Carolyn Hax: The uncle who isn’t all that fond of his nephew

Carolyn Hax
Columnist September 20, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

In the middle of a heated argument with my brother (the recurring theme: you put no effort into our relationship), he said my 5-year-old son was really hard to get along with and that was some of the reason he didn’t spend any time with him. My heart dropped to floor.

The next day I told him how much that hurt me and he apologized, profusely, but Carolyn, I haven’t really seen any change in my brother’s behavior.

I flat-out told him his apology means nothing when his actions haven’t changed, and his response was dismissive. I really feel like he is uninterested in developing a relationship with my child. He has a very cozy relationship with his partner’s nieces. What can I do? This hurts.


Apology Not Enough

Of course it does. But, have you dropped your defenses enough to consider that maybe your son and your brother don’t mix too well?

As hard as it can be to be objective about this, we all are better for being willing to detach our own feelings of pride, accomplishment and acceptance from other people’s opinions of our kids. I’m sure you’ve come across children you don’t like very much. Certainly you don’t like every adult you meet, so why should kids be any different? They have personalities, too, all of which will rub at least somebody the wrong way.

So while brother didn’t handle this gracefully (at all), it’s time you stopped pushing him to be Uncle Awesome. Even consider apologizing for cornering him into saying what he did. You can’t make anyone love anyone else, and it sounds like you’ve really laid on the pressure for him to do just that. You’ve even dismissed his “profuse” apology and gone right back to applying pressure.

Maybe apologizing and calling a cease-guilt will encourage him to come around more. If not, try inviting your brother again when your son’s a little older. In the meantime, seek extended-family warmth from others who are more receptive.

Carolyn:

Thanks, you have given me something to think about. My brother unfortunately is my only family in this country. But I agree you can’t make someone love someone else. I only wish he would take some interest in my son’s life.

Apology again

I’m sorry. If it helps, your heartbreak is not uncommon. For a lot of people, family only acts like Family in soup commercials.

Please also consider how your hope/letdown cycle will rub off on your son. You don’t want him to chase love fruitlessly the way you’re chasing your brother, so that’s another reason to devote your energy to people who reciprocate it, instead of hounding people who don’t.

Re: Uncle Issue:

Some kids have some behavioral issues that make them unpleasant to be around. It would be hard for a parent to hear this, but it may be worth it to take an objective look at the kid’s behavior and evaluate whether there is something going on.

Anonymous

There’s that, too, thanks — hyperactivity is the classic one, but there are others.

The key part of that “objective look” will be to assess behavior in all situations, including home, school, play dates, out in public, one-on-one, in a crowd, etc.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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