Dear Margo: When to Stop Stewing and Air a Grievance

Even as adults my brother and I are treated differently, should I say something to my father? Margo Howard’s advice

When to Stop Stewing and Air a Grievance

Dear Margo: My father made a comment to me the other day that hurt my feelings. I didn’t know whether or not to say anything, so I didn’t, but now I wonder if I should have. My brother is getting married next month, and while most of the family is just glad my brother is happy, we wonder whether their relationship will last because of the little time they’ve known each other. What my father said was, “Oh, well, either way, I’ll just give them the usual $$$,” and he named a dollar amount. I should mention that this is my brother’s second marriage, and I am also in my second marriage.

I didn’t know what to say because he never gave me anything toward either of my weddings, and now my feelings are hurt. I think the only reason it hurt so much is because I take care of my father a lot. He is legally blind and lives alone. My brother lives two hours away, so that leaves me to help him grocery shop, pay bills, take him to doctors’ appointments, etc. Also, when my brother does come up for a visit with family, he rarely stops by to see our father. Should I have said something? — Lola

Dear Lo: If there are no big chunks missing from this story, I would say that your hurt feelings are justified, especially since you are the child who really goes out of your way for him. I think the only way to have a continuing relationship without smoldering resentment is to tell your father of your hurt feelings. It will be a difficult conversation, but I think one worth having. He may have been totally unconscious or unaware of his inadvertent oversight and implied favoritism. His response, whatever it is, will answer your questions, and getting it off your chest will clear the air. He might even try to make it up to you. — Margo, optimistically

Easier Said than Done

Dear Margo: I have a warning for your female readers, based on personal experience. I had a good friend and co-worker who was in a bad relationship with a brilliant man who specialized in mental cruelty. My friend (I’ll call her Babs) would call me at all hours sobbing out her heartache over his latest mentally abusive behavior, and she could not see her way to either stand up to him or end the relationship. The few times she did stand up to him, he backed right down and treated her like a queen for weeks, but then went back to his old tricks (which she accepted for months at a time).

Babs was model-beautiful, smart, fun, funny, kind, considerate and successful in a normally male-dominated profession, and yet she wasted years with someone who didn’t love her but needed a constant in his life. She was (obviously) insecure enough to need that constant herself and couldn’t see that she allowed him to mistreat her. Over time, she fractured friendships and eventually lost her position at our company because she was such an emotional wreck.

Babs would probably say I was a bad friend because I could no longer listen to her heartache and provide emotional support. I couldn’t stand seeing her wasting her time with someone who didn’t care. I would urge such women to both evaluate how an unhealthy relationship is affecting all other aspects of life, and then work up the courage to move on and have a better shot at a happier life. I hope you tell your women readers to put a higher value on themselves and their emotional well-being. — E.H.S.

Dear E.: I don’t have to because you just did — and in a most sensible and thoughtful way. I would add, however, that this particular situation is one of those most often figured out by trial and error — and I would stress “error.” — Margo, concurringly

* * *

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


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49 Responses so far.

  1. avatar beatrix_pierre says:

    LW#1: I agree with Margo. I also woudn’t feel like helping out with the grocery shopping, doctor’s visit and all as I would be fuming. Women are seen as the caretakers/caregivers so maybe your father takes your help as a given. Since your brother rarely or never visits your father maybe your father is doing what he can to keep in touch.

    LW #2: Intelligent attractive women do things out of charactor when in love. Bad decisions seems to be the norm. Love skewers viewpoints.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      LW1: I get really tired of the “Mother/Father isn’t giving me what I DESERVE”-type of letters. It’s not any of your business what your father is doing with his money as long as he’s of sound mind. If you’ve willingly taken on the role of caregiver, then do that and enjoy that—and worry about what’s coming to you after he dies.
      LW2: Ain’t that the truth. When a friend becomes a perpetual victim, dump them and run far, far away.

      • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

        There are people who view gift giving, regardless of amount, as a show of affection and love.  For these people, being treated differently based upon gifts leads to hurt feelings, i.e. if this person loved me they would show their appreciation through a gift as they have shown it to other people.  It is normal for people in LWs situation to feel like she does.  I don’t see why the LW should not feel hurt when she believes that Father does not appreciate the love and affection that she provides to him.  It is difficult to tell whether this is more about “I am not getting what I deserve in material goods” or “I am not getting the affection that I desire from a family member”.

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          “It is difficult to tell whether this is more about “I am not getting what I deserve in material goods” or “I am not getting the affection that I desire from a family member”.”
          Well put. There’s very little to go on as far as what kind of relationship LW and her father have now, or have had in the past.

      • avatar Carib Island Girl says:

        David, normally I agree with you, but to financially contribute to one child’s wedding(s!) but not the other isn’t fair and screams “You aren’t as valued”. I’d be fuming too. How in any world do you see this as fair?

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          I understand where you’re coming from, but part of the problem is that LW is creating a dysfunctional situation for herself. First, she needs to separate the wedding conflict from the caregiver conflict, since the two aren’t related. Second, we don’t know the entire situation regarding the wedding conflict, since she doesn’t go into any real detail about the nature of the “$$$,” whether it’s a wedding present, money towards financing part or all of the wedding, and so forth. Did she get anything—a gift, etc—for her wedding, or nothing in any shape, form or fashion? It’s hard to make a judgment call since we don’t know the whole story. Third, if she’s looking for some sort of justification to make a financial gain as a caregiver for her father—that’s fine, but she needs to make sure this is understood and documented as a fee-based service and not merely as an altruistic deed on her part. If she does the latter, but expects the former—then she’s just screwing herself. And if she’s unhappy with the caregiver situation, she always has the option of removing herself from that responsibility. If indeed she feels the balance of responsibility/reward is unfair, then she should stand up for herself and say something. If she’s doing this because she loves her father, then that sort of statement is grossly out of place. After all, would you want someone taking care of you if they’re just going to play the role of the abused martyr the whole time?

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            And of course, there’s one option—that the dad is taking advantage of the daughter because she’s always allowed it, and that’s the dynamic that they’re both used to.

          • avatar Koka Miri says:

            In certain situations I’d agree with you that there are letter-writers who are clearly being selfish, but this lady does not sound irrational or greedy. She didn’t say anything to her father yet, for one, which means she isn’t sure she’s in the right, which seems to me is a sign that she’s a thoughtful person. Also, since she says she does so much for her father, while her brother lives far away, indicates that she is a caring, or at least responsible, person.

            That said, I agree with the posters above – gifts, monetary or otherwise, are usually more tied in with emotion than anything else, so since she’s in a similar situation to her brother and her brother is clearly being given more, I think Margo was right on, her hurt feelings seem justified.

            The thing I was thinking is maybe it’s a form of bribery on her dad’s part – I’ve seen scenarios time and again where the kid that is seen least is given more stuff as a way for the parent to remain closer to the child or bring them back. But that’s being generous. Maybe the kid that moves farther away is more confident and sure of their parent’s love, so they don’t mind being apart. But that could be stretching it. At any rate, I think a discussion will at least clear the air for the LW and she’ll feeling better *knowing* whether or not her suspicions are correct. But either way, I don’t think you can really change a parents’ feelings. If her brother is the favorite, he’s the favorite, and she should probably move on with her own life and look into care for the dad with her brother involved, so she feels less taken advantage of.

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            I never even considered the “bribery” part on the dad’s side towards the brother—which is actually a very plausible excuse.

      • avatar JCF4612 says:

        Any chance that Dad was just blowing smoke … that’s he’s never anted up for either of his kids’ weddings?

