Dear Ann Cannon • Our daughter recently graduated with her master’s degree. My husband and I, along with her brother (a college graduate), flew out of state to join her and celebrate. We paid for accommodations, food and all the sightseeing the four of us did while we were there. She also asked us to pay the change fee for her flight, as well as add three days to our itinerary so she could spend time with her friends from school. We did.
Upon our arrival, our daughter announced she would be spending those last three evenings partying with friends and that we weren’t invited. My husband and I were OK with this, but our son was hurt not to be included. We asked our daughter to reconsider and invite him along once or twice. She refused, even though we expressed our disappointment. The trip is over, but her father and I are angry with our daughter for excluding her brother. Our rule has always been that when you’re on a vacation, all parties are included. We’ve always been generous with our children in education and travel. We wanted them to benefit from seeing a bigger world. They both did multiple studies abroad while in college, and we paid for our daughter’s monthly rent while she was in grad school. We’ve been planning another family trip, but right now I don’t feel like spending time with her. Where do we go from here?
— Mad Mom
Dear Mad Mom • It’s always hard when family members somehow disappoint us, right? For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts. I don’t think your daughter was totally out of line for wanting to spend some alone time with her graduate school friends. They, no doubt, have a special bond based on shared experiences, and it’s not surprising that they would want to commemorate their time together as they’re preparing to move on. At the same time, I do think it was ungracious of your daughter not to include her brother in at least one of her activities, although he may have (frankly) felt a bit like an outsider in a group of tight-knit friends.
Your generosity is commendable. It’s clear that you’ve wanted the best for your children and you’ve worked hard to make this happen. Is it possible, however, that your well-meant generosity has had the unintended consequence of creating a sense of entitlement in your daughter? I don’t know her or you and your husband, so I’m not in a position to judge. But for her sake — and yours, too — maybe it’s time for you to step back financially and emotionally for a while. This may give you and your daughter a chance to push the reset button on your relationship as she learns to be an independent adult, and you learn how to be the parent of an independent adult child.
As parents of young children, we set rules for them with the expectation that those rules will be followed. This is as it should be for their protection and their development. The problem arises when those same children grow up. Often our inclination is to still set rules for them with the expectation that those rules should still be followed if we’re supporting them. ESPECIALLY if we’re supporting them. This, however, can lead to resentment on everyone’s part, which is why old boundaries need to be renegotiated and redrawn. Here is an opportunity for you to do that.
Change in an established family dynamic is always hard and often messy but ultimately necessary as family members evolve. I truly wish you and yours the best of luck.
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