Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Question: I moved away from my hometown last year, but I'll be taking regular business trips back that way for the next few months. Living there are my mom and dad (divorced), two siblings, and several old friends. Last time I went home, I paid a visit to one sibling, and spent the rest of my free time with coworkers. I never heard the end of it from everyone I didn't visit.
How do I manage everyone's expectations so that visiting one person doesn't hurt others' feelings? Sometimes I'm in the mood to meet Mom for coffee, but not to listen to Dad complain about aches and pains. Sometimes I'm in the mood to play with Sibling 1's baby, sometimes I just want to go to happy hour with Sibling 2. Am I wrong, or is this totally fair?
Answer: Totally fair. Warn everyone you can't possibly see everyone in one weekend, so you'll see one or two each time. Thank them all in advance for their understanding.
If the braying continues, then give it the "I'm sorry to hear that," treatment, with a follow-up "I explained this at the beginning" as needed. Throw in an "I even thanked you in advance for your understanding! Don't make me take it back!" bit of levity if you think it will fly.
Question: Our son shocked my husband and me by calling off his engagement to "Molly" last month. He gave us almost no explanation. We were disappointed - we love Molly and wanted her to be part of our family. For almost a month, we believed our son was the one who had called off the wedding. Molly reached out to us this week and explained that she called it off because of our son's confessed infidelity.
Now I feel even worse. I've been holding on to this e-mail for days without mentioning it to my son. Should I talk to him about it? He is, in essence, lying to us about what caused the end of the engagement.
Answer: No. You already feel too deeply and know too much. Your son is currently digesting the consequences of his actions without your having to do or say a thing, and that's how it should be. Let things settle and give your son a chance to come to you with a more truthful version of events if and when he's ready, if ever.
It can also be knowledge you add to the pot of your understanding - of what happened, of your son, of past events that made no sense at the time, of future events that you'll see with new eyes - and draw from as you continue through life with your son, understanding that he's as much a bundle of gifts and flaws and triumphs and colossal screwups as the rest of us, which is why it's so great to have parents around who love the whole bundle.
Reader comment: Don't be too hard on your son, or too judgmental. Only the two of them know what really went down, and right now you only have one side of the story. He needs your unconditional support no matter what caused the breakup.
Answer: Well argued, thanks.