Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Ungrateful Son

Every week, Mallory and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: My son never gives me or his father gifts or cards.

Nicole: I wonder how she started addressing it back in 5th grade? There’s a LONG break between then and now, when he’s 22 and living 300 miles away.

Nicole: How is their relationship otherwise? Is it mostly good and he just doesn’t do gifts/cards/periodically express appreciation toward his parents?

If it’s NOT good, then this aspect seems like the least of your worries.

Mallory: Yeah it seems like such an odd detail to focus on! Either this is The Actual Problem Qua Problem (which is perfectly easy to address, inasmuch as you can say, “Hey, I love getting cards on my birthday and it would mean a lot to me if you’d send one this year”)

Or it’s merely an indicator of the overall tenor of their relationship, in which case why include that as the only detail? Instead of “he never calls, he never visits, he doesn’t send birthday/holiday gifts, I never know what’s going on with him”

Nicole: I am also not clear what the point of mentioning his adoption is? The “traveled alone around the world to get him” bit radiates “so he should be grateful.”

Mallory: That was my read also!

Why include that particular detail?

And the ADHD?

The combined effect is “he should be grateful I adopted him, especially because he has an ADHD diagnosis, which by the way I don’t think he’s managing appropriately”—between all those details it feels like there’s a pretty significant desire on the LW’s part to control and manage their adult son’s life?

Nicole: 100%

Her best bet is to try to spend more time with him, whether that involves sending a plane ticket or asking if she can fly out, and then trying to get to know him better.

Mallory: Yes!

Like, your problem is that you don’t talk to your son enough or know much about his life, not that he’s insufficiently grateful to you.

Nicole: EXACTLY

Mallory: Do we think the dad is a clue? Particularly the fact that the LW’s son has elected to live with him, and he never or rarely speaks to the LW—is that part of the frustration here?

Nicole: Unsure! I imagine he has a much better relationship with his father, hence living with him into adulthood, so I’m curious as to the events that preceded the divorce.

Mallory: Yeah I don’t want to read too much into just a few details, but it seems like the LW has a number of people trying to get distance from them. Which doesn’t mean the LW is an unremitting jerk, but it’s worth investigating what their part may have been in one thorough and one partial estrangement, and how they can try to reestablish a sense of closeness with their son (although not to force it if their son is unwilling).

Nicole: Bingo!