A longtime friend and I have older daughters who are 11. When they were younger, we all got together frequently for play dates and mini-vacations. Now, my daughter prefers to do her own thing with her own friends. The last time I proposed getting together with my friend, I said I would probably leave my older daughter at home. My friend was insulted, and her children were hurt. But I don’t think it’s right to force my daughter to befriend my friends’ children. Is there a solution here?
When I was 11, I was often called on to participate in family outings that would not have been my first choice (especially if Movie Matinee was on TV). I guarantee I whined about them. Lo, these many years later, I find myself in a similar boat: occasionally socializing mostly to support my mate, just as he hauls himself around town to support me. Along with many benefits, family also requires some sacrifice.
You accidentally did your daughter and your old friend a disservice. Respecting the social preferences of an 11-year-old is important, but not more so than teaching her that occasional participation for the greater good also counts. You make a fair point: She shouldn’t be limited to seeing your friends’ kids. But her needs aren’t the only ones; family friends are valuable, too. How about striking a reasonable balance?
As for your pal, when you proposed a family outing without your daughter, you said you would probably leave her at home. To me, this signals greater antipathy than you probably meant. “Janie would rather sit alone in the dark than see you.” Better to have said: “Want to do potluck? Janie has practice, but the rest of us are free.”
Trust me: I know that negotiating with a preteen is no picnic. But teaching her to compromise where she can is part of your job. It is also a massively undervalued skill. (Hello, Congress!)
My nephew recently married a lovely woman. His parents, who are fond of her, are socially conservative. They notice that she often wears low-cut tops, even to family dinners, which makes them uncomfortable. They mentioned this to their son, who, perhaps ill-advisedly, told his wife. Now, hurt feelings abound. How can they be friends again? And how would you have addressed this issue?
What’s the magic word? Keep guessing if you thought, “please.” The only truly magic syllables are “sorry.” And that’s what your nephew’s parents should say to their daughter-in-law. They have insulted her in a couple of ways. First, if they don’t like low-cut blouses, they should not wear them — ever, even if they’re marked down 75 percent. But no need for them to police the wardrobes of other adults. (“Uncomfortable” with someone else’s top? Unless there’s an office dress code, get a real problem.)
An apology may also fix the bad dynamic they fostered. Criticizing their new daughter-in-law, behind her back, as if their son controlled her and her wardrobe, was a low-probability shot. Now that they know that Sonny won’t play — and good for him! — they should only tell him things about her that they would say to her face. And unless they revel in estrangement, I’d accentuate the positive.
They Were Gifts, Not Loaners
I was in a long-term relationship that ended recently. Last year, I bought my ex a new MacBook and some other gifts. After we split, she asked me how much I paid for them so she could repay me. I never asked her to do that, and I find her gesture a little insulting. I bought the gifts because I loved her. What should I do with her check?
Can we put this down to bad communication, R. J.? Your ex may not have wanted to leave you feeling badly used, having purchased a fleet of pricey presents just before the breakup. But if you’ve already explained that the gifts were tokens of love and you don’t want to be reimbursed, and she sent a check anyway, go ahead and cash it. She may have other reasons for wanting to square up. Why not respect them?
Reservations About Lunch
My boss, who earns twice as much as I do, invited three of us to lunch to meet a new co-worker. When the bill came, he said, “Let’s divide this by four,” meaning not only were we paying for our own lunches, we were buying part of the new person’s lunch, too. This strained my budget. Was it right?
Not if you were surprised. Absent notice and good reason, work lunches out, at the boss’s behest, should be on his, her or the company’s dime. (Hasn’t your boss heard of lame conference room cakes?) He was thoughtless here. If he’s a good guy, say: “I’m on a pretty tight budget. Can we find a way to welcome our next co-worker that doesn’t involve my paying for it?” If he’s an ogre, tell him you’re busy the next time he mentions “Party of Five” (and isn’t talking about the TV show).
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