Annie's Mailbox: Well-off sons won't offer to split the bill for dinner

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Dear Annie: My husband and I have been together for more than 20 years. This is my second marriage. "Tony" has been a wonderful stepfather to my sons. All three are grown and doing well. Two are very happily married.

When the boys were young adults, my husband and I would always pick up the bill if we went out anywhere. Even after they started their own careers, we continued to pay for things because we knew money was tight for them. The problem is, even though they all are doing well now, the pattern continues.

I was laid off earlier this year, and it's no longer so simple to treat them. All three boys know I lost my job, yet we recently went out to eat and not one of them offered to split the tab.

How do I deal with this? I don't want to appear stingy, and I suspect this is not a conscious thing on their part. They live out of state and I don't see them often, so I'd like to avoid hard feelings. Any suggestions?

- Not So Rich Mom

Dear Not So Rich: You can do this two ways. You can stop taking them to places where they will expect you to treat them, or you can be honest and explain that you can no longer afford the luxury of playing Mommy Warbucks. We recommend the latter, but don't hit them over the head with it. "We'd love to take you for dinner, but since I lost my job, our budget just won't allow it." This gives them the opportunity to offer to pay. If it doesn't occur to them to do so, at least they will understand why they are eating in.

Dear Annie: I am expecting a baby in two months and was recently given a baby shower.

My sister-in-law and extended in-laws all went in together to purchase a bedding set for the crib. I purposely didn't register for this particular gift because I knew it would not fit the crib we have selected.

I called my sister-in-law and explained the situation, thanked her for the gesture and asked if she would mind if I exchanged the bedding for a set that fit. She became extremely upset and said I was disrespectful and thoughtless. She even went so far as to say she is cutting me out of her life.

Did I do something wrong? Can you help fix this?

- Baby Shower Disaster

Dear Disaster: You are not at fault. Gifts can be returned or exchanged by the recipient for any reason whatsoever. Your only mistake was informing your oversensitive sister-in-law. In order to make it right, send each participant an individual thank-you note, gushing about how beautiful the bedding set was and apologizing for exchanging it for a different size, saying you wanted to show it off in the best light. Make sure you express your sincere appreciation for their thoughtfulness and generosity. Time - and a new baby - will help this pass.

Dear Annie: I am responding to "Unhappy Mom," who objected to her 19-year-old daughter's long-distance relationship with a young Mormon man.

I met my husband shortly after joining the LDS (Mormon) Church. We only dated a few weeks before I moved back home after college graduation. He and I continued to date via letters and long-distance calls. When we visited, we would each stay at a church member's home. This was a true courtship, and I had no doubts when I said "yes" to his sweet proposal.

I don't understand this mother's complaint about her daughter having a wholesome relationship. Why is she rushing her daughter into a permanent relationship so young?

- Tallahassee LDS Mom

Dear Tallahassee: A long-distance relationship can allow the couple to build a closer friendship, which is a good thing. But we also understand a mother worrying that her daughter is committed to a boy she has not seen in a year. Still, at 19, the choice is hers.

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