Service of Enough is Enough: When Should the Familial Milk of Human Kindness Cease?

March 13th, 2023

Categories: Brat, Entitled, Generosity, Gratitude, Kids, Spoiled, Thanks


Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay 

I disagree with part of the response New York Times Ethicist columnist philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah gave generous grandparents who wrote him about their “rude and ungrateful” youngest grandchild. The 17-year-old never thanked them for the educational trust they set up for her college tuition nor for recent birthday gifts and she ignores them at family gatherings. Her mother—their daughter—said the young woman was simply being a teen [though none of the other grandchildren behave this way] and not to confront her with how her behavior hurts their feelings.

I agree with this part of his response: “You have an independent relationship with this teenager; if you think your daughter’s recommendation is mistaken, you can tell her so and let her know you’re going to talk to your granddaughter about your concerns.”

He recommends that if they do speak with the brat, [my choice of words], the conversation “shouldn’t be accusatory or aggrieved; you can ask if you’ve done anything to make her feel distant from you, while emphasizing how much you care about her.” This is me: She may not like them for no other reason than that they annoy her. Personalities clash. It happens. They might want to prepare themselves to hear that–or nothing.

This is the part of Appiah’s response that I disagree with. The philosopher wrote: “Precisely because your financial generosity to your granddaughter is an expression of familial love, it shouldn’t be part of this discussion. The real problem with reducing your largess is that if she then mended her ways, you would all end up wondering whether you had effectively purchased her displays of affection. This could permanently damage your relationship with her. Authentic gratitude is what you’re entitled to, and it isn’t for sale.”

I think the faucet of their kindness should be turned off posthaste. I’d go a step further. The entitled youngster should be told that there are countless students who would be grateful for help to cover their tuition. The grandparents should tell her that they have donated the money in the trust for her to XYZ university for that purpose. They should honor her future birthdays with a card. This way there would be no doubt, should the youngster change the way she treats her grandparents, that she’s doing it for the money.

Am I too harsh? How many times should relatives be expected to turn the other cheek?

Image by genielutz from Pixabay

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17 Responses to “Service of Enough is Enough: When Should the Familial Milk of Human Kindness Cease?”

  1. ASK Said:

    I do believe the fault is with the mother. Her daughter is not just being a teenager, she lacks gratitude and thoughtfulness. I just remember too many times as a child when we visited my grandparents (I was lucky enough to know all four), my mother would warn me before we went through the front door, that I had to kiss each one and thank them (again!) for their previous gifts and/or cash. If I didn’t I’d get an unobtrusive but strong pinch on my arm plus a dressing-down later. This stayed with me throughout those terrible teen years. But maybe I am old-fashioned…

  2. ASK Said:

    And I don’t always agree with Mr. Appiah either…

  3. Helen Said:

    It’s not just relatives. I’ve noticed, sadly, that when I’d give a gift to the children and the parents who have money ….no one says thank you. I’ve stopped giving. On the other hand my friend who isn’t from prosperous family always says thank you. Her boys make me thank you videos and sing thank you songs to me. Makes me smile. So they will always get a gift from me. The other people get zero. In fact I’ve actually ended the friendships. Give me a break. I grew up in the inner city, playing on the fire escape. I’ve always said thank you. So have my girls. Having money doesn’t mean you can be rude. Just my opinion. Even Georgie my parrot writes thank you notes. He has his own personal stationery. I help him of course.

  4. Linda Levi Said:

    Linda on Facebook: Despite many more ways to communicate these days, I do find generally speaking the younger generation isn’t great at communicating appreciation. But that said, still no excuse. The real culprit here is the mom not allowing or encouraging the grandparents to confront the granddaughter. If she’s unaware of her behavior it needs to be pointed out. Parents likely, or should be, horrified at their child’s behavior. You learn manners and right versus wrong from your parents. Sounds like they skipped those lessons with this child or they’re enabling their daughter for some unknown or unspoken reason. Sad situation, although even worse one I’ve heard all too often.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Linda,

    In their note to the NY Times Ethicist columnist the grandparents pointed out that their other grandchildren don’t act this way. However, you make an excellent point–that perhaps there are other things going on with this child. As the grandparents didn’t mention anything, and one assumes if there were, they would be sympathetic and understanding, not puzzled and reaching out for advice, this may be a simple case of a spoiled young woman who is going through a phase of “ME ME ME” without thinking of how she makes others’ feel. As you wrote, it would be up to her parents to point this out.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    You are lucky. I knew one grandmother and one grandfather. I used to claim I looked just like the grandmother I never met but was told I didn’t.

