When I was young and had just gotten married, my brother did not give me a wedding gift. Not that it bothered me. I'm not sure I even noticed. We weren't particularly close. What did bother me is that months later my mother brought me a gift--a small hand-painted ceramic butterfly--that she said my brother bought for me as a wedding gift. He had not, and her attempt to right what she saw as a wrong hurt more than the supposed "wrong." I still have that stupid butterfly and it is still a sad symbol of dysfunction between me, my brother and my mother.
I am reminded of my butterfly moment by a question raised by a Social Q's reader. The overall issue is whether we are the gatekeepers for the interpersonal relationships between and among our children. If our daughter forgets her brother's birthday--or those of his children--is it our job to be the tick on her to-do calendar? What if one sibling remembers the other but not vice versa. What's our role in keeping our adult children up to snuff on observing important occasions in each other's lives?
Social Q's Philip Galanes has an answer and it boils down to four words: Stay out of it. But let me give you the full situation and the nuanced wisdom Galanes imparts to the mother who wrote to him:
The situation: Galanes' reader (the mom) has three sons. The wives of the two older sons remember to send the siblings, their spouses and children gifts or cards to commemorate milestone events such as birthdays. The youngest son, who was unmarried, was "spotty about acknowledging" these occasions. He married recently and his mom hoped his wife would take up the slack, but she hasn't. The mom wants to know how much of a nudge she should give the youngest son's wife.
The wisdom answer:
"Before we deal with your problem, let’s deal with mine: All we’ve heard about the men in your family is that two of them married meticulous gift givers, and the youngest (who was spotty at it) hitched his wagon to an underperformer. Yet somehow these men — the actual blood relations — aren’t expected to pitch in at all.
Now, there’s no problem here if each of the couples has agreed to this division of labor. But it seems sexist to simply expect the new woman to solve the problem of family gifts. ...
As for what you can do: Extricate yourself! I know you want family harmony, but you can’t force adults to send gifts. If your sons or their wives tell you they’re upset about this, suggest they speak directly to your youngest son. This may be more motivating for him than hearing from you again. He and his wife may not be “gift people,” but we all have calendars. (Or they may not care.) Stay out of it."painting Van Gogh