Dear Ann Cannon • My son is married to a lovely woman, and they have three darling children (my only grandchildren). My daughter-in-law and I have always had what I considered to be a very friendly and loving relationship. Ten months ago things abruptly changed. Something offended my daughter-in-law. Neither she nor my son will tell me what it is I did. I have no contact with my daughter-in-law or grandchildren and very little with my son. My heart is broken. Please help me know how to move forward.
— Broken Hearted
Dear Broken Hearted • Wow. This is so hard on so many levels. Not only do you miss your son and his family, but you also have no idea what caused the estrangement. I’m truly sorry. Let me say this: Life is long. Just because your daughter-in-law isn’t speaking to you now, that doesn’t mean things between you can’t or won’t change. Take some comfort from that thought. Meanwhile, continue to reach out without being overbearing. Send notes. Acknowledge birthdays and holidays. Keep the possibility for communication open on your end.
And now I’d like to have a word with your son and daughter-in-law … and anyone else who has broken off contact with family members. You are certainly within your rights to withdraw from a situation, but if your people sincerely want to know what they’ve done to offend you, you owe them the courtesy of an explanation. It’s the grown-up thing to do.
Dear Ann Cannon • I have an extended-family member who has been going through a hard year, and I’ve drawn her name for Christmas. I have been thinking of giving her a cash gift larger than what we usually spend on gifts to help out with her hard times. But I’m afraid that (1) she will expect more gifts like that in the future, or (2) she will tell others in the family, and they will expect it, too. How can I make this gift without it becoming a future expectation?
— Cautious Relation
Dear Cautious • Your impulse to help a struggling relative is a generous one. If you choose to act upon it, think about giving her the gift in a private setting as opposed to a family gathering. I think it’s perfectly fine to tell her that you’re aware she’s had a rough go of it this year, which is why you’re giving her cash this time around. I don’t know your relative, so it’s hard for me to predict how she’ll react, but most people would infer from this statement that your gift is probably a one-time deal. Meanwhile, ask her to keep things between the two of you. One last thought: You don’t want your relative to feel patronized, so it might be useful to mention any experiences you’ve had when someone lent you a helping hand.
Dear Ann Cannon • I’d like to end a Christmas tradition with extended family and start one with my smaller immediate family. How do I do this as kindly as possible?
— Looking Ahead
Dear Looking Ahead • Traditions that once made sense become harder to maintain as the family ranks swell. I think it’s best to be upfront. Tell your extended family that you love them dearly (even if you don’t) but that it’s time for you and your immediate family to establish some traditions of your own. Not everyone will be happy with your decision, of course, but they’ll eventually adapt. And when your own children tell YOU one day that they wish to establish their own traditions, give them your blessing and step back.
Dear Ann Cannon • Why am I not allowed to hate the holidays? People say, “Oh, you CAN’T hate Christmas!” So I have to be all fake cheery and stuff for their sake. Why can’t I just hate the holidays?
— Holiday Hater
Dear Holiday Hater • I love Christmas. But after years of working retail, I REALLY understand why people don’t. So this is what I’m giving you for Christmas this year: permission to hate Christmas. At least around me. I hope this helps. (Merry Christmas btw.)
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