The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

I don’t want my rich uncle’s money. Carolyn Hax readers give advice.

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)

We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: My uncle is the most difficult person I’ve ever known. We all fully believe he has narcissistic and histrionic personality disorder and he makes himself the victim in every situation ever. In recent years I don’t respond to calls or texts from him, but I have to see him at holidays and such because my mom can’t handle not seeing family and I won’t miss the time with my mom.

He is also an actual billionaire.

He can be very “generous” to all of us, who are not at all wealthy, but he then loves to throw his gifts in people’s faces saying that everyone only cares about him for his money. He also makes AS BIG A PROBLEM if anyone does not take his money, saying that no one thinks of him or values him to ask for help. He recently found out about a big trip my fiance and I took and acted hurt and angry that we didn’t get financial help from him for the trip.

He wants to give us a big sum of money for our wedding, and keeps asking for our new address so he can mail the check because we aren’t in the area. I would like to either ignore or decline this gift, but my fiance and my mom think that he’s going to have a fit at some point about it either way, so why not have him whine about us taking the gift instead of not taking it? Is it better to keep the higher ground by letting him be mad that we wouldn’t accept his money, or is it the same for him to be mad either way and worth it to have less of a financial burden?

— Not-Wealthy Niece

Not-Wealthy Niece: I’d like to point something out that I think your mom and fiance may be seeing: You’re the one concocting the “higher ground” here. Your uncle isn’t going to see you as taking the higher ground, and you’re not winning in some way by not cashing his check. You’re creating a “nose-face” situation for yourself. Look at it this way: He can write you a check that is a nice sum of money for you and your partner, while in relation to his net worth it will be akin to the loose change he found under the sofa.

It’s no material difference to him at all if you refuse what (to him) is going to feel like handing you $5. But in your mind you’re currently seeing this as: I took a stand! I’m gonna show him!

But in real life? You’re really not. It’s just $5 to him.

What you can do is stop attaching so much meaning to something that is materially and literally quite meaningless to him. Accept the gift, smile broadly, write a nice thank you note, and then … ? Drop it from your inner dialogue forever. If he goes on and on about it the next time you see him? Smile and thank him, and then you can note inwardly that what he’s doing by going on about it is about him, not about you. Drop your end of the rope, graciously accept what is pocket change to him and move on.

— Kate

Not-Wealthy Niece: I had a mother-in-law who, though not a billionaire, loved to give generous gifts. Later on, she would try to use her history of gift-giving as leverage to establish control over nearly all my choices. She even suggested I was greedy and grasping. I finally banned all gifts from her, and told her anything else she insisted on sending would go directly to my husband or kids. I would not touch it. She was very distressed over losing her means of manipulation. But for me, it was amazingly freeing.

She still sent checks for my birthday and holidays and such. I gave them all to her son for about five years. Leave the money on the table: It is not worth the stress and dehumanization. Recently, I allowed her to give me a couple of small gifts on special occasions. She has never again tried to use it to manipulate me. It was a long lesson, but greed is your own worst enemy in these situations. Money is only power if you give it power.

— Been There

Not-Wealthy Niece: I took the money.

My “gifter” wasn’t a billionaire or quite as much of a jerk, but not a great person.

Did I feel that I sold out? Nope, because it was a gift, not the purchase of my soul or my silence. I still was me around him, objectionable as that was to him in many respects. I actually kind of respected him more for actually respecting THAT.

I considered then, and still do, that it was a lovely gift, and it gave me opportunities in life that I otherwise would not have had.

I know there are folks who would just tell me I am rationalizing a craven decision, but I sleep better at night now than before. When he passed away, the estate went to philanthropic causes, so at least the punishment/reward game was not in play, as it so often is.

Principles are awesome. So is not having a mortgage or student loans.

— Just Me

Not-Wealthy Niece: My father has a habit of acting like your uncle. He is well-off (not a billionaire), but he attaches self-worth to his ability to provide. When he visits, I return home every day to the list of “improvements” he has done to my house while I was at work. I don’t always want those things done, but it’s his way of trying to make my life better. I often joke with others that his love language is praise and adoration. You won’t hear a “good job” from him no matter how hard you try, but he expresses his love to other people through gifts and financial help. I often find myself annoyed by his obsession over how great he is and his lack of ability to provide emotional support.

I find it helps to step back and remind myself that he is an inherently flawed human who loves me unconditionally on his own terms, not my terms. Your uncle sees this gift as a way to show his love. Perhaps he can’t be your emotional rock or your support, but he is showing you his love the way he knows. Take the gift as an expression of love and support from your uncle.

— Accept Their Love

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.

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