Facing a problem yourself? Annie has answers. Ask away!
My dad and stepmom were supposed to visit me last month to celebrate my first birthday in college. My dad ended up coming by himself because my stepmom had a nail appointment she scheduled months in advance. How can I tell them she hurt my feelings without jeopardizing our relationship?
Dear Birthday Blues,
Birthdays at college – especially your first one – are confusing. You have to balance your longing for familiar family traditions, like celebratory dinners, with the reality of being away from home. It is time to invest in a pair of big-boy pants to advocate for yourself. Disappointment is a natural part of any relationship – even (step) parent-child ones. Properly communicating your feelings can keep you from running away to join the Amish, as the melodramatic David Rose does in family sitcom Schitt’s Creek.
Coordinate a specific time to talk with your stepmom so you both have ample time for a satisfying discussion. But make sure to taper your expectations for the conversation. In sharing your disappointment, ask her to be more sensitive to special days in your life instead of probing for an apology. A “sorry” will not fix her parenting limitations, but expressing a need for quality time may guide her behavior in the future.
Speak the simple truth – that scheduling a nail appointment on your birthday made you feel neglected. Use “I feel” statements instead of the more accusatory “you.” If you’re feeling vindictive, tell her how much fun you had with your dad on your birthday – quality time that she missed because of her own carelessness.
While I empathize with you, let’s consider what you would have done with your parents anyway if your stepmother joined your dad for your birthday. You might have had brunch while she pointed out passersby who look like they are on the walk of shame, or maybe you would have wandered around the National Gallery while she criticized a manicure in a priceless portrait. You deserve to spend your day surrounded by authentic, natural love as opposed to stiff activities with someone who prioritizes vanity over quality time.
Instead of waiting for your stepmother to follow in the footsteps of the world’s “schittiest” mother Moira Rose, who declares she is “positively bedeviled with meetings, et cetera,” on your birthday, celebrate with your friends ahead of time. With one fewer family member at your birthday meal, treat a close friend to dinner on your parent’s dime if you have the option.
When you travel from one community to the next – like home to college – it’s easy to resent those who aren’t there for you during the transition as they were in the past. But the frustration toward those in the past may prevent you from embracing those in the present. You’re a “grownup” now – leave the family behind, find your friends and have fun!
This article appeared in the March 2, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.