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When Family Lets You Down

When Family Lets You Down

By Amalah

Amy, please help. I need some perspective.

My dad’s 70th birthday is approaching. While he is far from perfect, he is an extremely generous man who loves his family desperately. He has never wanted presents or birthday parties for himself, but this year he consented to a small family party. Our family is very tight knit…or so I thought.

I wanted to put together a book of pictures, memories, stories, birthday wishes, etc. Several weeks ago I sent an email to close family and friends, asking for them to tell me a story about my dad, or send a birthday message. I asked for responses within two weeks, to give me enough time to put it together and get it printed in time for the party. A couple days before the deadline, I sent a reminder email. The day of the deadline, I had gotten ZERO responses – not even from my sister or stepmother! I started calling and sending individual texts, and a few responses trickled in. But I did not hear anything from most people, including my cousins and people my dad has been friends with for 40+ years.

Frankly, I’m furious, particularly at my cousins. My dad has always treated them like his own children, helped them financially when they needed it, gave them jobs, etc. He literally would give them the shirt off his back. My aunts (their mothers) told me they were just “so busy this time of year.” I understand being busy – I work two jobs and have three young children – but I have never missed a single holiday or birthday or event for any of them or their children. They couldn’t find 10 minutes to email or text me a quick story or message?

I don’t know how to get past this. I’m upset about the book – I don’t know how to explain to my dad why there are no contributions from these people – but mostly I just can’t believe they wouldn’t take the time to do this one small thing. The party is coming up and I want nothing to do with any of them. I’m tempted to just cut them out of my life completely, but our children are close and they would be devastated. I know when I see them they will offer some half-hearted apology, but I don’t think I’ll be able to smile and say “it’s okay.” I also don’t want to ruin my dad’s birthday.

Please help!

You’re not going to like this, but I think you need to let this go.

Yes, it’s certainly disappointing — you had a lovely idea! It’s not that big of an ask! — but I really don’t think it’s worth the level of outrage and hurt you’re taking on. Your family just wasn’t as into the book idea as you were. Maybe they felt self-conscious about their writing or kept overthinking the project; maybe they just flat-out didn’t like the idea for whatever reason. Or maybe they all just straight-up flaked. You don’t necessarily need  to (nor should you) take that lack of interest as some kind of major, direct reflection on how your family feels about your dad. They can 100% love, respect and value him and still be flaky about contributing to a group project.

Again, it’s perfectly reasonable to be disappointed in them, but I very much think this is a case that merits forgiveness, rather than abject fury and “cutting people out of my life completely.” Friends and family all let us down from time to time. It sucks that they all collectively chose to do it right around a major birthday milestone (although it’s also unlikely that any of them realized just how important this was to you, and how emotionally connected you were it), but I think your real takeaway from this should be: My family sucks at sending in stories and probably aren’t super into scrapbooking.

So what should you do?

Personally, I would revise the project to be something you create solo, using whatever pictures and stories you can provide. I think it would be odd (and even hurtful/a bit petty) if you presented your dad with something that clearly indicates a low level of participation. That’s going to require a bit of pride swallowing, but since this all really IS supposed to be about celebrating your dad and giving him a wonderful birthday, his feelings should be at the top of your consideration list, not yours. Yours are hurt, of course, but there’s no need to hurt his because your original idea didn’t quite pan out as planned. Scrap the meager contributions you received (that you already had to pull teeth to get; it’s not like they really represent the original spirit of the project anyway) and create the best book you can. Be the bigger person and include photos of the non-contributors — if your dad loves your cousins like his own children, he’ll be happy to see them there.

Then REALLY work on forgiving and letting it go. If people apologize, accept it. If people ask about the book, just shrug your shoulders and say that you simply did not receive enough contributions to justify printing it as a big group collaboration. If anyone who did contribute gets annoyed (which honestly, I doubt will happen, it’s pretty clear no one else has given it anywhere near the thought/importance that you have), just privately explain what happened: The participation level was embarrassingly low, so you went in a different direction to spare your dad’s feelings.

