Dear Margo: Unwarranted Guilt

Margo-Howard_tall10Margo Howard’s advice

Unwarranted Guilt

Dear Margo: I am married with two almost-teenagers. We aren’t rich, but we’re comfortable. I have a cousin who has two children. One is near my children’s age. This one has spent summers with us for years, and we have taken him on almost every family vacation. He is like a third kid.

My cousin’s other child is only 5, and he visits us sometimes but does not accompany us on vacations and weekend trips like his older brother. I cannot take care of all four, especially since the 5-year-old requires so much attention that it’s like work for me having him around.

Since my cousin works a minimum-wage job and is a single mother, I worry that the younger child will grow up without the experiences of his older brother. We’ve taken trips to the Bahamas, Disney World, you name it. The younger child will not have these memories, and I feel guilty. But if we include the younger child, then my vacation is spent taking care of a very high-maintenance child, and it really takes the fun out of the trip for all of us. That doesn’t seem fair to my kids. Your thoughts? — Wanting To Do the Right Thing

Dear Want: In this situation, let us borrow from the law and go to motive and intent. Your instincts are generous in that you include your nephew, and your intent is that you and your family, plus the cousin, have a good time on vacation. Your motive in excluding the younger child is not petty — i.e., it’s not that you dislike him but that he requires a kind of attention the other kids don’t.

Given all the considerations you mention, I would not beat myself up over the little one not having the same experiences as his brother. Whenever there’s an appreciable disparity in age, all kids in all families have different experiences. Bag the guilt because there really is no cause for it. Party on. — Margo, sensibly

Sometimes There Are No Solutions  

Dear Margo: I don’t want to even mention their names, but I have read about hook-up sites online that are quite specific. There are sites for housewives who want to make extra money, for housewives who just want to have a fling, for married men, and there’s even one that offers “older sugar daddies” to young women who need financial help with school or whatever. Aren’t such things against the law? Prostitution is against the law. I understand that there’s nothing I can do about all this, but am I so last century that I find this disgraceful? What is going on here? — No Prude

Dear No: What is going on is what has always been going on … only now the ability to advertise such things is as easy as turning on your phone or a computer. The only way public outcry has proved to be effective is when the ads are on sites where they are incidental, such as Craigslist. After a couple of murders and several crimes were traced to ads they accepted, their policies tightened up. There was also a big kerfuffle about the raunchy personal section in the Village Voice, for example.

One complication is that there are competing interests involved: the First Amendment, for one, freedom of the press, and legal statutes that vary by state. There will always be sex as commerce. It is just unfortunate that the downside of unlimited Internet content is content that many find offensive and destructive. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s impossible to even control porn. So count me as someone who, with you, is “so last century” but is trying to accept — and recognize –the things I cannot change. — Margo, regrettably

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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25 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Letter #1: I think you are being more than generous in offering your cousin’s older son opportunities with your family and while I understand your concern about the younger son, I don’t think you should feel guilty for not wanting to take on the care of a young child (in addition to 3 pre-teens) for a summer or for a vacation…and 5 years old is really rather young to be away from his mother for extended periods anyway. And really, who is to know what the future may hold. Your cousin’s financial circumstances may improve in time and the younger child may yet have the opportunities you are offering the older son. On the other hand, there are many children growing up in loving homes who have quite happy and enriched lives even without going to the Bahamas, Disney World or you name it so perhaps the younger son is not as deprived as you think.

    Letter #2: I’m a firm believer in ignoring what I cannot do anything about.

  2. avatar Toni Jean says:

    Growing up I had 3 older half siblings who only very occasionally (every five years maybe) would get trips away to see their father. I remember it is as a quiet pleasant time when I got to do things I normally didn’t get to do.
    Sometimes staying home is a treat too, lw 1!

  3. avatar htimsr40 says:

    I have about 30 cousins. I spent time with those who were close to me in age … not so much with those where there was an age discrepancy. That’s natural. We all get along fine at family get togethers and I am not aware of anyone complaining about disparities in time spent with different cousins, aunts and uncles.

