Glaring egghead lineup

Staying out of the middle

Tracey Columns

Dear Tracey,

I hope you can help me make my daughter feel better. Right now, she’s all upset with everyone in the family and I don’t think we’ve done anything wrong.

Our son, who is a few years older than our daughter, invited us to join him, his wife, and their two little children in the fall for a two week European vacation. His treat. He’s been quite successful in his profession and insists that this is our 40th wedding anniversary present. Truthfully, we know he can afford to be so generous and we are very grateful for the invitation. While it feels a little awkward to not be paying our own way, we have accepted. (We’ll happily do some babysitting during the trip!) I think what makes us feel even better is knowing that we all get along so well and that a trip like this will be fun and not a chore.

When my daughter heard about this offer, she hit the roof, complaining that she’s never been able to compete with him. She’s also wishing that she could come too, since she works a pretty dreary job and is a single parent with a child to support. She’s actually going to ask her brother if he’ll bring her and her daughter along too, proposing that she does the babysitting as her contribution.

I feel terrible saying this, but there has always been friction between those two. While it makes sad, I understand his side of things. My daughter can be difficult and I’ve never fully understood her temperament. I hate to admit this, but it would make things hard if she comes along.

I warned my son that his sister would be calling and he told me not to worry, that he knew how to handle her. He also reminded me that this was his idea for a great trip and asked me not to feel guilty about everything. He really seems to feel his father and I deserve this vacation and he wants us to feel good about going.

What do I say to make my daughter feel better?

Caught in the Middle

Dear Reader,

What a  lovely gift from a dear son. I am very happy you and your husband have accepted his thoughtfulness. Clearly your son wants to acknowledge your contributions to his life, while celebrating your forty year marriage. He seems to like you, too! It sounds like a wonderful adventure.

And then there is your poor daughter. Raising a child as a single parent is not an easy task. Doing it via a “dreary job” makes it all the more difficult. She must feel stretched pretty thin.

However, while I think it is perfectly understandable she feels excluded – most everyone would have a twinge of the same feelings – the reality is, this is NOT her trip. If it were, her brother would have invited her.

What can you say to make her feel better? Probably, not much. I’m sorry to be so blunt but you say there has been discord between your son and daughter for years. My guess is that this history, in addition to her current circumstances, contributes significantly to your daughter’s feelings about this vacation.

While I think it’s possible to soothe emotions that span decades, it only happens when the people involved are committed to change and accountability. From what you have written, I don’t get the feeling that these two are in the right frame of mind for these difficult discussions and negotiations.

So, for now, no more phone calls to either your son or daughter about this. They are adults (!) and they have to figure it out. When your daughter turns to you, just listen and acknowledge her feelings. Keep everything simple and clear. Don’t engage in conversations about her brother and tell her you will not be put in the middle. Will she be upset? Surely. But hang tough and know there isn’t anything you can do to rectify the situation.

Then, repeat as often as necessary: “We’re going to have a wonderful adventure!”

Bon voyage!

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