Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: My daughter, “Ally,” and my husband’s sister’s children, “Abe and Gretchen,” are all teenagers. While my family relocated away from our Midwestern hometown (pre-kids), my sister-in-law’s family lives near my parents-in-law. They function as a multigenerational family, with the grandparents driving carpools and volunteering at school. Ally and her cousin Abe are two weeks apart in age. Since before their birth, every time I told my MIL something Ally accomplished — crawling, walking, reading, driving, whatever — her reply was the same; “Oh sure, Abe does that too,” followed by a random, long-winded story about Abe and Gretchen. Through the years, it has only gotten worse, to the point where we no longer visit them and only speak on birthdays and Christmas. My in-laws are so engrossed in these kids’ lives, they barely seem to notice the lack of contact. Multiple attempts asking them to please stop interrupting us and our child to talk about the other grandchildren has gotten us nowhere. The stupid part is that all of these kids are successful — Ally has had some unique and wonderful opportunities that she wishes they would be proud of and interested in, or at least shut up long enough to be aware of. Abe and Ally will soon graduate from high school; Ally has asked for our permission not to invite my in-laws to hers. She wants to avoid a day of nonstop comparisons. My husband had a wonderful relationship with his grandparents and is hurt and confused by all of this. Is it wrong of us to ask them to stay away? — Proud Mom
DEAR MOM: You don’t mention ever telling these grandparents how their behavior affects you — only that you decided to cut them off because of their single-minded focus on these other children. And so now — because they haven’t had any access to your daughter, they know her even less than before. You also don’t mention any conversations your husband might have had with his parents about this.
I understand that their behavior is hurtful, but the message you are sending to your daughter is that if family members are difficult or challenging — or don’t give you the quality of attention you deserve — then it is permissible to sever from these family members.
I recognize how diminishing and inappropriate this behavior is on the part of the grandparents, but you have taught your daughter how to react to this. You need to ask yourselves — is she better off for it? She seems not to have a relationship with either her peer-cousins or her grandparents — nor does she want to have one.
You should encourage her to include her grandparents (along with other family members), but leave the final decision up to her.
DEAR AMY: I need some advice on what to say (or not say). I live in a senior apartment complex and my neighbor tried to commit suicide last weekend. She and I talk but are not really close. Of course I’m praying she will recover and come back to her home here, but I am not really sure what to say to her when she returns. Everyone here knows what happened, and I really want her to feel comfortable about returning home. I know some will keep on talking, but I don’t want to talk behind her back. She has always been fragile and is not close to her family. Do you have ideas? — Concerned
DEAR CONCERNED: Welcome your neighbor home. Bring her a meal or perhaps some sweets and tea to share.
Be warm and kind. Be supportive without prying. Don’t give her advice, lecture her or tell her how to feel better. Just be brave enough to be with her and listen if she wants to talk.
DEAR AMY: The letter from “Torn Co-worker” really rang my bell. She described a work friendship with a male colleague that she felt was getting too close. I thought you were so right to remind her to pay the most attention to her own instincts about this relationship. I had a very similar situation in my workplace and it turned out my instincts were right; my co-worker had a crush on me and I didn’t nip it in time. He was using this to leave his unhappy marriage, but I wanted no part of it. It ended up having very real consequences, personally and professionally. — Been There
DEAR BEEN THERE: It is vital to always follow your instincts regarding relationships.