DEAR CAROLYN: My mother gave me her old wedding rings when I married my first husband. I wore them until he died, and for some time after.
I am now remarried, and the rings are put away. Twice now my mother has offered these rings to other family members who are planning weddings. The first time she did it, I said no, that the rings still meant a lot to me. She recently called and asked if I would give them to my niece who just announced her engagement. Again, I said no. I guess she thinks the rings are still hers to give.
I may want to give them to my own daughter someday (she is 24). The problem is it makes me feel bad to keep saying no, even though I know I would feel worse if I said yes. I have very few keepsakes from my first husband, who died too soon.
What do you think? Is it wrong to hold on to them? I am usually a very generous person and I am feeling very torn.
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DEAR ANONYMOUS: Her request is so bizarre that my brain actually changed your mother into your mother-in-law, as in, your late husband’s mother, and I got as far as mentally formulating an answer to that scenario. That at least made sense, since it’s common and understandable for people to want heirlooms to return to the family of origin in the event of divorce or death.
What your mother is doing is just bizarre; you’re as family-of-origin as a person gets. The rings are yours to hold on to for however long you want and for whatever reason you want.
That addresses the “is it wrong” part. But I’m more interested in the “I guess” part. Why haven’t you just asked your mother why she’s pushing to give away rings she already gave to you?
This is so screamingly obvious that I have to allow for the possibility that you’ve already either tried it (and received a defensive non-answer) or ruled it out (after a lifetime of defensive non-answers from her).
That would certainly explain why you’re torn. If you’re the child of a parent who likes her expectations high and explanations vague, you’re going to spend a fair amount of time feeling bad whether you give her what she wants or not.
This possibility also comes with a plausible reason for her wanting the rings back: simply to retain control, over them, over you, over the symbolism they contain.
If this isn’t your mom’s typical way of operating, and if she isn’t able to or chooses not to articulate a reason when you ask, consider this possibility: Maybe she wants these rings – so meaningful to her as well – to see daylight, to serve as symbols of hope instead of loss.
Does that justify her pursuing this? No, but it at least makes emotional sense.
If that sounds right to you, then share with your mother your plan to give the rings to your daughter someday. With any luck, it ends there.