Q. I have a brother in the Midwest. I live on the West Coast. I always thought we were close, and I accepted the gradual distancing as normal after my brother married. Well, he just called and told me he would be flying down to a city three hours from where I live but will not be coming to visit me (or my husband and child). I am upset that a brother with whom I was previously close is flying across the country to visit so close to where I live, but is not willing to drive three hours to visit his sibling and her family. I cannot drive up to meet him and his wife because my child is ill.
After this conversation, I realized I could no longer depend on my brother to behave as family and would need to extend my boundaries and create my own family. My husband and I are introverts and do not socialize much. My husband is religious but does not attend church, as I do not, so we don’t have much chance of meeting people that way. What, if anything, can we do to start making our own “family” and become a part of the community where we live?
A. It’s too bad your brother doesn’t follow my rule: When I go to another city, I don’t call people if I have no time to see them. What is the point? I understand your hurt feelings, but it’s better to know where you stand — and there is the slim possibility that he may, at some future date, try to reinstate some of the previous closeness. As for your getting out and about, I suggest you and your spouse make an effort to modify your introversion. Join a civic group or a charity, or become active in your child’s school.
There are myriad things to do involving other people. I’m sure, if you make an effort, you and your husband will find comfortable people with whom to build friendships. And I am a firm believer in a saying attributed to Hugh Kingsmill: “Friends are God’s apology for relations.”
Q. I well know that one doesn’t give gifts expecting gratitude, but do you think an acknowledgment is too much to ask? My grandchildren happily accept the checks and gifts I select for them, and I never hear a word. I have to ask my daughter-in-law whether my gifts arrived. I am considering a drastic measure: stop sending anything. Then maybe they’ll get the hint. These kids aren’t toddlers, by the way. They are 9, 12, and 13. What is your opinion on the issue of writing thank-you notes?
A. My opinion is my mother’s, as I suspect is the case with most people (not my mother’s, their mother’s). My teacher/parent/mom was no-nonsense on thank-you notes, and my kids caught on quickly, once they were old enough to write, that no acknowledgment meant no future gift. My mother made that plain.
I believe that if kids aren’t taught to say “thank you” to someone who has taken the time and trouble to send a present, they will do the same as adults and run the risk of being written off as social clods. I do think this is the parents’ responsibility, and I wouldn’t be too shy to tell your d-i-l that it is considered good manners to write a thank-you note. (Even an e-mail, these days, will do. I draw the line at texts.) I will even make the radical suggestion that you get out of the gift-giving business if your prompt is not taken to heart.
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