  4. avatar deejay1904 says:

    LW3, prostitution is not illegal everywhere, nor is it viewed as disgraceful everywhere. It’s perfectly legal in my country. It’s only street solicitation that’s illegal in many places. The internet is a worldwide forum.

  5. avatar Karin Smith says:

    LW 1: I agree that you shouldn’t feel guilty not including the 5-year-old child on your trips, because they DO take a lot of looking-after. Also, because they can have a hard time keeping up with the “older people”, a young child can easily end up tired and unhappy, making the entire group miserable, so I completely understand your choice to not bring the young one along.
    I also admire your desire to want to give the younger child special memories with family.

    Suggestion: what if you purchased a few tickets to local family-friendly events and a few fast-food or family restaurant gift cards and gave them to your cousin so that she could go do something special with the 5-year-old while the older sibling is on the trip with you? It doesn’t have to be anything huge, but places like movie theaters, children’s museums, minor league sports events, skating rinks, water parks, etc. are great places to take young children. It would be a wonderful gift for your cousin to be able to have a special outing or two with her child and not have to worry about paying for it. That way, you’re able to do something to help out (without the stress of having to look after a 5-year-old yourself), AND you’re able to give the young boy the chance to have special memories with his mother.

    • avatar sdpooh says:

      That is a great idea. The little guy would have fun in doing things with his mom. And if she is a working mom, places to eat would be good. She would not have to cook and they would have one on one time. I remember my son and I used to like to go to a nearby fast food place that had a potato bar. We would load our potatoe with good stuff and talk about the day.

    • avatar Lym BO says:

      I think this is a great idea as well. I have kids are ten, ten, eight & five. I cannot even imagine anyone offering to take the 5 year old. Nor would I let her go except maybe with my parents. She can be high maintenance & would miss us terribly. Aside from that, five is a tough age. Tougher than an infant for sure. Fives also are always striving to be big kids and can only maintain it for a while before breaking down. Giving the older sibs time away & to continue that bond with their cousins is a great gift.
      Another idea is to throw in some money for a sitter so mom can truly get some time away from all the kids, if that is part of your gift to her.

  6. avatar Phyllis Barlow says:

    That’s a great idea, Karin!! That’s close to my suggestion. I was going to suggest that occasionally the aunt plans an outing that was closer to home and include the younger boy. Going to Disneyworld might be too much but a trip to a town close by to visit the zoo and stay in a motel overnight might be just right.

  7. avatar Cindy M says:

    L #1: I think it’s wonderful of you to be concerned in this manner. Since he is only 5 and high maintenance, perhaps when he’s older (say in 10 years, when the other 3 children are now in early adulthood) perhaps you and spouse could “make it up to him” by taking him various places? At least try to build some real memories with him, involving real places. If not, then he’ll simply have to accept the age disparity; sometimes I’ve been left out for various reasons (age).

    L #2: Yeah, I’m stumped too. I’m 47 and grew up thinking I should make my own way in life. I guess the “old school feminists” rubbed off on me (thank you ladies!). I’m not sure what’s gone on that so many other women (my age or otherwise) are “slutting out” and wanting it to be ala 1950 again (sans hubby with a fat paycheck). There are lots of SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES out there, but apparently that still hasn’t occurred to many people; or they’re above contracting one. *shrugs*

  8. avatar kebelf says:

    Don’t blame the porn industry – they tried years ago to get the .xxx domain – which would have made it easy for anyone to block. Unfortunately you had idiots having hysterics that the kiddies would know where the porn was. NOT the brightest crayons in the box those folks. Well they have .xxx now but it’s going to be so much harder to shift it all there. Word to the wise – I wouldn’t let my curi0sity get the best of me and go looking never know what tracking garbage is on those sites. I’ll just take their word for it that it’s active. 🙂

    • avatar L T says:

      It’s not something that was floated and denied — the .xxx domains are active. The main arguments against it were nothing to do with making porn easier to find; it was about how useless it is as a filtering measure because you can’t legally force people to buy particular domain names. It was also about the expensive legal issues that could (and have) arisen for people trying to protect legitimate brand names from being used to label .xxx sites.