I’m sorry your lovely idea turned out to be such a bummer, but I sincerely hope your dad’s birthday is a lovely one, book or no book.

Photo source: Depositphotos/benschonewille


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About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Caroline Bowman

    June 5, 2017 at 10:52 am

    I think I might, AFTER the party, and assuming none of them have a very specific reason why they couldn’t contribute (which one or two genuinely might, to be fair), I would explain that you were quite hurt and felt let down given your dad’s kindness and generosity to them over the years. For now, I’d do the book myself, and I’d cleverly insert any very nice contributions from whoever has bothered, as a sort of example of how your dad helped someone else or did something worthwhile.

    Then when people apologise, as they inevitably will, half-heartedly and a bit embarrassed, just smile and say, oh don’t worry, I went another direction when I realised a lot of people couldn’t be bothered, to even respond to the request. It is a little catty, but it will make the point. Note, you aren’t saying THEY didn’t respond, just that ”people” didn’t.

    But as Amy says, beyond that, it’s just not worth getting het up about. Remember it, use it in future if and when they want something from you (forgive, never forget). Otherwise, focus on the party.

  • Grace

    June 5, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    I think you should give people the benefit of the doubt. Not everyone expresses love in the same way that you do. I, for one, would cringe and groan at this request. It would feel fake and forced to me and I would dread doing it. But, if my cousin had such a hard time understanding that not everyone is the same as her, then I probably wouldn’t have a problem with her “cutting me out”.

  • Hope Roth

    June 5, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    I strongly dislike being asked to contribute to something like this book. I have almost zero free time, and I don’t want to send in something that only took 10 minutes, because it will come across as half assed. I’d rather be asked if we want to make a book like this in the first place, which gives everybody an opportunity to buy into it.

    A better approach would be to send out a group email, ask if people want to contribute, and then proceed from there. If you get crickets, you can scale back or change you plans.

    I have dropped the ball on things like this before, letter writer. Please know that I don’t love the intended recipients any less for it. Some of us just aren’t very good at this sort of thing.

  • CKD1

    June 5, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Ugh, this is so rough and I’ve been on both ends: I’ve dropped a ball or two in my life, and I’ve been the one trying to rally the troops toward a common goal and things didn’t pan out as I imagined. It sounds like you have a good relationship with these family members and your heart was in a good (great!) place with trying to create a cool gift/project. It seems a bit harsh and short-sighted to cut everyone off completely over this ONE thing, really. It sounds like you dad is a great guy, too, who clearly values family; ask yourself what he would say if he asked why you no longer talk to Aunt Jan and it was over this incident. Would he want that? Probably not. Focus on doing something from you and your kids, and let everyone else express their love and appreciation for your dad in their own way.

  • janine repka

    June 5, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    i totally hear this! when you’re planning a party it can be so all consuming that you forget that everyone else is NOT thinking about the event every day. if the party hasn’t passed yet, have you considered getting a lovely blank journal or scrapbook for people to write messages to your dad on the day of? i’ve also made up “memory pages” with prompts for people to fill out at the party (get fun pens & markers!) that you can then fill a photo album with or bind to give to your dad. even ask some people to read theirs aloud as a roast/toast at the party! sometimes being prompted to provide a written contribution fills people with anxiety or feels like a homework assignment and there’s the added pressure of picking a story or memory that is “right” or “good”. maybe the crickets and “we’re just so busy!” are code for your family members not wanting to hurt YOUR feelings by saying “hey, this is a great idea but i’m not comfortable with writing something” despite adoring your dad.

    • CKD1

      June 5, 2017 at 2:25 pm

      That’s a really good idea! Cameras can be set up, too, and OP can maybe enlist the older kids to help get some photos. Then she can give this to her dad as a memento from the party itself.

    • Bonnie

      June 5, 2017 at 10:35 pm

      It’s so much more pressure to write something open-ended with no parameters than it is to be offered an opportunity at an event with a card and a prompt and a bunch of pictures, while everyone is in a “reminiscing about the old days” mood already.

