DEAR CAROLYN: My husband’s (much) younger sister had a child as a teenager when she was not at all able to raise one due to drug problems and other issues. We became the baby’s legal guardian and raised her as our own. Earlier this year, at age 15, the child wanted to live nearby with the biological mother, who has gotten herself (somewhat) together.
The child we raised has a sibling, younger by eight years, and the mother only allows us to see them together. I didn’t raise the younger child as my own and naturally don’t feel the same attachment.
I feel torn purchasing gifts for one as I do for my other children while only getting a token gift for the sibling who lives in the same household. The biological mother is not being reasonable or flexible in this situation. Help!
DEAR UNCLEFATHER: Of course you love the older child as one of your own, and the younger as a (spouse’s) niece/nephew. Everyone would understand that.
Except a young child. At 7, this sibling would know the elder had lived with you, obviously – but having that information is not the same as achieving mastery over the hollow feeling of receiving less attention than a sibling. And of watching this less-than relegation play out right in your face, repeatedly, especially over holidays.
It’s there, it’s primal, and it’s your job as the adult to make sure the younger sibling never receives this burden from you, much less has to carry it alone. (If the sister had gone on to have four more kids, this might be a different answer.)
So spend the extra time and effort cultivating a relationship with the younger, and – by far the easier part – buy the younger sibling a gift “as I do for my other children.” It is, to use the standard you set, the only reasonable and flexible thing to do. And, kind – an example as well as a gift.
DEAR CAROLYN: Is it weird that my dad likes to hang out with my two sisters and me without our significant others, and without his wife and stepson, every once in a while? My husband sure thinks so. My dad never actually says my husband isn’t welcome – I just sometimes know he’d like to do things as a foursome. Thoughts?
DEAR C.: Among people who spent years living together, rewarding ones, there is comfort and familiarity nothing else can touch. Immediate family, sleepaway campers, college roommates, troops, teammates, even colleagues.
What’s weird to me is that your husband doesn’t get that. Sure, if your dad always herds his girls into private conversation, “weird” is back on the table – but the occasional just-us time with grown kids? That, to me, is a gift.