Dear Annie: My half-brother and his wife are old enough to be my parents. He is quite well-to-do and so are his children. I am only six years older than his oldest child and have always felt more like one of his kids than his sister, especially after my parents died.
However, I am never invited to spend holidays with them. I was widowed 25 years ago, and one of my children has since passed away. My brother and sister-in-law have gifted me $300 each year on my birthday, and although it would give me great pleasure to reciprocate, they rarely allow me to do so. Last month, they discouraged me from giving them gifts for Christmas, which I understand. They are trying to pare down their belongings.
Last year, I saved up and gave them a $100 gift card. I thought I'd hit on the perfect present. But this year, my sister-in-law said bluntly, "Don't be coming in here with presents like last year. Save your gift cards for your daughter. The money we give you is for you -- not to be returned to us."
After that call, I spiraled into a depression that lasted for days, and the holiday was ruined. All this one-sided gift-giving makes me feel like a charity case. I always accept the money and send an immediate thank-you note, and I will continue to do so. But other than my daughter, they are the only family I have. Their kids and I do not communicate. Is there any way to fix this? -- Bah Humbug
Dear Humbug: You are interpreting your brother's attitude in the worst possible light. So, let's put it in a more positive one: Your brother and his wife know that you are struggling and they are not. They feel terrible when you spend your money on them. They are trying to be kind and thoughtful. They don't realize that you find this demeaning.
The age difference makes a relationship difficult and awkward, but you both seem to want to stay in contact, so here's our advice for gift-giving: Do not give cash or gift cards. Instead, bake cookies or create a homemade holiday ornament. Write them a letter expressing how important they are to you, how much you hope to remain close, and that being able to reciprocate for their kindness brings you joy. That will mean more to them than any present.
Dear Annie: You've printed a few letters in response to the one from "W," who said her neighbor is overly sensitive to noise. This neighbor may have a mental health issue.
My ex-husband, who suffers from a fairly severe mental illness, often complained of excessive noise from our neighbor's adjoining townhouse, even though the sound would be perfectly fine to anyone else. He would call the police about it whenever he wasn't taking his anti-psychotic medication. It caused all sorts of problems.
"W." might consider speaking to the neighbor's son about her mental health. -- T.
Dear T.: There are all kinds of reasons for noise sensitivity, and certainly mental health can play a role. Thank you for mentioning this possibility.
Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please email your questions to anniesmailboxcreators.com, or write to: Annie's Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254. You can also find Annie on Facebook at Facebook.com/AskAnnies. To find out more about Annie's Mailbox and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.