  2. avatar Lea Holland says:

    LW1: Trust me, the dad knows he’s showing favouritism. My grandmother does that with my younger cousin and I, she insists I let him do whatever he wants, then when I’m asked to babysit him, she orders me to say yes, and says I should love doing it anytime they want, since he’s my ‘only first cousin’. Apparently my uncle’s two kids don’t count…Because she won’t let me correct him at all when he’s here spending the night, he won’t listen to me at his house because ‘Gram said’ he didn’t have to. She also buys him anything he wants and takes him anywhere possible, but if I ask for a ride to go see a movie, I’m told I don’t need to go anywhere, when she’s always telling me that I need to get out of the house more.

    • avatar Susan Thomas says:

      Sweetie, she is helping your cousin to become a first class brat who will not know to deal with life when things are not handed to him. You, on the other hand, will be self reliant and will know to to take care of yourself. Also, if grandma comes crying to you in the future looking for something from you, you alone should be the judge of how much you are willing to do for her. If someone gives you nothing, then that someone deserves the same. I am sorry that I am stating this so boldly, but is the way it really is.

      • avatar Lea Holland says:

        Thanks, Susan. And Bean, my mom is living in LA, probably with her drug-addict boyfriend again, so she’s never been any help, and since my dad started neglecting me from the time I was twelve, thanks to my stepmother hating me and making his life hell if he spent any time with me, I’ve stopped talking to him, since even now that he’s divorced, he can’t find the time to just call me on my birthday.

    • avatar BeanCounter says:

      darling….you’re the only one who can lay down so that others can walk all over you.   Show some backbone and stick up to your obnoxious grandmother.   jeez.   next time you’re ORDERED to babysit, tell her no.   What is your mother saying?  What is your father saying?   stop being a freaking doormat.

      • avatar Mjit RaindancerStahl says:

        Bean, did it occur to you that Lea might be out on her backside and forced to drop out of high school if she tells her grandmother “no?” Teenagers are supposed to be doormats for their legal guardians, and too often need permission of said asshats to get an afterschool job that barely covers the cost of public transport.

        • avatar Lea Holland says:

          No longer a teenager, unfortunately, but I will be out on my backside if I anger her too much, since when I *was* a teenager, she wouldn’t allow me to have a job…said it would interfere with my schoolwork too much, even though at that time, I was still homeschooled…so now I have no experience, and no one will hire me. I applied for a job just handing out towels at a hotel pool, and I was told I didn’t have enough experience for that. (Though I probably botched the interview, I get very nervous when I talk to people, because I’ve always had a very bad lisp.)

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            Lea, it’s true that the real world can be a very scary, unforgiving place. There are plenty of opportunities to fail—but just as many opportunities to be who you want to be, do what you want to do, and to actually have a life out from under someone else’s thumb. You might be surprised.

          • avatar Lea Holland says:

            Well, I would love to edit movies, but until I do that, I need a paying job so people will leave me the **** alone(sorry, bit angry, ’cause my grandma clearly doesn’t care if I overhear her talking about how horrible I am for not wanting to be with my ‘only first cousin’ every chance I get), and I need to figure out how to make a resume. I’ve been googling all day trying to find some job that I can do with no experience, but I also have to make a resume as well.

          • avatar EmmaS says:

            Lea, you are in a tough situation. Keep applying for jobs just as you have been. I suspect, though, and I don’t mean to be mean or a downer, that the only way you will get a job is if you know someone who will give you one. I got my baby sitting jobs by inheriting clients from my older sisters, and I got a job filing when my mom’s lawyer boss needed someone for that. Now, your situation is different, so I am not suggesting that you can just do the things I did. Scrounge your brain for people you know, and scrounge your brain for people who can introduce you to new people, and scrounge your brain for ways to meet new people on your own. Talk to random strangers on the bus – I mostly meet crazy people on the bus, but I just met someone is head of an academic archive at a local university! Talk to random strangers everywhere. Tell them you are looking for work. Brainstorm what you can do – you know the alphabet, you can file. If you know how to set down a sheet of paper, you can copy. You have babysat your cousin – you can babysit. If you have ever mowed a lawn, you can mow lawns. Try starting out by volunteering at a non-profit – maybe they need non-specific office work. Some cities have websites where they collect random volunteer opportunities and you can sign up – that experience is work experience and you can promote it to the next person you meet who you are telling that you need a job. It is not easy. I am not pretending that this will be easy or that you are guaranteed to find paying work this way. I’ll be honest – the return on investment is very low for scrounging for work this way. But it just needs to pay off a couple of times. Count your successes by how many times you reached out.

