Dear Ann Cannon • I have four fabulous adult daughters. But an issue has arisen lately that has (frankly) really surprised me. Here’s the situation. Two of the daughters are stay-at-home moms. The other two are mothers who work outside the home. One of them has daycare at her place of employment. The other does not. Not only that, but any kind of daycare would really significantly eat into her limited budget.
Long story short, I babysit her toddler on a regular basis. Recently I’ve learned that her sisters resent this. A lot, actually. Apparently, they think she’s using me up and there’s nothing left over for them. I’m disappointed by my girls’ reactions because I dislike it when family members engage in scorekeeping. Also, I feel like they should be able to see that I’m doing this out of necessity for their sister who isn’t as lucky as they are and that I would do the same for any of them if they needed me to. What can I say or do to make things better?
— Disappointed by my Daughters’ Pettiness
Dear Disappointed • I don’t think your situation is unusual. As it turns out, children don’t always grow out of “scorekeeping.” That doesn’t make things any easier for you, I realize, but still.
So, how to address this? I think I’d talk individually to the girls who resent their sister. Let them have their say. Acknowledge how they feel without getting defensive. This may help you understand if there are deeper issues involved. (I can totally promise you that there are deeper issues involved, because #siblings.) Letting your girls have their say first might help you understand who’s passing along information and why, which may be something you’ll also want to address. As a very wise friend once told me, backbiting in families is as problematic as scorekeeping.
Then I would ask your girls a few questions without sounding judgmental. Why? Because when you ask people questions, you put the onus on them to figure something out. Here are a couple of ideas:
“Given your sister’s lack of resources, what do you think she should do instead?”
“Do you think I would help you out if you were in a similar situation?”
I would then make the point that at one time or another, we all need extra help, though it may not always be the same kind of help. Then think about offering to do something special with them or for them — not out of guilt (boo to matriarchal martyrdom!), but because you enjoy their company.
See if this helps. I hope it does. But in the end, people have the right to own their feelings, no matter how unfair or unproductive those feelings may be.
Dear Ann Cannon • Here’s my problem. Our mom, who’s in her 70s, never responds to texts even though she has a smartphone now. Since our family (including the grandkids) primarily communicates information about schedules and get-togethers and so forth via texts, she gets left out of the loop, which then makes her unhappy. How can I convince her to pick up her phone to check for messages?
— Frustrated Son
Dear Frustrated Son • Oh, honey. There are just no words to tell you how much I love this letter. Usually you hear mothers complaining about how their kids never respond to texts, so thank you for making my day.
I don’t know why your mom doesn’t respond to her texts and I’m pretty sure there’s nothing I can say that’ll help you make her do it. I’m going to suggest you and your family members pick up your phones instead. And call her. You know. Like people did in the olden days.