      But the beauty of the internet is that it really doesn’t matter whether all the porn sites are corralled into a virtual red-light district or not, because it’s just as easy to ignore the porn if you don’t like it as it is to find it if you do.

  9. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1) The two “almost teenagers” ought to be able to pitch in with some assistance on a short family road trip … and if you think not, then why not?

    By age 5, a child is much less labor intensive than during the infant, toddler the potty training years. Feel no guilt about not including the younger child thus far … but from now on, think about inclusion since the memories developed by a five-year-old can be rich indeed.

    You mention Disney World, a delight for most kids. But since when would your “almost teens” be glued to your side at Disney? They’d be off on their own at the park, and you would have only the little kid to watch.

    • avatar Lym BO says:

      I have a five year old (and two teens & a eight). I am around her peers a lot. Five is way more emotional maintenance than an infant. Infants just eat, sleep & need diapers changed. Fives cannot walk, dress, bathe or eat fast enough. They can’t ride the same rides or do the same activities as the tweens. They have a huge desire for independence. They also refuse strollers, and other help, etc. There should be no guilt.
      If she feels inclined, she should set an age when this child can come along. But I would be careful what is promised because that age gap will always be a deterrent. 18s won’t want a 13 around.

  10. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW2) What is going on here? Apparently plenty that you’ve been busily nosing around investigating. How did you just happen to come across these sites that you don’t want to mention, because lord knows, word my spread? Perhaps you find them titilating? None of that stuff appeals to me, but I am curious about how you’ve come to be so familiar with all the alternative lifestyle options specified, and why you are so sure something “should be done” about such activity between consulting adults.

  11. avatar kebelf says:

    Many in the legitimate, for want of a better word, porn business did want the .xxx domain and while it would not, as you pointed out take care of all it would take care of a huge chunk and that is what the younglings would associate it with. I could give a fuzzy what adults do but maybe it’s having been using computers since before there was a WWW and working online after but I don’t live under a rock so yes I know what adults can get up to. I think most adults – computer savvy or not know. Get a grip. Companies have always had cost of protecting their brand in their budgets – cost of doing business. No one is advocating anything be ‘done’ about ‘it’. I didn’t use filters – I think they are a waste. I just watched the history. I was more concerned with the bugs that might be dragged home.

  12. avatar Lisa Bonnice says:

    Is it possible to, once in a while, include the younger boy AND his mom, perhaps for the occasional weekend or two until he gets old enough to be a little lower maintenance? That way no one feels left out, the mom is there to take care of him, the expense won’t be too painful, and it’s just for a weekend, not the whole summer.

  13. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    None of us can make up for every inequity in life. The five year old is not at an age to appreciate the activities or pace of the older children. The older child is the same age group so he fits in. This is the letter writer’s break from work and her chance to unwind so she can function at her best. She shouldn’t feel any guilt. There was no mention of other relatives helping the cousin with age appropriate activities fr the youngest to enjoy.

  14. avatar ann penn says:

    I like the suggestions of finding something for the younger child left at home.

    Is it possible that in a year or two you could take along the younger one (preferably with a friend of the same age)? That would be less work for you to monitor and the older ones could be off doing their own thing for part of the days.

  15. avatar BeanCounter says:

    Hey No Prude….how is ANY of this ANY of your business?!?!? sheesh.

  16. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – I can’t imagine that the LW can’t find some time or activity in which to include the younger child. I agree that not all siblings have the same experiences based on age and circumstance but I get the feeling there some specific exclusion going on here.

