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Validation can come in unexpected ways

Carolyn: I have a bizarre dilemma that needs a light touch in handling. My wife, my children and I are very close to my grandparents, who live within an easy drive. We still see them often, and never miss birthdays, holidays, etc. My grandparents are generous with gifts but, in recent years, gifts have been replaced by checks (usually about $100) because it’s harder for them to get around to stores. No problems there, of course.

The issue is that the amount given to me is usually double the amount given to my wife. I seriously doubt this is an intentional slight.

My wife is in a small way somewhat hurt by the move. Is there an easy way to handle this without hurting someone’s feelings or coming off as ungrateful? – T.

“Light touch”? How ’bout no touch. Wow.

There’s nothing simple about hurting your grandparents with the suggestion that their gifts haven’t been warmly received, and/or insulting them with the implication that they haven’t been generous enough.

Your grandparents have known you, presumably, since your infancy. Even if you don’t agree that this alone justifies a larger gift, surely you – or your wife – can appreciate that others would?

The genuinely easy solution is for your wife to realize she can’t expect her love or validation to come in the form she prefers. Or at all, though she’s apparently close to your grandparents.

I hope you’ll encourage her to see that having her children enjoy their great-grandparents is its own validation.

Dear Carolyn: So we’re moving out of state, have to leave our house a week before school ends, but Mom had said we could stay with her for that week. Now, she says she can’t handle it. (To be fair we’re two adults, two kids, two dogs and a cat.) So we’re scrambling to place the animals and pay for a hotel.

On the one hand, this is classic Mom, yanking help at the last minute to leave us hanging. On the other hand – even our nanny has offered us her place, and neighbors have offered their basements. So I can’t decide if I’m mad at my mom, or just grateful to have another Mom story to trot out at parties. – Mom flaked

She apparently wants to be the person you lean on, and therefore makes the offer – but offering is easy. Following through requires resources that she apparently doesn’t have.

When anyone talks a generous game but doesn’t come through, it’s always about her – specifically, her need to appear the hero and her shortage of character when it comes to the messy work of actually being one.

I wouldn’t say this, of course, if she “yanked help” just this once (and didn’t go silent on you).

Then, work on the future: Say to Mom that while you appreciate her impulse to help out, you and she both need to get better at recognizing what will push her in over her head.

There’s also no need for you to “decide” on one feeling. If we don’t allow ourselves multiple, confusing, even conflicting feelings about our mothers, then how else do we learn to deal with people when the going gets gray?

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ carolyn.hax.


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