Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 2 2006 6:16 AM

Family, Valued

Can you prevent jealousy when one child gives more lavish gifts than the others?

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Dear Prudence,
Ours was a second marriage for both, 25 years ago. At the time, our children (on both sides) were grown. A few years ago, my husband's son, who had struggled to find his way, suddenly became quite successful financially. He started lavishing gifts on us, which we appreciated since we are of modest means and retired, but this caused problems with our other children. When my husband celebrated a significant birthday last year, his son threw him a party. Most of the gifts from the other children were on the order of gift cards; when he opened the card from his son, out fell a set of car keys! In the driveway was the car we had jokingly talked of buying. While my husband teared up, his daughters were visibly upset. We couldn't understand how they could a) not share in our joy, and b) choose to ruin a wonderful birthday celebration. I'm having a significant birthday in a month. I think my stepson realized a repeat performance would not be good, so rather than springing something at the family party, he delivered a new car for me now! This luxury car is worth considerably more than the car he gave his father. My stepson suggested we give our existing car to my daughter (a definite step up for her). I called her about this and she reacted horribly. We have now taken to ensuring that we're gone for the holidays, so that we don't have to deal with any scenes. How can I get the other children to realize that my stepson is just showing his love for us? We love all our children the same and don't compare gifts; we know their situations and what they are able to do for us.

—Baffled and Hurt

Dear Baffled,
Your other children (now all presumably middle-aged) are acting like children over the largesse of your stepson. However, you sound a little disingenuous if you can't understand the psychodynamics at work here. For a refresher course on adult sibling rivalry, flip through the pages of Genesis. Part of the other children's unpleasant reaction could be that your stepson has abandoned the family niche of "struggling to find his way" for "suddenly quite successful," and the others preferred feeling superior to him. There are probably many other reasons for this tale of seething resentment. Does Mr. Suddenly Successful spend lots of time at family gatherings boasting about his wealth? You say you love all your children equally and don't compare their gifts, but you admit it's easier to weep with joy at a BMW than a bathrobe. Of course your stepson is entitled to give you whatever he wants, and you're entitled to enjoy it. But you're experiencing the reality of group interaction when, at family gatherings, one person's gift is a thousand times more valuable than anyone else's. That's why you've taken to fleeing. Since your son enjoys expressing his love financially, and since you sound concerned about your economic future, instead of getting a fleet of cars from him, maybe you should have a discussion about whether he'd be willing to put that money into an account you could draw on in future years. You could tell him doing that would be the best present of all, because he would relieve your worries about someday being a financial burden on all of your children.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am a successful 42-year-old woman, yet I have one fear that I cannot seem to overcome. I am terrified of driving on highways, especially the L.A. freeways. My husband and I have lived in California for two years. When we first moved here, I used to go on acting auditions, but soon it became apparent that my fear of driving was going to put an end to this. Then I made some friends, but if they lived somewhere I had to access by way of the highway, I'd turn down their invitations to visit. Recently, I realized I was going to miss the entrance to the 101, so to get on it, I nearly ran a trucker off the road. He was enraged and I was traumatized. When I got home, crying and shaking, my dear husband said perhaps L.A. freeways are too dangerous for me. Should I just accept my limitations, or is this a fixable thing? I don't want to end up killing someone or myself.

—Dying To Drive

Dear Dying,
You have a driving phobia, which is fairly common as phobias go, and yes, you can do something about it. Since you're an actress, you need to—even Gloria Swanson's character in Sunset Boulevard couldn't conduct an acting career exclusively from her home. Go to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America Web site and look up therapists in your area. You can even narrow your search to within two miles of your ZIP code, so you don't have to go on the freeway to get help. Take a look at Triumph Over Fear by Jerilyn Ross, a therapist who overcame her own phobia. And it's probably worth it for you to invest in a GPS device. It would be very comforting while you're driving to have an unflappable voice telling you exactly where you need to go.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I have been in a pretty serious exclusive relationship with a woman for a little over three months. We have much in common, such as activities, values, sense of humor, and physical attraction. It's my first serious relationship, so much of this experience is new to me. I want to get married eventually and raise a family, and she has indicated that is her goal, as well. I've found that there are a number of differences that inevitably come up in every relationship. In our case, we are of different religions (Jewish and Catholic) and political beliefs (I'm conservative; she is so far left she's not even on the chart). These issues don't come up often in our wonderful relationship—only when we have discussions about the distant future or academic issues like communism vs. capitalism. How and when should I bring up all these issues? My friends tell me that I should just keep going with the relationship and see what happens, but I also don't want either of us to get too attached if these major issues are deal-breakers that we should discuss now.

—Worried About Deal-Breakers

Dear Worried,
You're at the stage in which the idealized object of your affection starts turning back into a real person. Your friends are right that you should just keep going to see where this leads—especially since you have no experience with a serious relationship. But you are also right in recognizing that the differences between you may preclude a life together. The issues you raise are recurring ones and can't be resolved by drawing up a checklist ("Our future children will alternate the celebrations of Easter and Passover"). When the holidays come up, see how each of you feels about sharing each other's traditions, and imagine what it would be like if this were a regular part of your lives. As for being at different ends of the political spectrum, well, James Carville and Mary Matalin have turned it into a lucrative shtick. Political discussions—especially this time of year—should come up naturally. When they do, you two have to see whether your diverging views result in stimulating debates, agreeing to disagree, or stomping off in a huff. Do consider the fact that while you describe yourself as a conservative, you don't say she's a liberal, but that she's off the chart. Would she agree, or is this your way of saying you find her views ridiculous? While you work through what could pull you apart, do spend most of your time enjoying what's drawing you together.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I have been in a relationship for over two years and we have plans to marry. My problem is his job. He works in a sporting industry and he has given us the option to marry during only  three months out of the year (June, July, or August). I've always dreamed of having a fall wedding and have tried to explain this to him, but he keeps saying he can't because of his job. How do I get him to work with me on the date of our upcoming wedding? I think this is something that can be worked out if he would just listen to me.

—No Summer Bride

Dear Summer,
When you were having those autumn wedding fantasies, did it matter who the groom was, or would anyone do as long as the leaves were changing color? Your husband-to-be can't attend your dream wedding because he has to work. If you come to realize it's more important that he show up, instead of what time of year the wedding takes place, you will work this out by working around his schedule. Learning to let go of unrealistic dreams when faced with the realities of life will also be good practice for marriage.

—Prudie