similar situation with my parents and my sister. I live 2 hours away and she lives 6, but she is terrible about keeping in touch with them and sometimes i do hear about it. But like you say, different people are different.

    2. LW1 what does the daughter criticize ? What does she not like to be criticized about? Does she have resentment ? Unaddressed ?
      Personally I didn’t know that people would cancel friend social plans for family social plans. Family emergency of course, but cancel dinner for dinner? Idk it’s kinda weird you wanted her to cancel her dinner, unless you know that those friends see them weekly or something. I mean that helpfully, hope that you can work this out.
      My brother lives closer to my parents has a much closer relationship and does not resent them. I have issues and take space. We didn’t have similar childhoods and we’re very different. That’s life, I don’t think I should force myself to do things that make me really unhappy just because it’s easy for my brother (5 years younger) to do those same things.

      I think it’s worth deeply and honestly thinking about how your daughter feels.

      1. Ele4phant says:

        I agree I wouldn’t normally cancel existing plans with my friends for my family. I mean, if I understood that the request was for something super important, sure, but I would cancel as a matter of routine.

        My friends and I are all busy. Coordinating schedules is hard (and even harder to coordinate with my friends that have kids), so if I found a time that worked to see friends I wouldn’t cancel for my moms non milestone birthday.

        And I’m really close to my mom – she’s really important to me m. But my adult friends are also important, and it can be harder to nail down a time than it can be to nail down a time with my mom, so…

  8. I think LW#1 is out of line, largely for reasons given by Wendy. This has all the flavor of a ‘hidden test’ and staged competition among siblings. LW doesn’t say much about her children: ages, responsibilities, even how close they live to her. With added responsibilities, such as marriage, likely a job, possibly children, flexibility decreases. Friendships become harder to maintain. Being surprised by the existential importance of a 63rd, pre-retirement birthday, after other plans have been made can be difficult — especially if the prior arrangement is important to husband.

    I’ll throw out some oldest child perspective. Parents tend to loosen up parenting with the younger children and allow them greater freedom, since they are both a little tired out by parenting and have observed all the things the older children survived just fine. My youngest sister and I agree that we were essentially raised by different parents.

    Becoming fully adult doesn’t diminish affection for good parents, but it does require establishing some independence and distance. The more tightly you were parented, the more important this becomes. Marriage greatly increases this need. The love is still there, but the realization of a largely separate life is also there.

    We know the two boys are younger. We don’t know how much younger. Likely they have fewer responsibilities. They might even still live at home. In any case, they are less advanced in their lives than the daughter is. There time for pulling away from parents and becoming more separate persons is likely just on the horizon. It is not surprising that they were the kids who could drop everything and come for the dinner. “Who turns down a free meal?” still applies to them. It doesn’t to daughter.

    I think LW is going through a mid-life crisis in which she sees the end of her work-life career at the same time the kids are becoming more independent. She is afraid of the future, to at least some extent. My sense is that this letter is far more about state of mind of LW than it is about her daughter. There is a reason that this 63rd birthday is so significant in LW’s mind, despite not being a normal landmark. I retired 27 days prior to my 57th birthday. I didn’t see anything special about that birthday. Early retirement had come as a bit of a surprise — I was a volunteer during a down-sizing, but I volunteered because my part of the corporation was suddenly going in a direction I felt uncomfortable with. Still, I was looking forward to retirement on the day I retired and was happily enjoying retirement when my birthday rolled around.

    For some reason, LW doesn’t appear to be looking forward to her retirement. She needs to work on that and adopt a more positive attitude. Retirement offers so many opportunities for fun and increased freedom. Age 63 is not on death’s doorstep. LW has a ton of happy life and experiences ahead of her. Counseling? Retirement planning with family?
    I think LW should meet her daughter for lunch, and admit she is a little concerned about retirement, and detail how her daughter can aid her in making this transition.

  9. If it was important for your daughter to be there, you should have both made sure that she understood the importance and also that you worked with her to find a date that worked with her preexisting plans.
    Just because your sons didn’t have plans, or because they love free meals so much, doesn’t mean they are better or love you more than your daughter. They just happened to be available.
    Maybe your daughter is holding you at arms length because she senses that you’re setting her up in competition with her brothers (or their wives) and she doesn’t want to play the game. Your relationship with your daughter is not in any way related to or dependent on your relationship with your sons; she’s an individual and its time to relate to her as an adult individual. You wouldn’t expect any other adult to break off prior plans to come to your birthday dinner, would you?

  10. Ele4phant says:

    I 100 percent understand why letter writer one feels disappointed, but at the end of the day, the daughter is an adult now. She’s going to do what’s she going to do, make the choices she wants about what sorts of things to prioritize and what kind of effort to put in with her parents, and there’s not much LW1 can do about it.

    She’s married in her thirties, she can’t exactly be grounded, you know?

    Communicate your expectations clearly (I concur with everyone that it wasn’t clear you wanted your birthday to be a big deal, and it’s not clear that it is supposed to connect with your retirement), and give her lots of lead time to accommodate your request (she’s married and has her own busy life – others may disagree but I don’t think adult children should be obligated to always drop existing plans for family).

    If you are clear in your expectations and you give her lots of time to accommodate and she still fails to meet your expectations, well, I’m sorry, I know that hurts, but again, she’s a grownup that gets to make her own choices now. Even if those choices mean ramifications for her relationships with her parents or siblings.

