Hi, Carolyn: Every Christmas, we host my parents and my brother’s small family. My brother’s family is kind but poor and relies on help from family, friends and various agencies to make ends meet. When Christmas comes, they buy presents for the kids in lieu of a larger gift exchange.
My parents get gifts for everyone. My husband and I buy gifts for my parents. The question that comes up every year is: What do we do for my brother and sister-in-law? They’re the only ones we’re not buying gifts for and only because we don’t want to make them feel bad because they can’t reciprocate.
But that doesn’t feel right. We would like to give them something — even something small. What do you suggest? Is there a non-gift-giving option that we haven’t thought of?
B.: You’re already using a non-gift-giving option: You’re giving your brother and his wife respect for their dignity. And you’re letting them off the hook of feeling they have to reciprocate; even “something small” becomes a burden to someone raised to want to give back.
The system you describe in your family is logical, because most people feel more comfortable accepting help from above — parents, boss, religious institution — than from peers. If your brother is comfortable with the way you all handle Christmas, then it wouldn’t be right to change it just to make yourself feel better. Especially not if you’re telling yourself that you’re making changes on his behalf.
If what you really want is to help your brother more, then offer money to your parents so they can increase what they give to him, either at Christmas or throughout the year. That way he gets more, you feel better and there’s no awkwardness about the source.
Hi, Carolyn: My brother accused me of being “selfish” for raising my 11-month-old daughter as a vegetarian. I have been a vegetarian for most of my adult life for moral reasons, and the decision to raise my daughter as such was reached after careful consideration, research and discussions with my spouse, as well as my OB and pediatrician, all of whom fully support my decision. My brother stated that his wife had read a study online that said vegetarian children are at risk of not getting the nutrients they need, and he said he was worried I was going to make my child “retarded.”
I found myself justifying my choices and providing him with information on my daughter’s diet and pediatric assessments, which he blew off. Admittedly I also went for a low blow and stated I would not take nutritional advice from an obese woman (his wife). After I cooled off and apologized for my comment, I asked for an apology from him. He said I should “get over it,” because he didn’t feel he was in the wrong.
I know I need to get over this difference in opinions — any advice on how?
Anonymous: Anyone who used “retarded” that way in 2016 is not absorbing new information. Know this, for your own sake, and stop believing he will.
As in, stop justifying yourself to your brother. Instead, hereafter: “I have a pediatrician,” or just, “Thanks for caring,” with zero further engagement. Take any lingering rage out on a celery stick.