No Need To Buy Parents Fancy-Shmancy Condo

By Wendy Belzberg

Published January 24, 2003, issue of January 24, 2003.

My parents asked me to buy them a condominium in a swank building. I can afford to do so (even though the amount is not pocket change to me), but I turned them down. My parents have saved up all of their lives and have put aside a sizeable nest egg. They have the financial wherewithal to purchase the apartment for themselves. Since I said no, I sense a distance between us. I would help my parents if they needed food, clothing and shelter even if I could not afford it, but last time I read the Ten Commandments it didn’t mention that children are responsible for purchasing their parents a condo in an exclusive high-rise.

Overtaxed by expectations

Parenting isn’t an investment any canny broker would make: It requires massive outlays, with no guaranteed returns. And at best, the returns are intangible ones. Which is to say there is no obligation to buy your parents a condo. There is an obligation to pay dividends in love and attention. A gift certificate for regular visits to the condo your parents buy themselves sounds about right to me.

* * *

Last week my 4-year-old caught me in a white lie. She overheard me tell my sister-in-law that one of my children was sick and that we would be unable to attend the family dinner. My husband finds get-togethers with his family so stressful that I was doing him a favor by bowing out of the dinner without hurting anyone’s feelings. I saved my husband, but I raised a lot of questions for my daughter. Now what?

— Caught in the act

I know there are many people who believe that lying of any kind — even a smallish white lie — is unacceptable. I don’t happen to stand on that side of the fence. Depending on how old your child is, I suggest you now tell her as much of the truth as you feel she is able to understand. She isn’t too young to hear that people sometimes beg off of invitations, even if she is too young to hear that people sometimes beg off of invitations issued by their own families. In the future, best not to use your own children as part of any lie you may spin. Not simply because you could get caught — as you did — but because there is something sordid about using your children to do your dirty work. Oddly enough, children often keep us on the straight and narrow as much as our own consciences do.

* * *

I have spent hundreds of hours volunteering at my children’s school and am an active member of the parent council. My kids love the school and would hate to leave, but there seems to be a problem with loose lips. After discussing my daughter’s personal problem with one of her teachers, I learned that this teacher had told another student — who then told others — about our conversation. In a separate incident I approached the principal about a suspicion my daughter had concerning her music teacher. The principal then talked this over with the music teacher, indicating who had lodged the complaint. Should I change schools?

— Grape whine

There are indeed loose lips around, and they include those on your own face. In the first case, the teacher clearly betrayed your confidence. However, the teacher would have been in no such position had you not betrayed your daughter’s confidence in the first place. Did you ask her permission before entering into this discussion with her teacher? As for the second incident, the McCarthy era is over; if you lodge a complaint against a teacher, he or she must be permitted to defend himself. It may indeed be time for you to change schools: Volunteer your hundreds of hours elsewhere and create a clearer line between your life and your children’s. They, however, should remain where they are happy — which is to say exactly where they are.

Write to “Ask Wendy” at 954 Lexington Avenue #189, New York, N.Y. 10021 or at wendy@forward.com.



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