Ask Majella: Majella O'Donnell answers your problems
My brother's social climbing is driving me away from him
My brother and his wife are obsessed with social status and money. My husband and I make enough to get by, but every time we visit them, we leave in a rage. They are forever showing us their latest gadgets and equipment - last time it was the home gym they are having put into the converted garage.
They asked us if we have booked our holidays (Wexford, as it happens) so they can call up their cruise on their latest hand-held device so we can oooh and ahh over it. His wife in particular is obsessed with material possessions. We have no common ground for conversation, and I feel they look down on us because we don't share their values. They joked last time about us being hippies in our holiday caravan. Do I tell them how I feel?
I understand how you feel going around to your brother's house but maybe you could try looking at things from a different angle. Is it possible that he just wants to show you how well he is doing in life so that you will be proud of him or happy for him? Maybe he doesn't mean to be boastful but unfortunately that is the way it is coming across.
You said that his wife is particularly obsessed with material possessions so that may be influencing him too. I'm sure that if he knew that talking about his gadgets and holidays was upsetting you, he wouldn't be doing it. Maybe you are taking things to heart too much and reading too much into it. You said that you feel as if they are looking down on you but that is something that you have control over. What they have may not be what you want in life and that's fine. When it's not fine is when you allow that to come between you, or when you let it destroy your relationships.
If you are happy having your holidays in your caravan in Wexford why would you let anybody make you feel bad about that? That's where you need to let go of that feeling you have. You have control over that.
Having said all of the above, you could talk to your brother when you are alone some time and tell him how you feel. What he is doing is not wrong. He doesn't know what effect it has on you, so, you either tell him or stop thinking that you are inferior to him. If you don't like going around to their house you could suggest that they come to yours instead.
Next time you see them, instead of being annoyed try to be happy for them. How would you feel if they never told you about the garage conversion to a gym or that they were going on a cruise? Would you prefer that?
If he stopped telling you what was going on in his life you may feel that he no longer wants to include you.
Decide what you would prefer and talk to him so that you can spend time together without this being an issue.
My son's friends have too much freedom
We have recently started to let our son, who is seven, out to play with other children. I am shocked by the freedom these kids are allowed - they go on main roads unsupervised and their parents don't seem to know where they are at any given time. I called to each of their homes when my son became friendly with them to introduce myself and give my contact number. I explained my son is not allowed to cross roads without an adult, but they told me nicely they didn't have time to supervise them and that the kids are fine once they are in a group. My son loves playing with these other children, and I want to encourage his independence, but I am sick to my stomach at the thoughts of what could happen when I am not with him.
It's very hard to see your 'baby', which he always will be, growing up and finding his independence. Of course you worry about him. That's only natural. The boundaries you set for your son may be very different to other parents' but you must do what you think is right for your child. No one else can tell you how to bring up your children. I think it's admirable that you introduced yourself to your son's friends' parents. It's important for them to know who their children are playing with and vice versa. However, there comes a time when you have to let your child do things for himself.
What's important is that you have given him the confidence to deal with situations when he is on his own. You cannot be with him all the time so you have to trust that he will be OK. If you have taught him how to cross the road safely or what to do if he is approached by a stranger, then you have to learn to trust him as that's the only way he will learn to fend for himself. You cannot guarantee your child's safety but neither can you wrap them up in cotton wool.
Children usually play in groups and look out of each other. Tell your child what you expect of him when he is on his own. Tell him what time you want him home and explain why it is important for him to stick to that time. There will certainly be worrying times but that's something you cannot avoid as a parent. Try to relax a bit more and be proud of the little achievements your son makes as he learns to be an independent person.
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Write to Majella at: Dear Majella, Weekend magazine, Irish Independent, 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1 or email email@example.com.
Majella regrets she cannot enter into any personal correspondence.