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Sister can do an end run around relatives’ favoritism


This article was published September 15, 2011 at 3:58 a.m.

— DEAR CAROLYN: I have a fairly well-to-do aunt and uncle who have no children and choose to share their wealth with their nieces and nephews. However, some of us benefit more than others. In this situation, I am the recipient and not my younger sister.

When we were younger it was even, and they would send one gift to me and one to her. Once I got to college, however, things started to change. My aunt would send me a generous care package filled with clothes, and then they would forget my sister’s birthday a month later. I continued to receive those packages throughout college, and my sister, now entering her second year of college, has yet to receive even one. This has always left me feeling guilty and wishing they would treat us the same.

My parents finally asked my aunt and uncle to stop acknowledging birthdays altogether if they could not remember both of ours.

Recently, my aunt invited me to visit her and offered to pay for my train ticket there. I feel sad knowing my sister would not be offered the same thing. How can I decline her offer while still maintaining a good relationship with them? I don’t want to sever ties, but I’m not sure how to continue like this.

  • Uncomfortable favored niece

DEAR READER: I don’t suppose you expressed gratitude for these gifts, and your sister didn’t? Among possible explanations for withholding gifts, that’s one that could easily explain both the shift in their attention and the timing of it, since it seems to have occurred when you both came of age.

Since you presented it as a straight-up issue of favoritism, though, I’ll answer it that way:Short of severing ties, there’s little you can do to keep them from playing favorites.

You can, however, change the way you receive their favoritism - and in doing so prevent it from denting your bond with your sib. You can visit your aunt and uncle, but insist on paying your own way.

You can share cash or care-package gifts with your sister (the stuff is yours to use as you please, after all) or send her care packages of your own.

You may not have the means to be as generous as your aunt, but that’s not the point. Let’s assume, again, your sister is just as worthy of these gifts.

Every time your aunt and uncle deny her something they’ve given you, they’re casting a passive “nay” vote against her. Yet every “yea” vote your sister gets from others diminishes the power of these negative votes. When your parents spoke up on her behalf, for example, that was a “yea” vote. Enough “yea” votes reduce your aunt and uncle to an eye-roll in your sister’s life.

It’s too soon to cast the most powerful vote you can on her behalf, but chances are the time will come: Whether your aunt and uncle are capricious in their generosity or simply scratching ingrates off their mailing list, their wills are likely to reflect that choice. Please resolve now, either way, to give half of your share to your sister should you wind up on the paper without her. Your stepping in to deny them the last word is something your sister won’t likely forget.

Chat online with Carolyn at 11 a.m. Central time each Friday at Write to Tell Me About It in care of The Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071; or e-mail

Weekend, Pages 35 on 09/15/2011

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