  11. Ele4phant says:

    Also – why do you think it’s unrealistic to have family at the school’s retiree celebration? Is it because your boys are working? You and your husband will be out of town or something? Or do you already assume your daughter wouldn’t go so you didn’t even want to try?

    Assuming you know at least you and your husband can go – tell all your children now when it is and how important it is to you – and then take whomever shows up.

  12. anonymousse says:

    With LW1, I just get the feeling there’s more to the story. Did your husband invite her via text? Did he tell her how important it was to you? On average, how many times do you have family dinners? You made a point to include criticism of her and I’m am just guessing she knows that’s how you feel about her, or the things you say about her. And the martyr college business…that’s a choice you made. If you use guilt trips and manipulative tactics with your daughter, I’m not surprised she doesn’t want to change her plans for a not-milestone birthday. If it was that important that she be there, you would have worked it out with her and her schedule. If she replied that “maybe” you could get lunch, that’s her trying to schedule something with you guys! It’s like you’re playing a game where your sons win at being good children (because who can say NO to a free meal, on a weeknight?) and maybe your daughter is tired of playing the game altogether.

  13. If it was that important to you that she be there LW1 why would you book first then ask if she was available? Surely you should have found out a date everyone could come THEN make the dinner reservation. I have a feeling the relationship between you two is more fraught than perhaps you’re sharing.

  14. PurpleStar says:

    I hope you went through with – or go through with – dinner with husband and sons on your birthday. Invite you daughter out to lunch, just the two of you, later in the week or on the the weekend for another mini celebration. But make that lunch about the two of you, not just about you. It sounds like your daughter and you need to reconnect and you will have to be the one to reach out and make opportunities for that to happen.

    As for your retirement shindig at your school – let everyone know now. Date, Time, Place. and let them know that this is an important milestone for you and you would like to be surrounded by family.

    You cannot expect your kids, or anyone for that matter, to know what is important to you unless your tell them and invite them to join you.

  15. dinoceros says:

    LW1: I’m also confused about why you think no one will come to your retirement celebration, since your letter was about how your daughter, specifically, is the problem. What makes you think no one will come?

    I empathize, but I think that at a certain point, you’ve got to sort of shake off this passive, “poor me” response to your daughter’s behavior. On one hand, you have to acknowledge that she’s an adult and some people are just kind of selfish and flaky. I’m sure you have known friends or acquaintances like this. Flaky people aren’t only flaky with their friends — they are like that all the time. It feels like you are maintaining this expectation that she needs to/could come through each time that there’s a situation where you want her there, and being let down each time. Time to lower your expectations and acknowledge that she might just not be the type to follow through. Or maybe there’s something in your relationship that distances her. We don’t know you, so we don’t know if there is, but there could be.

    On the other hand, it’s also fine to say or do something about this rather than sitting around moping. I think it’s a very common thing among women (specifically moms) where they passively watch people walk all over them and then get upset without actually trying to do anything to stop it. If you feel like you bend over backwards to help her and she doesn’t ever reciprocate, then don’t bend over backwards. You don’t HAVE to excessively help her with stuff if you aren’t that close.

  16. LW1, I do hope, despite all what has been said, that your daugther talked to you on your birthday and sent you her best wishes, with a gift later, even though she couldn’t come to your party.
    But please quit that transactional approach: “who doesn’t want a free meal”: not so nice. People came for you, not for the free meal.
    You complain that she doesn’t join you for hockey or baseball: frankly, this is the last thing I would do, especially with my parents, and I like them. I think the issue here is mainly to accept that your family isn’t the same anymore, it is not the close pack it used to be, everybody is grown up and have their own schedule. BUt wait, soon you might have grandchildren and it is in your best interest to have a nice relationship with your daughter. If you get cross at any tiny disappointment, you won’t get far. Be cool with your daughter, take her the way she is. And don’t enter that kind of power trip. In fact, quit the power position. Try to project yourself as the older generation, now.

  17. LW, So suddenly this year it is very important to you to have all 3 kids celebrate your birthday with you, and it happens that the night you picked for a birthday dinner is a night your daughter already has plans. Why don’t you pick another night? Pick a night a week later. Pick a night that works for everyone. You or your husband explain to all 3 kids that this year it’s really important to you that all the kids be there so you want to pick a night they all can come. You don’t have to celebrate your birthday on a specific day. What is important is all being together.

  18. Avatar photo Guy Friday says:

    LW2, you’re allowed to feel how you feel. Have you been dishonest with Noah in any way? No. You left for two years to process everything, you came back, and he still cares enough to want to pursue something. You’re not required by any means to be with him, but if it’s something you want, then why not?

    Let’s be clear here: it’s not disrespectful to an ex to date his or her sibling; it’s disrespectful to not be present in a relationship with someone because you are yearning for someone’s sibling. But that’s not what’s happening here. John is gone, and in his loss you sought comfort and support from Noah, and in doing so discovered a connection that you did not otherwise realize existed before. There are worse reasons for connecting with someone than that you helped one another grieve the loss of someone you both loved, and it’s not as though that’s ALL it’s based on, clearly. You don’t mention the family disapproving, so presumably they know (or at least suspect) and are welcoming to you. And, really, you’re not marrying and having kids tomorrow; you’re opening yourself up to the possibility of something growing further with Noah and just seeing what happens.

    What’s the worst that really happens here? It doesn’t work out? You lose the friendships with his family? Only you can decide if that’s worth passing on being happy and feeling loved with and by someone.

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