Dear Annie: My sister's son, "Jared," lives close to us but far from his mother. We always invite them to family get-togethers, but are never sure whether they will show up. Sometimes they don't respond, sometimes they show up without responding, and sometimes they call at the last minute to say they are sick and can't come.
Jared was raised by my sister and her second husband. When my sister comes to visit Jared, his wife, "Claire," stays in her room. She doesn't come out to say hello or goodbye. The excuse is that she's "not well." My sister only comes three times a year for a couple of days because she wants to see their grandchildren. Claire does nothing for the kids. Her parents, who live with them, take care of the children.
Jared's biological father has been out of his life since he was a child. But a few years ago, a biological aunt looked up my nephew and contacted Claire. Ever since, Claire has been friendly to the bio-dad's family, inviting them over and spending holidays with them. But she totally ignores our side of the family.
There are periodic episodes of almost bizarre friendliness from Claire, and we always eagerly respond to these moments, but they are few and far between and never result in closer ties.
We've been told that Claire has a wonderful, outgoing personality at work. But with us, she barely communicates. She and Jared don't socialize with friends, either. I think Claire may suffer from depression or bipolar disease. I realize it is Jared's place to speak up, but he's very non-confrontational and becomes defensive.
What is the best way to handle Jared and Claire? My sister just accepts the situation because she can't do anything about it. — Illinois Aunt
Dear Aunt: Your sister is right. When you cannot change an unpleasant situation, you need to step back, lower your expectations and let it go. Claire is rude and disrespectful, and she is nicer to the bio-family because they are less connected to Jared and therefore less threatening to her. You certainly have reason to stop inviting them over, but if you would rather continue seeing Jared and his children, you will have to tolerate Claire.
Dear Annie: My wife and I are 75, with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We are still paying off our credit card bills from Christmas.
It's difficult for us to shop. We don't know what they want and can't afford much. My wife does a great job purchasing clothing and toys, but they don't seem terribly happy to open the presents. We still have a gift in our house for one great-granddaughter because her parents don't care enough to pick it up. Of course, none of the adult grandchildren has ever purchased us a gift.
What is a solution for people our age whose gift-buying increases every year and the recipients don't seem to appreciate it? I told my wife that maybe we should give a donation in their name. — Grandpa
Dear Grandpa: A donation is lovely, provided they don't object to the charity you have selected. Or give each child a tin of Grandma's special cookies or Grandpa's favorite tea. Great-grandchildren can be "given" an evening with you, popcorn and a rented movie. Please don't go broke trying to please kids who don't know how to be grateful.
Dear Annie: This is for Uncle Joe, the 88-year-old mentally ill uncle whose sister insists that he be invited to holiday gatherings. The key message is: "He ruins it for everybody." If he refuses help, leave him out and tell him why.
I was 70 years old before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression. I was put on the right medication and never looked back. It is not too late for Joe, but if he is too stubborn for treatment, leave him home. — Been There
This Classic Annie's Mailbox column was originally published in 2015. To find out more about Classic Annie's Mailbox and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit Creators Syndicate at www.creators.com.