Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Is it stupid to not like the way my parents play with my 2-year-old?

They live far away, and our families can only manage to travel once or twice a year. They bring something new for my daughter, and they insist that she play with it, even when she shows no interest. They will repeatedly try to get her to like their toy and take other things out of her hand to get her attention back. If she does something cute, they ask her to do it past the point of boredom. When she talks or tries to show them something, they ignore it unless it’s part of what they want to do. One of them is also always taking pictures of her and trying to get her to pose.

I know she loves them and all the attention, but I don’t think it’s good for her to be so bombarded with demands. I suppose that as she gets older, she will say no or walk away. In the meantime, am I overreacting, and do I need to just let them play how they play?

(Nick Galifianakis)


It doesn’t sound as if there’s much to like about the way they play, so, no, your dislike isn’t “stupid.”

Acting on it, though, would be an overreaction. Their fussing and forcing make these play sessions all about themselves instead of the child, but it’s all still more ridiculous than harmful; any harm would come over time and repeated exposure. You see your parents twice a year? And she’ll outgrow a lot of this problem a handful of visits from now? Case closed.

Another benefit to staying out of it is allowing them to work out some way of getting along. (This works only because, again, it seems pretty harmless.) They raised you, but that doesn’t mean they remember how to relate to a little person — or were any good at it then. You can help a very little bit here — “She likes X, maybe try that,” said casually and infrequently — but otherwise it’s best to let them all figure each other out.

Dear Carolyn:

Recently, my mother-in-law gave my husband and me a large sum of money for a stated purpose. At the time, she said it was a gift. We were thrilled and thanked her profusely for her generosity, as it helped us accomplish one of our life’s goals.

Now, several months later, she has attached some conditions to the gift, which we never talked about before. I probably wouldn’t have accepted the gift if I had known what she expected from us.

Is it fair to expect us to comply? Are we somehow obligated to do so? How do I navigate this tricky conversation with her?

Strings Attached

No, you have no obligation beyond your agreement to that “stated purpose” — except to accept any emotional fallout that comes with it. Ideally you would be able to return the money, but it sounds as if you already spent it.

More important: Why are you “navigat[ing] this tricky conversation with her”? This is so your husband’s conversation to have.

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