Recap: Debbie, a devoted aunt, has opened her home to her nephew three consecutive summers for several months at a time. When her daughter, Shoshana, goes to Israel for a year and her brother and sister-in-law travel there for vacation, is it unreasonable to expect them to give her daughter a little attention, especially after all she has given to their son?

Give With Open Heart

My mother always said that the Jewish way of giving is with an outstretched hand. You give because it’s a mitzvah, not for any other reason. Ideally, if the identities of the giver and recipient are unknown to each other, the deed becomes that much greater.

So, in answer to your question, Debbie, give because it’s the right thing to do. Not to get something in return.

— Zhenia Greszes

Be Transparent

Being on the giving end all the time is draining. When you opened your home to your nephew, you weren’t looking for a return on your investment. But once the opportunity arose for your brother and sister-in-law to give back, it was natural to hope they would step up.

Lisa and Bob’s flamboyant manner and failure to make a real effort to spend time with Shoshana seem surprising and disappointing.

I would advocate sitting down with Lisa for a good, heart-to-heart conversation. Schedule your session so that neither of you feels pressured by other responsibilities, and diplomatically communicate your feelings. The conversation could proceed as follows.

Debbie: Lisa, I want to talk to you about what happened when you went to Israel.

Lisa: Sure. I’m listening.

Debbie: When you called the night before you were leaving Israel to get Shoshana’s number, it seemed like she wasn’t high on your priority list. I felt hurt and disappointed. Can you explain what happened, please?

If Lisa reacts maturely, she will respond with sensitivity.

Lisa: I’m so sorry it looked like that. Every day we were planning to reach out to her, and somehow things kept happening and getting in the way. You know how it is when everything takes longer than you plan. Not only that, but we kept getting lost. I almost don’t know how it happened that we waited until our last day. We literally had about 10 minutes with her before rushing off to the airport. I felt terrible.

Debbie: I sort of get it. You got busy and overwhelmed, and you were in a foreign country. But a part of me feels that if she had been important to you, you would have made sure to spend time with her earlier.

Lisa: I’m really sorry. (If you’re lucky, she will be sincere.)

Debbie: Yeah, well, thanks. It’s OK. We all make mistakes, right? Um, since we’re talking, do you mind if I add just one more thing?

Lisa: I’m all ears. Throw it at me.

Debbie: When I think about all those summers we opened our home to Steve (Lisa and Bob’s son), and it was always our pleasure, I really hoped you would want to be there for Shoshana. When you weren’t, I found it painful.

Lisa: You’re right. I goofed. You guys have been amazing for Steve, and we really appreciate it. Please forgive me. I hope to have another opportunity to show how much I care — about Shoshana and all of you.

If Lisa reacts defensively and counterattacks, effective communication will be shut down, and your relationship could be irreparably damaged. Here is a sample of how that could sound.

Lisa: What are you talking about? We called her! It’s not my fault she wasn’t available when we called.

Expect to feel more frustrated if her response is along those lines.

My modus operandi is to first attempt honest and caring communication. Transparency, when applied in a sensitive manner, enhances relationships; locking a burning issue inside can irrevocably harm relationships.

What do you have to lose? You could improve your relationship by sharing honest feelings. If baring your heart leads to discord, perhaps there wasn’t much of a relationship from the get-go, and you won’t have lost much. At least you will know that you tried.

Warning: Honest communication is not for the cowardly. It takes courage to step up to a loved one or friend and make yourself vulnerable. But the dividends of increased harmony and deeper understanding will provide their own reward.

— Carrie, a devoted wife, mother and friend