Dear Carolyn: I’m a thirtysomething woman in a long-term relationship with a man who I really love and like, and who my parents like as well. We are very happy together, and have decided not to have children.

My mother has never hassled us about our decision not to parent, and that’s good. However, she is excessively devoted to the children of her two stepsons. For example, we were all at dinner the other week, and when someone asked her if she had other grandchildren (meaning – not from me!), she whipped out her wallet and showed around the pictures of my stepbrothers’ kids and called them “her” grandchildren.

Am I right to feel resentful – I mean, they aren’t actually her grandchildren at all. Shouldn’t she explain that they are technically the children of her husband’s children?

– Disrespected

A: So many family situations involve so many people and so many feelings, of such complexity, that you have ample room to see into them what you like.

Sure, you can resent your mother for doting on children who “aren’t actually her grandchildren at all.”

Or, you can be grateful these children fill your mom’s heart, when she might otherwise have “hassled” you for grandkids.

Or, you can be grateful these kids have a warm, loving stepgrandma in their lives who doesn’t keep them at arm’s length on a genetic technicality.

Or, you can be proud of your mom for rolling with everyone’s life choices and choosing to love – you, your boyfriend, her stepsons, their children – instead of judge.

Or, you can decide to be OK with your own choices and stop there, instead of peering into familial tea leaves for signs that your mom or some dinner companion or anyone else isn’t OK with them.

You’re thirtysomething and happy. What reason do you have not to grab the kindest, most openhearted choice on this list? Or two?

A dilemma

Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend asked me to travel with him to visit his family. I was told he has NEVER brought a girl home before.

The trip falls near my 30th birthday. I had been planning a blowout vacation for my birthday. There is no way I can do both trips. Is it selfish of me to take a pass on the family trip?


A: Your time, your money, your call.

Just know that choosing the “blowout vacation” might tell your boyfriend you’re not as invested in him as he is in you.

Nothing wrong with that, of course, if it’s true – and you’re kind about it. Selfishness applies when you don’t care who gets hurt as long as you get what you want.