    LW2 – Don’t like those ads? Don’t read ’em. Problem solved. Not sure what Margo is thinking about but craigslist hasn’t tightened up anything. All those adds are still out there. When a ‘personal’ ad uses $ instead of an s one gets a hint.

  17. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #1 – I have A TON of experience on this subject without going into details.

    My advice would be this. If you only focus on the superficial (trips and vacations) that you give these young boys, you are missing out on what will really be first and foremost in the younger one’s memory. Do you love and “show” that love for the younger brother? Do you speak with him on the phone or send special cards, letters and gifts? If you don’t, you need to start.

    Especially because his mom works a low income job and may not be giving him as much time as he likes, to have someone other than mom lavish him with attention….even if from afar….goes a long way. When he is older he will remember his special relationship with you, and THAT will mean far more than any vacation or trip with your family.

    I had a family member that was essentially your cousin’s 5 year old tell me when they were a teen, that they resented that I was never there for them but instead was for another child in our family. And the truth is, they were right, I wasn’t there.

    Letter #2 – I can relate to this letter writer because I am (in my mind only) the moral police. In a perfect world I could wave my magic wand and everyone would behave, think and live as I want them to. But this isn’t a perfect world. Sex is something that is important to most people and sex is something that most people are hypocrites about. Everyone is against porn yet it is a billion dollar a year industry. SOMEONE is buying it. 🙂

    I say as long as the person isn’t blatantly offering a sex act for money, it isn’t and shouldn’t be illegal. Immoral…..yes. Illegal, no.

  18. avatar kathleeno says:

    LW2 – For years, my husband and I have included cousins and nephews (we have no nieces) in our family plans because it made it more fun for our own kids. We spent tons of money on kids who aren’t our own. But we kept it fair. And still do. We have three nephews – the oldest one was taken to Disney World several years ago on a whim. But we have now taken each one to Disney World. Because we will absolutely not favor one child over another – ever – regardless of how difficult the other child may be. I know people who do that – exclude kids from activities because they are more of a chore – and I think very little of those people. LW2 is thinking of it entirely from her perspective – what’s easy. We always go to the child’s perspective.

    • avatar Lym BO says:

      So then you would never let your kids do something that they others have not been invited to usch as a birthday party? I’ve seen these parents & had trouble with it myself. One kid goes to a party. I spend money on the gift then I have to entertain the others so they don’t feel bad. Nope. Did it a couple times then realized they needed to learn life isn’t always fair. It never will be. Then should even out over time, but maybe not. I have one kid who is popular & gets invited to every party. I have two who get invited to just a few. I have two girls that are going to be knock outs, another who won’t but she will be academically & socially successful. My kids are very different. Their life experiences will be as well. I have to teach them to take it all is stride & be happy with what they have, work for what they don’t and accept they may attain different things in life. It is also my job to teach them they are only entitled to things they have worked towards. That’s my job. It is not to paint a rosy and false picture of the world because eventually they will realize this a farce & crash.

  19. avatar A R says:

    I’m not really sure why several are advocating that the LW pay for the sister and her younger child to have activities and outings. I mean, not to sound heartless, but part of the problem in America right now is people feeling that others should pick up the tab for the things they want but don’t have. If the LW is doing this for the teens, she’s already doing above and beyond. It’s not too much to ask that the sister pony up for a movie and lunch for herself and the five year old’s outings. Moreover, the sister has a responsibility to be able to manage her own life. If she’s not making enough to cover her business, time for some decisions: like changing jobs, going back to school, or taking on other work. It’s a kind gesture, sure, but the LW does not owe this to her sister.

  20. avatar Diane Shaw says:

    Ltr. #1 – I think it’s a good lesson in that life is not fair. With that said, when we refer to that adage, many times it’s in reference to what we get or not get in terms of material things. My point here is that you are, hopefully, making memories and providing a feeling of well-being for your older nephew. That doesn’t mean you can’t provide the same for the younger child, if this is the concern. Make special memories for the little one. They don’t have to be the same as what was provided for the older child.