Ask Amy: Advice for the Real World

Dear Amy: My wife and I have two daughters-in-law.

They are both excellent wives to our sons and mothers to our grandchildren.

One is in her mid-30s, and the other is turning 40.

The younger is a stay-at-home mother, but manages and cleans their Airbnb, which we have a large vested interest in. She does an excellent job both there and at home.

The other daughter-in-law has a high-profile job and has excellent people skills. We love them both very much.

Each year both women take pictures at the beginning of the school year with beautifully made signs showing what grades the kids are going into, standing in front of their homes.

They send these photos off to family and friends. Unfortunately, we do not receive the photo from the younger daughter-in-law, so I have to text my son and ask him for the pictures, which we eventually receive.

Shortly after they were married, her own parents told us, “She is a handful; look out!”

I pay when we go out together, but I never hear a thanks from her, the grandchildren, or our son.

We love being with them and we don’t want to hinder our relationships. We see them often, and have helped them financially, with no thanks.

How can we cope with this?

— Hurt

Dear Hurt: Your son, his wife and children don’t seem to be behaving up to your standard, and it is up to you to communicate this to them.

The issue with the back-to-school photo is petty.

I assume this has become a stand-in for how disrespected you feel in other ways.

You seem to lay your disappointment at the feet of your daughter-in-law, and yet your son is a member of this family, and you raised him. Surely he shoulders some responsibility for his family’s poor manners.

If you want these family members to behave differently, then you should respectfully ask them to. You can say, “We love you all, but feel unappreciated. We feel you aren’t grateful for our generosity because ... well, you never express it. We’d really appreciate a ‘thank you’ when we extend ourselves to you and the kids ... when we pick up the check, send gifts, and support you financially. Being thanked would mean a lot to us.”

And then, depending on how they respond, YOU could choose to behave differently.

If you don’t want to finance their various ventures because of their perennial lack of gratitude, then stop. If their behavior doesn’t change and you choose to continue, then do so in a spirit of generosity, where the generosity itself is its own reward. If you do this, then you don’t get to complain about their ingratitude.

Dear Amy: I am one of those people who is always working on ways to improve myself. I will start a fitness routine, a healthy eating routine, or a “sort and tidy” routine, but will give up fairly quickly.

I’m wondering if you have any ideas for how to get new routines to stick.

— Bard

Dear Bard: Like you, I seem to have a routine of trying new routines and looking on the bright side, you have to imagine that your health and life might be worse if you didn’t make these ongoing efforts.

I think the answer is to develop routines that are easier to stick to than these larger-scale ideas. I recently read a book called “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” (2018, Avery), where the author, James Clear, made at least one suggestion that seems to have stuck with me.

He calls it “habit stacking.” You take one positive (or neutral) habit you already have, like having a cup of coffee in the morning, and you “stack” a new habit on top of it. So after you have your coffee, you wipe a kitchen counter (or do one pushup). Developing new small habits and unlocking smaller achievements will lead to more. As the author points out, the power of “compounding” will make your mini improvements major over time.

Dear Amy: “Surprised” took issue with your view on who should pay the bill: older parents or their adult children.

Amy, my husband and I have financial problems and have made some bad choices. We are doing our best but no, we cannot pay for our older parents when we go out.

— Still Trying

Dear Trying: Being financially healthy enough to occasionally pick up the tab for the people who raised you is a worthy goal.

Contact Amy Dickinson at: askamy@amydickinson.com.