I Offered to Give My Home to My Son. Why Does He Expect Me to Leave It?


I am 68 and live alone in a nice home in the suburbs. My only child, 40, is happily settled with his fiancée in another city. I always hoped they would come back here to raise a family, and I offered to give them my home if they did. They like the idea and plan to build a new house on the site. Over Christmas, I told them I was excited about their plan and added: “You could build a mother-in-law apartment for me or even a guesthouse.” It’s a large lot. My son burst out laughing and said, “Mom, you wouldn’t live with us.” They assumed I would move into a condo. I was shattered! The next day, he said he was sorry if I felt they were kicking me out of my house. I do. I also think if I don’t go along with them, they will stay where they are. Advice?

MOM

I’m sorry your feelings are hurt. Your impulse to give your home to your son was a generous one. But even with gifts — maybe especially with gifts — it is crucial to express any conditions we have in mind when we make the offer. Here, I don’t think a reasonable person would expect the gift of a home to include your continued residency in it — unless you mentioned that fact.

Now, I also know how natural it is to daydream about happy situations. For you, that may include living in an extended-family household with your son and his fiancée. And it’s easy to assume that other people want the same things we do. That’s why communication is so important: Sometimes, they don’t.

There is no incongruity in your son loving you very much and, also, wanting to start his marriage without having his mother in shouting distance. I hope you can understand that. So, knowing what you now know, what’s your preference: keep your home or give it away? Personally, I would stay put until you want to downsize. Giving your son your home does not guarantee frequent visits. Be direct with him and his fiancée about what you want and invite them to do the same.

My husband is an only child. He has cousins who are close in age, and they have eight young children between them. All the cousins send holiday gifts to our two children, but for us to send gifts to all of theirs is too costly. They often go over-the-top with gifts, and it happened again this year. What do I do?

GIFTED

Never let your discomfort about an unreciprocated gift stop you — or here, your children — from thanking others for their generosity. I know it can feel awkward to be caught empty-handed, but don’t let it freeze you into silence.

Going forward, maybe you or your husband can propose a get-together for the young cousins in lieu of gifts. (I was raised with a brood of cousins: Those relationships are much better than toys.) Otherwise, there is no shame — after thanking them — in explaining that your budget doesn’t allow for so many presents and suggesting a Secret Santa gift exchange instead.

I live in Japan. My son lives in the United States with his wife and two children. I visit every year. Last year, I found irrefutable evidence that my daughter-in-law is an alcoholic. I discussed the situation with her, my son and her mother. I offered to pay for her to go to rehab. My daughter-in-law told me she would handle the situation herself. I have just returned from another visit, and my daughter-in-law is still drinking. The only person she fears is her stepfather: He has a terrible temper and doesn’t know about this situation. Should I tell him?

FATHER-IN-LAW

You cannot fix this problem — neither can your son, his mother-in-law nor her raging husband. The only person who can decide that alcohol is diminishing her life — notwithstanding your “irrefutable evidence” — is your daughter-in-law herself.

Instead of pushing for residential rehab, encourage your daughter-in-law to take smaller steps: discussing the issue with a therapist, for instance, or attending a support group for people with alcohol use disorder. Speak to your son directly about protecting the physical and emotional safety of their children.

I am about to undergo brain surgery, and while I am confident of a positive outcome, I am putting some affairs in order. This includes apologizing to my first boyfriend, whom I dated in high school 45 years ago. I broke up with him — cruelly and immaturely — on Christmas Day, and not a Christmas has passed since then that I don’t regret my awful timing. He was a decent guy and deserved better. Would it be out of line to drop him a note of apology now?

EX

First, I hope your surgery goes well! As for your ex, there is always a risk that delayed apologies may reinjure the wronged party by reviving hurt feelings from long ago. These apologies can be selfish: more for you than for your ex. In this case, though, after 45 years, the likelihood of harm seems low. If ancient history is weighing you down, I say try to make it right.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on the platform X.





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