Confessions of a ‘Second-Class Grandchild’

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I met my step-grandmother (the mother of my stepmom) when I was 4. She didn’t have any other grandchildren at the time, and I thought she considered me family. But 14 and 11 years ago, when my stepmother’s daughters were born, it became clear that I was a second-class grandchild. It didn’t help matters when my stepmom and father divorced. One year, for instance, my stepsisters got pearls for Christmas, and I got a dish towel. I’ve told my stepmother how bad this makes me feel, but she hasn’t done anything to fix the situation. Should I speak to my step-grandmother?

CINDERELLA

Well, there’s definitely a fairy tale going on here, though it may not be the one you’re thinking of, Cinderella. Blended families can be complex. But your father isn’t even married to your stepmother anymore. This supposedly wicked step-grandmother is now, in fact, your ex-step-grandmother.

Blood ties and formal relationships aren’t required for loving people. Still, they commonly form the basis for inheritance and gifts. I’m sorry your feelings are hurt. But you are a young adult now and old enough to understand the shifting circumstances with your former step-grandmother. Frankly, it’s hard to tell whether you’re upset about her gifts, to which you have no real entitlement, or the loss of affection.

If you want to be closer to this woman, try spending more time with her. That can work wonders. But forget about pearls; they’re unlikely to appear on the gift list for the child of someone who used to be married to her daughter. You might also take a look at “Bonus Family,” a Swedish series streaming on Netflix. I bet you’ll relate to the surprising emotions that outlast marital ties.

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CreditChristoph Niemann

I am in my first year of remission from cancer. Last year, during chemotherapy, I dealt with horrible side effects that were clearly visible. I still deal with invisible side effects (pain, exhaustion and memory loss) that will probably be with me for some time. I rarely talk about them, though; I don’t want my life to revolve around cancer. But I have a hard time listening to friends complain about pregnancy symptoms or workout pains — especially when they assume I’m pain-free. I respond with a smile or say something sympathetic, but I feel the opposite. Any advice?

ANONYMOUS

Don’t turn pain into a contest. We all suffer. And it’s not as if there’s a grand prize for the one who hurts the most. I respect your decision to keep quiet about your challenging recovery. But it isn’t fair to begrudge your friends if they don’t know what you’re going through.

It may be time to tweak your strategy. Consider sharing your illness and its aftereffects with a wider circle of people. That may make it easier for you to smile and nod when acquaintances complain about their workaday aches and pains. Feeling seen and supported by the people who really matter make many annoyances easier to bear.

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, my wife and I decided to move our family away from the United States to another country. Our reasons were varied and personal. It has been a wonderful move, and our family is thriving. The problem: People often assume they know the reason for our move based on timing and the rumor mill. Others ask. We don’t want to be rude, but we generally find the question inappropriate. How should we respond?

ANONYMOUS

By pinpointing the date of your decision to the day after the last presidential election, you are either being provocative or seriously clueless. (I’m leaning 90-10 toward provocation — which makes your annoyance annoying in itself.)

The next time someone asks why you moved, leave out Election Day if reasonable inferences bother you. Say, “There were a million reasons.” Then turn to the ways in which your family is thriving in your new home.

Today, at my office, six dozen cupcakes appeared in the kitchen. Awesome! A group of co-workers (including me) popped by the kitchen to grab one. Someone asked if we knew who brought them. A new co-worker said that he had, and we all thanked him for such a delightful surprise. I learned later that an unpaid intern brought them from her part-time job at a cupcake shop. It seems like such a weird move for this new guy to claim the gesture as his own when it wasn’t. What would you do?

ERINN

Praise him extravagantly until he breaks like a twig: “Seventy-two cupcakes are too generous! We simply have to help you defray the cost. How much did you pay for them? We can all chip in.”

He may confess immediately that he was making some kind of (weak) joke, and you can all move on. Or he may stall. Just keep praising until him until he admits his lie or gives you a dollar amount — at which point you can tell him he’s busted, and he will learn not to trifle again with his new co-workers.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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