DEAR AMY: My brother and his wife, who live in a distant town, are hoarders. They're not the gross kind that you see on television, but just an out-of-control lack of organization of things including laundry, papers, and mostly — TOYS. My nephews, who are preadolescents, have no interest in the hundreds of toys that clutter the living room, dining room and toy room. If they are not at an organized sports event, they are staring at their phone or tablet. Along every wall of the house are stacked boxes of barely opened and unopened Christmas and birthday gifts. They have both outgrown the 50 or so large toy trucks that remain permanently in the living room under the Steinway grand piano. I cannot bear the thought of adding anything more to this clutter, and besides, whatever I got for them for Christmas would be summarily dismissed, based on recent history. Don't suggest getting a book, because their shelves are groaning under the weight, plus they don't touch cellulose-based media. Gift certificates would go unused. They only eat a limited array of bland foods, so I can't cook for them or send them treats. I can't be there with them to do things, because they live 800 miles away, limiting interactions to twice a year. Are they too young to just say, "No more Christmas or birthday gifts?" They are the only child relatives in my life.
DEAR WONDERING: Before declaring "no more gifts" to these younger boys, perhaps you could find ways to recognize these occasions and milestones through your financial generosity. Look into opening "custodial accounts" for them and let them know that each birthday you will deposit a set amount into these accounts, perhaps equaling $10 for each year of their lives, or whatever equivalent you could afford which might correspond with what you would spend on material gifts.
You could then tell them you will release their funds on or around their 18th birthdays. They should be allowed some access to see how their accounts are growing, even if they can't withdraw funds.
It's important to keep in touch with these boys, through social media, sending them cards and letters, and just generally expressing an interest in their lives.
Uncles and aunts have very real opportunities to influence their nephews and nieces, even over a distance. Understand, however, that the emotional investment you make might not earn immediate "interest." As with financial accounts, these relationship investments tend to grow slowly over time — and, as investment professionals always warn, "past performance is not always indicative of future results."
DEAR AMY: I manage a small group of employees in a small regional office. As the most senior employee, I am the de facto "office boss." Recently, I found out that one of my senior female employees (who is married with children) has begun an affair with a junior male employee. Inter-office relationships are not against company policy, however, the nature of their relationship has certainly changed the office dynamic. We are a close-knit group who neither endorses nor addresses their relationship, but we are vehemently opposed to infidelity and the nature of their relationship. A schism has begun to take hold and I am worried that it will continue to have negative effects on the office (as well as the stability of my staffing), should something go wrong. I have notified our HR department and was advised to monitor and address this, should their work suffer, but that beyond that, there is little else to do — as the relationship is not against company policy. As their boss and the "office boss," how do I navigate this?
DEAR UPSET: You should follow HR directives and document the impact of this relationship on the employees' work, as well as the changing dynamic of the rest of your staff. Your disapproval of their choice is immaterial. You should not cover for them, or deliberately reveal them. Deal only with their work.
You should ask HR for specific recommendations regarding communicating with the affected employees about their behavior.
DEAR AMY: Your answer to "RBF," concerning people's request that she "smile!" hit home to me. I've never had a "good" smile; my mouth naturally turns down, looking more like a frown than a smile — but I'm actually a fairly happy person. My response to such suggestions? "This is a smile. You don't want to see a frown from me."
DEAR HAPPY: There is a popular term for this stoic expression. I like your response.