    In any case, I, too, remember being coached by my mother about restaurant etiquette when it came to ordering when my grandfather was our host. A child has no better mentor than a parent willing to take the time to advise and guide–and repeat the guidance when it appears to have slipped the child’s mind.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Helen,

    You are a stronger woman than I am and you are right. I must learn to cross off my present list folks who send no smoke signals of gratitude.

  8. Linda Levi Said:

    Linda on Facebook: Or perhaps there’s a mental health situation at play that either is undiagnosed, parents aren’t sharing or grandparents not accepting. We never fully know what goes on behind closed doors. And even when parents raise all their children alike, the outcome isn’t always the same. I’ve seen it all too often, even in my own family.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Linda,

    All possibilities. The grandparents noted in their query: “At family get-togethers, she is openly effusive in greeting her aunts, uncle and cousins, but ignores us unless we approach her.” A tip that she’s pulled together socially–pretty much.

  10. BC Said:

    Get the kid a job.

  11. lucrezia Said:

    That lousy daughter is bringing up her child to be an equally miserable human being. She’s also depriving her of many a happy hour with loving grandparents. This is not a matter of money, but of being human. Worse yet, everyone loses.

    Were such a painful shoe to abuse my foot, I would dissolve the education fund, leave the financials to a deserving/educational organization, and tangible valuables to the appropriate non-profit. A friend with a similar problem asked my advice, so there it is. Disrespect and meanness should be rewarded with severe consequences.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I agree 100 percent. I have been on a committee that offers scholarships to college and graduate students for over a decade. Not all make the cut and those that don’t–who are nonetheless terrific candidates–would be thrilled to see this youngster’s fund sent to their college to pay tuition. Pretty sure the grandparents could count on receiving a hearty thank you.

  13. Martha Takayama Said:

    I am at a loss to understand any of this mother and daughter’s behavior. Maybe there are underlying mental health issues at play. No one seems concerned about understanding the motivation of such interaction. However, I agree with Lucretia and think this largesse should be directed elsewhere.

  14. Deborah Wright Said:

    I agree with you. The milk cow (grandparents) should dry up! It is sad that the grandchild does not appreciate or even talk to them. If they had a loving relationship from day one, then possibly the “teen thing?” could be a feeble excuse. I think the daughter perhaps never stressed writing thank you notes or calling to express gratitude. She is partly to blame for this indifferent and cold behavior.

    My niece had two boys about two years apart. I felt sorry for them because they were very poor, and then she got a divorce and she was a single mom. I bought them clothing for years but never heard a word of thanks from my niece. As the children grew older, I sent them money. No acknowledgment. So, as time passed, I don’t send them anything. I am cordial when I see them, but that is it.

    Yes, there are times that you just let the relationship dwindle, even if they are close family. Life is too short to fret about it.

  15. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    As I mentioned in my response to Linda Levi, the grandparents wrote: “At family get-togethers, she is openly effusive in greeting her aunts, uncle and cousins, but ignores us unless we approach her.”

    She simply may not like her grandparents. It happens. But then she shouldn’t accept anything from them.

  16. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Deb,

    Your comment inspired a memory. When I became a stepmother, I read every book I could find on the subject. The takeaway is that each party must show respect for the other. If fondness happens, fine but it is not essential.

    In this instance and in the one you described about your silent niece and her children, the children were not taught about respect. Acknowledgement is part of that. The mother in the post is missing a crucial teaching opportunity. Your niece may have been overwhelmed.

  17. Martha T Takayama Said:

    I absolutely agree that the mother is at fault here for not having imparted basic manners to her daughter. In general, we are living in an era where good manners are in short shrift. However, good manners are really very practical and politically savvy. They make all interaction easier.

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