Why Did My Birth Son Invite Me to a Wedding and Then Seat Me in Siberia?


I am a birth mother whose son found me seven years ago, when I was 70 and he was 49. I gave him up for adoption as an infant; his adoptive mother is deceased. He called me Mom from Day 1, and we felt an immediate heart connection. It has been a roller coaster of intense emotions. Unfortunately, his wife wrote me a letter saying she does not recognize me as his mother and wants nothing to do with me. Still, my son and I have developed a loving relationship over texts and phone calls. (We live 3,000 miles apart.) So, I was thrilled to be invited to his stepson’s wedding — though also nervous, given his wife’s letter. My son assured me I would be seated with his siblings, but I was placed at a distant table with his friend. I was also excluded from a family outing and the photos posted on Facebook. It felt like a punch to the heart. But my son doesn’t acknowledge any responsibility for my hurt. Did he gaslight me?


I feel compassion for you and your birth son as you try to navigate a delicate reunion across 3,000 miles and five decades. I have no doubt that this wedding episode was painful for you (and possibly for him, too, if he had to haggle with his disapproving wife over your place at her son’s wedding). Still, I suspect that seating is not the central issue here.

From my vantage — at a safe distance from the emotional roller coaster, as you call it — I see productive takeaways for both of you: Work on your relationship one on one, for now, and avoid engaging with people in each other’s lives who don’t support your reunion. I can’t imagine why his wife has taken such an unkind position toward you, but she has, and she is a major figure in his life.

Adoption often brings up powerful feelings of abandonment and guilt. It may be helpful to arrange for some therapy for you and your son on video calls. I don’t minimize the “heart connection” you feel, but there may be other strong emotions at play, too. You should air all of them in the safety of your private relationship — or with the help of a counselor, if you like the idea.

Today, my sister-in-law sent me a Venmo request for $19.18 for frozen yogurt that she and my brother offered to pick up for us when they picked up their own orders. They are wealthy, with expensive habits like designer sneakers, and they never offer to pay for anything when they come home because our parents are so generous. My partner and I routinely buy them presents when we visit them. This year, they didn’t even thank us for our holiday gifts. Am I unreasonable for being incensed about this Venmo request?


Incensed? Really? Let’s try to reframe this issue: No one owes anyone a gift. Gifts are voluntary by definition. You may find your brother and sister-in-law ungenerous (or unappreciative), but that still doesn’t entitle you to free frozen yogurt. In their view, saving you a trip may have been gift enough — and their wealth and your parents’ generosity are beside the point.

Going forward, it may be healthier to reset your expectations and reduce the number of gifts you give them rather than blow up a close family relationship over what are supposed to be tokens of good will. Because I am not sensing much good will here.

My former college roommate is working on the national tour of a musical. She invited me and another friend to join her for a long weekend when the tour reaches Las Vegas. We accepted happily and booked our flights. Later, she casually mentioned that her boyfriend would also be visiting that weekend and staying in the hotel room with us. When we expressed surprise, she assured us that the room is large enough for four people. But we had been looking forward to a girls’ weekend. Can we tell her that, or since she is providing the room, should we put up with it?


Speak up! Your friend seems to have assumed — a bit cluelessly, perhaps — that since she was comfortable with this crowded arrangement, everyone would be. Tell her you were looking forward to a girls’ weekend and ask her if she could find a different weekend for her boyfriend or for you. (Hopefully, your airline tickets permit changes.)

My 4-year-old daughter was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity six months ago. Since then, we have been helping her navigate social situations. The hardest ones have been birthday parties where she can’t eat the cake. Her birthday is coming up, and I would like to give her a 100 percent gluten-free party, so she can eat and enjoy every single item. Does this seem overboard? Other guests may not enjoy the flavor.


This is a birthday party for a tiny child who often feels deprived at parties. Of course you can arrange the menu around her dietary restrictions! And if some of your guests don’t care for the party fare, they will surely survive for two hours without gluten.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on the platform X.


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