          • avatar Koka Miri says:

            Yikes. Lea, you are in an abusive situation, even if there are worse situations out there you deserve your own life. I agree with the above posters, there are jobs out there – retail, food service, anything – that are hiring. If you can show up on time and have a good work ethic (and it sounds like you are very responsible) you’ll build a resume soon enough. Don’t tell your family you are looking, it sounds like they will sabatoge you.

            Good luck and keep trying, there are many people out there who feel as frustrated as you do – you’re not alone!

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            Some of the other posters beat me to the punch with suggestions for Lea. Two important things to remember (well, actually three):

            1) You need a job for the here and now while you plan for the future. Waiting tables is by far the best way to make quick cash, and there’s a very shallow learning curve. Plus, it’s easy to find people who need roommates if and when you choose to move out.

            2) You need to plan for the future while you work in the here and now. Find an internship in the editing field, or in something similar. This may mean you have to show you’re receiving school credit—if that’s the case, find a sympathetic teacher, explain your situation and ask to take an independent study.

            3) It’s far easier to sit and complain about your situation and do nothing than it is to work towards making changes in your life and taking control. Don’t sit around and wait for something positive to happen to you, because it won’t. You have to go find it.

  3. avatar Constance Plank says:

    #1- How old is the father?  How cognizant is he on an alzheimer’s/dementia scale?  Why does he need the help with shopping, et cetera?
    He portrays that he’s playing favorites- and he might be.  He also might be posturing as the “Big Daddy.”  My very difficult mother, who was Absolutely Horrible to my 7 year older sister, took total credit for my sister’s college career.  Um, no.  Alix worked and paid for every minute of it by herself!
    Mom kept insisting that she’d paid for it all for the next 40 years.
    Consider the source with the difficult parent.  Your father may not be able differentiate between his desires and the truth.  My father, who was a Nuclear Physicist in his younger years, flew in high altitude planes taking samples out of mushroom clouds.  He once called my sister, in his early70’s insisting that the Blue Angels were taking him out flying that morning.
    Friends and lovers can just plain wear you out.  In this case, you were worn out by the friendship.  But, you can’t take care of people who won’t take care of themselves!  We all learn various lessons in life.  Losing your friendship, and her job, etc. might be the lesson she needs to learn!  Meanwhile, keep being true to who you are.
    Constance in the Sierra Foothills of CA

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Re L#1: “Why does he need the help with shopping, et cetera?” —- Constance
                  “…He is legally blind and lives alone.” —- LW1
      Not that this is any excuse for the behavior…but it’s likely much better than having him driving…

  4. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:   I understand why your feelings are hurt.  I think it is very common for parents to favor the adult child who pays them the least attention while appearing to take for granted the help received from the more attentive children.  I don’t know why this is, other than a desire for more attention from the prodigal child and hoping that by giving money or other favors, the child will return to the fold.  I’ve seen in happen in various degrees in both my family and my husband’s family over 2 generations.  I think you should talk to your father and let him know how his comment hurt you.  It is too bad that money is mixed up in this but I suspect there may be other examples of your father favoring your brother. (I’m not encouraging you to make a laundry list of grievances going back 30 years and bombard him with it).    Ultimately, however, you are probably going to have to accept it for what it is.   I’m sure you love your father and when he is no longer here you will be glad for the time you spent with him and know that you did all you could to help him.  That may be the only reward you get but it is a valuable one. 

    LW#2:  At some point you just have to say to these friends:  *Stay or go.  If you go I’ll help you anyway I can.  If you stay, leave me out of it from now on and go see a counselor who is better equipped to help you than I am.*   

    • avatar Koka Miri says:

      Yes, this exactly! (LW1). Didn’t see your comment before I posted mine, but you summed it up.

