Carolyn Hax: Advice

Carolyn Hax: Ailing grandmother vs. European vacation

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Carolyn: My ailing-for-several-years grandmother has just been admitted to the hospital with what sounds like a serious health problem, and I leave on a European trip tomorrow afternoon.

Am I a bad grandchild for not even considering a postponement? I saw her a few weeks ago, and she barely seems to know who I am anymore.

Bad Grandchild?


Sorry, I can neither take you off this hook nor put you on it.

You want to go to Europe but are afraid others will judge you for it, right? So, who are they, and do you care what they think?

If you do care, then have you talked to them? Not with “Absolve me in advance of my guilt, please” but with “I’m thinking of doing this, because I’ve made my peace, but I’m concerned that you will want me around if Grandma takes a turn for the worse.”

This is a tricky line to walk, but I’m suggesting it because I, for one, would want my relative to go on the trip, and I would hate the idea that someone postponed based on an assumption about what I wanted instead of just asking me how I felt.

Where I don’t suggest walking this line is when you know family will freak out at your choosing the trip. In that case, you skip the fact-finding and just decide based on what you can live with.

Of course, either way, this is about figuring out what you can live with, but often that calculation includes what other people need or want from you and how obligated you feel to provide it.

Carolyn: My good friend is expecting her first child. I offered to throw a baby shower for her, and she responded that she would really appreciate that. She sent me the guest list of about 30 women, mostly her family and coworkers with a few mutual friends, and she also made some simple requests: no games, no cutesy invitations and no gifts.

I totally understand the first two, but the whole no-gifts things baffles me. It’s a baby shower, not a 50th birthday party. Now I feel uncomfortable inviting 25 women I don’t know into my home for lunch with no idea of how to entertain them and no actual purpose for the gathering.

Would it be totally out of line for me to tell my friend: How about instead I take you and a few of our friends out for a nice dinner as a celebration of you and the new baby? Or is it too late, and I just have to suck it up and deal with the uncomfortable, boring “luncheon” this has now turned into?

Backing Out?

Explain to her that you respect her no-gifts position, but that it kind of defeats the shower purpose – then ask how she feels about trying a different twist, like a children’s book shower? Or, a shower where the gifts will be donated to new moms at a nearby shelter?

For what it’s worth, I don’t see anything wrong with a luncheon that just celebrates her. Pretend it’s a birthday! A lot of shower hosts are opting for gift-displays anyway over the tedious public unwrap.

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