  • Lilly

    June 5, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    I wonder if you floated the idea among the family before putting the request and deadline out to them?
    Personally I would be pretty annoyed at a family member who just sent out an email blast asking for something written in 2 weeks with no prior heads up that this is what the family was going to do. I am not someone who conveys feelings (including love) through writing, but prefer to do something for the person so I end up needing a lot of time to mull it about in my head. I still end up with generic platitudes even with that.

  • SarahB

    June 5, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    The relatives are all showing up for a party, yes? That may be all they have the bandwidth for. And that’s ok.

  • Karen

    June 5, 2017 at 7:55 pm

    At my uncle’s 60th bday, we did a roast/toast combo where everyone gathered around and people took turns roasting and toasting. It was lovely and no prep required.

  • Erin

    June 5, 2017 at 9:07 pm

    Even thinking about being on the receiving end of this request makes me anxious. I can almost guarantee that my reaction would be to MEAN to do it, obsess about how I’m not doing it, feel really really bad, and hope that it never came up again. Not proud of it! But it seems like the letter writer doesn’t really understand that this kind of thing isn’t necessarily easy for everyone, and is potentially a lot more emotional labor than “a 10 minute email.”

  • Vickie

    June 6, 2017 at 12:00 am

    Amy, that is a really good answer. Good read on the situation, good advise, and excellent suggestion for way to change the project.

  • Olivia King

    June 6, 2017 at 2:35 am

    I really agree with Amy on her ideas about this. I did this for a hen party (batchelorette party!) and while the bride’s friends were keen in principle, they all missed the deadline in spite of a timely reminder. I think they all individually didn’t think being late mattered….it did and it was stressful! It caused me tears and shook up a few weekend plans.

    It felt frustrating because they’d all been keen and it wasn’t for me, but for their friend who they loved. We got there in the end (sounds like you might not…) but I basically vowed never again! If I want to do one on my own, I will but won’t ever do a group one again!

  • Rebecca

    June 6, 2017 at 8:57 am

    I’ve been the one to drop the ball on requests like that, and we’ve gotten quite a few, because that’s my MIL’s go-to idea (we haven’t dropped the ball on all of them, but I make my husband do the writing haha). I really don’t like trying to write down memories like that, I’d rather do my own thing-and it doesn’t mean I don’t feel strongly about the person, I just really don’t like group projects or being “forced” to participate in a certain way. On the other hand, I do recognize that this type of thing is important to certain personality types, hence the participating that we have done.

  • Tiffany

    June 6, 2017 at 6:34 pm

    Can I suggest having the book at the party? People can write in it there, and maybe once they see other people doing it, they might’ve more enthusiastic?

    • JenVegas

      June 7, 2017 at 11:48 am

      I came here to suggest this too. People, in general, are TERRIBLE with handling expectations when no one is constantly poking at them. But, just like having one of those guest books at a wedding, people love to let you know when they show up for something. Get the book started, put some pictures in it, or put them in a box next to the book with markers and pens and let people create their page or their note while they’re there.

  • vanessasteck

    June 25, 2017 at 8:41 pm

    i’d be fucking furious, personally. i mean i wouldn’t cut them out of my life the way i would a trump voter, but i’d be REALLY ANNOYED.

  • dee

    July 21, 2017 at 9:40 am

    Honestly, one doesn’t have the right to other people’s stories and memories. It’s fine to ask if people want to share, but it’s not the sort of thing one has the right to demand of others. I suspect this sort of project can only really work as a group project in which all involve were part of the idea of writing the book.

    This is not the sort of thing that should make you think people don’t care for you or your father. It’s not actually that common for most people to publicly put out private stories in this fashion. People saying they were too busy was an attempt at a polite response. Few people would just say no to something like this that was clearly meant as a nice gesture, but getting few responses is actually what I would have expected…. It’s honestly rather too much like what one puts together for a memorial for my taste, but I probably would not have been comfortable telling you I didn’t want to express myself in such a formal manner.