DEAR AMY: My adopted adult daughter is an only child who, because of her wealthy grandfather, was given too much: private tennis lessons, piano and flute lessons, private school, music camp, car, college, a gift of a grand piano, etc. Her father and I were teachers who believed in hard work, commitment to ideals and responsibility to others. My daughter is married with no children. She does not believe in acknowledging other peoples’ special events (birthdays, holidays), and brushes off not doing so by saying, “We don’t celebrate birthdays, etc., anymore.” She and her husband enjoy receiving gifts and accolades, but are not forthcoming to other people. Their free time is spent exercising, gorging and spending weekends at wineries. I know it sounds judgmental, but I find her lack of reciprocity, her insensitivity and her self-centered and self-obsessed attitude appalling. I am embarrassed by her behavior. How do I find peace of mind and accept her for the person she has chosen to be?
DEAR UPSET: First comes acceptance, and then comes peace of mind.
As challenging as a purpose-driven life can be to actually live, a life of direction, generosity, reciprocation and meaningful relationships is rewarding. One of my favorite quotes (from Ralph Waldo Emerson) relates to this: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived, and lived well.” You may be living this life; your daughter is not. All the same, you did raise her. Why didn’t you teach her differently?
Your daughter’s lifestyle will not protect her from the slings and arrows of life. Nor will it prepare her for dealing with loss, loneliness, illness or the abundant joy of earning achievements. Her grandfather’s spoiling wealth might have set her up for this, but just as adults can rise above childhood deprivation, so too can they recover from a nasty case of affluenza.
You mention that she is adopted. If you think that she is struggling with issues related to identity or abandonment, you should offer to help her to explore these questions.
Otherwise, because she is renouncing holidays, consider yourself off the hook to send her gifts, but do keep in touch with her, especially on her birthday and adoption day, to remind her that she is loved. And yes, you should love her, even if you don’t like her. Loving without expectation, and loving her through your own disappointment, will liberate you from your harsh judgment, and should lead to acceptance.
Don’t give up on her.
DEAR AMY: I’ve lived in my house for 12 years now. It’s a quiet neighborhood of retired and working-class people, and everybody tends to mind their own business and stay in their own yards. Recently, a new family with kids moved in across the street. From day one, they’ve been disruptive. They roam around, lie in the middle of the street and use my yard as an extension of their own for their games. They’re constantly chasing their balls into my yard. I’m not very confrontational, but I don’t want this to continue. I’ve considered putting out some “Stay off the grass” signs, or making an anonymous complaint with the police, but I don’t want to overreact either. Do you have advice?
Ball Catcher in Illinois
DEAR BALL CATCHER: Calling the police because children are playing is an extreme overreaction. The best and most neighborly approach would be to walk across the street, introduce yourself to these children and their parents and ask them not to play on your lawn. Ask the parents if they would be willing to exchange phone numbers, in case there is a problem. Obviously, chasing a ball into (or lying) in the street is extremely unsafe; tell them that cars won’t always be able to see them.
Children don’t recognize boundaries the way adults do, and so you’ll have to teach them that they should confine their play to their own lawn. Some people conduct this “education” by keeping all balls that land in their yard. This is punitive and unkind, but I assume it does the trick.
DEAR AMY: “Devoted” was a “perennially disappointed” mother, who could not accept that her son is a “depressed alcoholic.” Thank you for suggesting Al-anon as a first stop for her! Attending Al-anon meetings basically saved my life 12 years ago.
DEAR SURVIVOR: Al-anon (Al-anon.org) has saved many lives, and definitely improved my own.