  5. avatar amw says:

    LW1: I’m with Margo on this one…you have to speak up. You certainly have every right to feel slighted. You certainly have my sympathy. I know all too well what it’s like…and I have three siblings, not just one.

    LW2: Overcoming physical and emotional abuse can be quite the challenge. Leaving is certainly easier said than done. Having said that, your behavior reflects that of a true friend, not a bad one. While the road is a long one, constant complaints and solicitations for advice will eventually be met with a cold shoulder. Your friend may still harbor some negative feelings…more so of the guilty variety I’d imagine…but one day she will thank you.

  6. avatar ally Beeks says:

    I agree, caregiving often ends up with the women , not the guys.  I think she also needs to have a frank talk with her brother.  She has every right to be bent out of shape. BUT i think one point was missed.  Since she pays the bills she needs to confirm her father can afford to give that $$ away.  Typically people with a disability are on limited funds.  Unless he is fabulously wealthy she should have a conversation with her family as a whole as to how much dad can give.  iF he indeed has that $ and is of sound mind to make the decision, the daughter should give her self a break and have him hire someone to give her some relief AND her life back. 

    She could also tally up her hours and send her brother an “invoice” so he realizes what his father care costs. More of a point then actual expectation of payment…  

  7. avatar Barbara says:

    For LW#1 I agree you should speak up, however beware of throwing in every slight you’ve felt over the past so many years.  Keep your comment to the remark at hand.  “Dad, I just wanted to let you know that you might not be aware but your comment on how much you were giving my brother for his wedding hurt my feelings.  I felt less loved and appreciated than him because you didn’t share in the same way to me for either of my weddings.  I’m feeling a bit like a second tier person.  I’d like to suggest that you either find a way to treat us more equitably or, at the least, don’t tell me when you are showing favoritism to my brother.
    Keep it to your feelings and the matter at hand (no “you never” statements), include a suggested outcome.  Keep it short and matter of fact.
    You might not get the results you want but you will have the peace of mind of having made your feelings clear.  When you see the reaction you can decide what you do on an ongoing basis.

  8. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Gee, the things I could say (the father is a dyed-in-the-wool sexist who’d always favor a male child). I would definitely say something to him, especially considering YOU are his caretaker. He should be grateful to you. But I’ve seen this before, and not even regarding possible gender favoritism: The goof-offs and slackers in the family get fawned all over and treated like royalty, and meanwhile the good and there-for-others relatives get treated like 2nd class. Another instance of Human Stupidity 101 which I will never understand. Do say something to your father! At least you’ll have stood up for yourself, even if he doesn’t agree or doesn’t come around and see it your way.

    • avatar Davina Wolf says:

      This phenomenon occurs in my family and in many others that I’ve seen.  My sister lies, cheats, uses and screws people over, explodes for no reason, has been alcholic, drug addicted, had thirty (yes, 30) abortions, changes jobs, apartments and relationships several times a year, has little empathy and no remorse when she’s mean (she probably has antisocial personality disorder, like my dad).  

      I’m the stable, giving child who has flown from the west to the east coast to spend my vacation painting mom’s dining and living rooms.  Yet my mother has always treated me like Cinderella and adores my sister, finding excuses for everything she does, has given all of the family heirlooms and pictures to her and made her the sole executor of her will.  I finally gave up and stopped communicating with my mother and sister when I was 46.  Nothing was going to change and I had to protect my mental health.   


    • avatar Chris B says:

      I had a very enlightening conversation with a parent of adult children once.

      I don’t know how it came up, but her oldest has a very large chip on her shoulder about all the things the other kids got that she didn’t. In particular, the middle daughter. When talking with the mom about it, she said, “We give more to (middle child) because she has more problems, and we feel like all these mistakes she’s made are our fault. We don’t give as much to (oldest) because we never had to worry about her.”

      Fair? Probably not. But I think it explains more than just this parentR