Carolyn Hax: ‘Your family, your responsibility’ means her parents get nothing

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Caroline: My husband and I usually take the “your family, your responsibility” route. So he takes care of the travel details to visit family, etc., and I take care of mine. We have a good relationship with all of them and it generally works well.

We now have three nieces and nephews, two from his side and one from mine. The problem is that he constantly forgets our nephews birthdays on his side, even with a few gentle reminders, while I never forget our niece on my side. I’m totally happy to help come up with ideas, but don’t want to take on the responsibility of managing her side of the family, including the logistics of ordering and sending gifts. But I also feel bad because they’re getting old enough to notice our lack of gifts.

Is this a letting go situation or is it worth talking about? His sister never mentioned it, but she’s the kind of person who would notice.

“His nephews, his problem?”

His nephews, his problem?: Two choices. The first is to leave things alone and let the consequences happen where they may. This could include your husband not being close to his nephews. Never mind! And if her sister doesn’t like it, then she can call her herself, or you, misogynistically, or just roll with it like an adult herself.

(Full disclosure: I’ve elevated forgetting birthdays – randomly! In the worst way – to an art form, and if my sisters and their kids don’t all know that I care about them very much but that I don’t make a milestone a priority- mark and happily accept it when they forget my birthdays and my kids’ birthdays, so I consider it my fault for not being clear.)

The other choice is for you to take care of the delivery of the gifts, because it is important to youand move something else from your plate to his.

You have a good system and I never want to be responsible for someone picking up mental charge items dropped for someone else. But. If leaving it to your husband would be like making your nephews collateral damage in a chore war, then take over and give your husband a different chore. The one it’s best to do or won’t hurt the little feelings if it’s not done.

Or, if they appreciate cash/gift cards, which take +/- 00:00.47, take it without in-kind exchange. This is what a functional, respectful and trust-based workload sharing system allows you to do. Your call.

  • They are also YOUR nephews, aren’t they? You have a relationship with them too, right? You expect to continue having a relationship with them, right? So… when the current system fails these people who are also your people in ways that you think are wrong, then it’s time to sit down and say, “It’s not working. How can we fix it? Even if the current system seems theoretically fair. For what it’s worth, I’m a social worker because my husband sucks. However, I haven’t washed the dishes or done the laundry for two years. ‘Cause I kinda suck at being above that.
  • Similar problem with my husband. I created a shared calendar with everyone’s birthdays as recurring events. We both get notifications about two weeks in advance and discuss what to get and who is responsible for buying/shipping. Sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s him.

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