Style Sex & Relationships

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Dear Mary: I pay travel bill for family to meet every year but wife objects

Illustration: Tom Halliday.
Illustration: Tom Halliday.

Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.

Question: My wife and I have had a good life together and I  still love her dearly. We  have three children who  have successful careers, are ­  happily married and we have        produced wonderful grandchildren who I dote on. I can't see enough of them.

When the children were young Christmas was very special to us all. Unfortunately the three of them are now all living abroad - I won't say where in case they read this. We try to spend Christmas with one of them every year but it is not always possible. But I do insist that we have a family reunion at least once a year -usually in summer - when we all get together - sometimes only for a week, sometimes longer, sometimes in Ireland, sometimes in one of their homes.

To make this possible I pay for everyone's travel. I don't mind this and even though I am retired quite a while I can afford it ... but my wife objects. She says they should all pay for themselves as we did when we were young when we went to visit our parents. We are not very wealthy but we can afford it but it has become a bone of contention between me and my wife. Have you any easy solution? I have told the kids that we are spending some of their inheritance on this and none of them object.

I really cherish this reunion every year and would be devastated if it does not happen. How can I get my wife to see my point of view?

Mary replies: what a lovely idea it is to all have a holiday together, and how lucky you are to be able to fund it. However your wife is entitled to have her say, as it is her money also.

There is no easy solution to this as you both feel quite differently and I don't believe you will be able to get your wife to see things from your point of view. But you might try to approach it differently. What I suggest is that you open a separate holiday account into which you put a set amount every month. You can put your weekly pension for instance and anything else that you get on a regular basis that is specific to you. At the end of the day it is all both of your monies but if you have a separate account it may help your wife to feel that she isn't losing out on 'her' money.

However it is about more than just the money. The benefit that she gets is having all the family in the one place and having a good time with the grandchildren. Does it occur to her that they may not be able to afford to make the trip themselves? Everything is so much more expensive now, from children's education to pensions, than it was when you were young parents. So a holiday with the grandparents may not be as high on the list of priorities for them as it would be for you.

Also, no matter how much parents are loved if it was going to be the only family holiday in the year for your children they may wish to go somewhere else occasionally. As it now stands they get to do both. You have been very honest with your children in explaining the situation regarding their inheritance. What we all tend to forget is that every time we spend money on ourselves, even for day to day expenses, we are reducing the size of our children's inheritances.

A man once remarked to me that in all the years of dining out with his sons - he had seven - none of them had ever once offered to pay the bill. They were wonderful sons and he was proud of each and every one of them and he presumed that as he was quite wealthy it never even dawned on them to pay. But he treasures his time with them, no matter what he pays, and is grateful that in their busy lives they find time for him. So while your wife may not be happy with your spending she should at least be grateful that you have your annual get together. Does she really want to have more money to leave to them, or enjoy actual time with them? Surely no money will replace good memories. As you can see I'm on your side and I encourage you to stick with your plan and continue to have the family get together every summer. Nothing stays the same and each year will bring a different family story, so enjoy what you have without worrying too much about the future.

I disagreed with stay-at-home mother

Question: Eighteen months ago my husband and I bought what I felt was our dream home in a fairly new development in the suburbs.  We both work, make good money  and feel  we have achieved a lot.  But at a recent 'get to know the neighbours party' I asked one wife what she did.  She told me that she didn't work even though her husband wanted her to.  She said she couldn't run the home, cook hot meals, organise school runs, do  the laundry and work as well.  

I was very taken aback and said that I worked and that my family got all the things that she had mentioned. Well, it turns out that none of the wives in our area work and I haven't been invited to any other gatherings, even though I see them going into each other's homes. It's quite a small development so I can see what goes on. I feel as if I'm back in my grandmother's time when the wives had to stay home - except that these wives are choosing to stay home, which I just don't understand. Now I've noticed that my children haven't been invited to parties either - although they were at a few before the party I've written about - or sleepovers and I worry that they are being punished for what I said, which obviously didn't go down too well.

Mary replies: I'm sure it didn't go down at all well, because you were in effect telling that woman that you didn't understand her point of view. How would you have felt if she had said to you that she didn't think one could be a proper mother and wife and work outside the home as well? You would have been offended, would have probably moved on to talk to somebody else, and would not have sought out her company in the future. It doesn't feel good to be criticised and this is what she felt you were doing. She then probably spread the word to the other wives that she didn't like what you said, or indeed didn't like you.

What you were forgetting is that we are all different in so many ways, and what works for one person simply doesn't for their neighbour. But that is not to say that one way is better than another. So for you working both in and outside the home is your choice whereas your neighbours feel totally fulfilled in devoting their time and energies to being mothers and wives.

Some people have no choice but to work outside of the home because of financial constraints although they may wish to stay home, and others have to stay home because they have a partner who works away from home for long periods. I could give lots more examples because there are so many different stories, but what I want you to see is that there is no one right way.

If you are correct in your assumption and you feel that your children are suffering as a result of what happened then you should seek out that lady and say that you have been thinking things over and perhaps she felt that you were judging her, which you did not intend to do. But before you do that try to get things clear in your head as to what you really feel, because you do come across as criticising your neighbours for the choices they made. Until you are open to accepting that their way of life is equally valid then there is no common ground for a friendship.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

Sunday Independent

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