DEAR AMY: My 17-year-old daughter and I are still trying to recover from a Christmas snub. In our family, we draw names and have a $50 budget. My daughter’s cousin drew her name and had purchased the item my daughter wanted, but he bought a smaller size than she wears and the gift cost about $30. She is upset that he didn’t spend the designated amount. This also happened on Christmas Day with her aunt and grandmother, who both went under budget with their gifts to her, but over budget with their gifts to other nieces. We don’t want to seem ungrateful and would like your thoughts on what to do about this, if anything. How can this be addressed?
DEAR MOM: Your daughter responded to a gift by (first) checking the price and (then) complaining about what the gift cost. Surely her response flies in the face of what holiday giving is supposed to be about. You should be upset. With her.
You need to explain the concept of a “budget.” It is not an exact commandment for what must be spent, but a recommended cost-range with an upper limit.
Some family members went over budget, and if this created an obvious and irrational imbalance, you might choose to raise this issue with the family members, at the risk of seeming petty. (How do you know how much they spent?)
You don’t mention your own daughter’s efforts to give good and appropriate gifts. If she participated fully, but doesn’t feel valued by others in return, then her feelings are justified, but she is too old to be pitching a fit over Christmas gifts.
This is an ideal teachable moment for you to review the true meaning of this giving holiday. She should exchange her gift for one that fits, and make sure to thank her cousin for his efforts.
DEAR AMY: I’m a 42-year-old woman who lives on the West Coast with my husband. We travel to visit my parents twice a year. Over the past few years — perhaps due to distance, perhaps due to his retirement — some of my father’s social habits have become increasingly vexing. His conversational style is best described as broadcasting whatever pops into his head, regardless of anything going on around him. Gentle attempts to get the conversation back on track are futile. He also has an incredible need to be right about the most mundane things, and will press his point, whether he is correct or not. He does this the most with my mother, and I’ve observed him actually raise his voice at her, which is disturbing. My mother says she doesn’t notice. She reminds me that my father is the nicest, kindest, etc., person she has ever met. After some reflection, I realize that my father has always been this way. However, it makes going home incredibly draining. While flying back from our most recent visit, my husband asked, “Why do I feel like we’ve been through something traumatic?” We both agree that it’s impossible to stop visiting. However, I don’t know how to handle all of this in the future.
Anonymous on the West Coast
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Your instinct, naturally, is to avoid this challenging situation. But, given the fact that your parents are aging and that the dynamic between them is worrying you, you should try to visit them more often than twice a year. You should also make an effort to visit them at least once on your own — without your husband.
This might be draining and challenging for you, but your parents were (presumably) deeply involved in your life for at least 20 years or so, and now it is time to dig in and pay more attention to them. Many people become exaggerated versions of themselves as they age, but there might be more going on with your father, and you should do your best to find out.
DEAR AMY: “Allergic” was a man whose girlfriend’s home was grossly dirty with pet hair, etc. She has two cats and two large dogs. I couldn’t believe you soft-pedaled your answer. He should break up with her!
DEAR DISAPPOINTED: I suggested that “Allergic” needed to draw a firm line in terms of cohabitation because his health was at risk. I agree with your implication that adults who keep filthy homes aren’t likely to change.