Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: A few years ago, my brother asked my husband and me if we would be willing to take in his daughter, as she was going through a difficult time and needed to leave her hometown. We were delighted to have our niece live with us. She was never charged for rent or food. She is family and we were very happy to help. One evening over dinner, my niece and I were having a conversation about the church that my brother and his wife attend. I mentioned that I do not care for this church, as I think it controls too much of their life. They have quit coming to family dinners and holidays due to their church activities and they have downgraded their home so they could give more to the church. My brother has taken such offense to the comment that I made, which is my opinion, that he will not have anything to do with me. He says that he will not talk to me again until I apologize for my comment. I feel I should be able to have a conversation in my home and have a right to my opinion. Do you have any suggestions?

Estranged

DEAR ESTRANGED: You aren't prepared to apologize for your point of view, so the only thing you can honestly be sorry about is having offended your brother. Affirm his feelings: "I'm sorry you are so offended. I was having a private conversation and regret that it was repeated. It was never my intention to hurt you. I'd like to move on and hope you are able to, as well."

DEAR AMY: Each year I send my grandchildren a birthday card with a check in it and also Valentine's Day cards with cash. We attend their family birthday parties, but there is never an acknowledgment of the gifts. The children are in grade school, so they surely can use a telephone. We live a fair distance away, but I attend their concerts and games. They even spend a week at my house during the summer while their parents are on vacation. I keep them occupied with various activities and I know they enjoy time with us. Any time they arrive at my house I greet them with a hug. It just seems like they cannot say thank you! How can I explain my disappointment to them (and my son, who is their dad), or should I just let it go?

Hurt Grandma

DEAR HURT: I'm not sure checks and cash are the kinds of gifts that grade school children prize. Books, art supplies, toys and games seem more "real" to youngsters.

Regardless of the gift, however, you should be thanked. It is very easy for parents to coach children to express simple gratitude and appreciation. One way to do this is for a parent to shoot a short video of a child saying thank you and blowing you a kiss -- and sending the video along to you. Or your son could simply put the kids on the phone.

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Judging the children and complaining, rather than simply speaking your mind, is not useful. Say to your son, "My feelings get hurt when the kids don't acknowledge my gifts. Can you do me a favor and have them give me a call?" Make sure you also tell the children (in person) that when they receive a gift, always thank the giver -- with a hug, a note or a call. You can show them how to write notes when they are with you over the summer.

DEAR AMY: You ran a letter from "Disgusted Shopper," who was appalled by a man who blew his nose then handled produce at his grocery store. I used to just put my shopping items in my grocery cart as I shopped. A few months ago I was at my store and saw a cart where the upper part was occupied by two Chihuahuas. The main part contained two children. I now bag everything as I shop.

Joe

DEAR JOE: You paint a vivid picture.