Carolyn Hax: her daughter's aunt is not just an angel investor

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn: When my ex-husband and I divorced about eight years ago, he left the city and I got full custody of our daughter, "Jane", and I remained great friends with her family (from whom she was estranged). Her sister in particular helped with a lot of logistics to raise a child, like after-school coverage, and she also came to school with me. In addition, she is rich and has been extraordinarily generous with Jane over the years, buying clothes, taking her on wonderful trips, etc.

I never asked aunt these things, and I was able to support Jane okay, but not as well as aunt can do. Aunt offers gifts directly to Jane or, on a definitive basis, gives generously. Jane loves her aunt, and not just for the stuff. It's all fantastic.

Now Jane is heading to college and her aunt has offered to cover whatever we need (about half, wow!). Jane and I are accepting this fantastic gift, but now I feel uncomfortable with Aunt's plans to come with us to school for the big drop-off and anything else happens when you leave your child at the university. Is it too late to trace this boundary now, with the aunt about to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on Jane's education?

I want to make the round-trip college trip just for myself and my daughter. Can aunt play because she pays? Jane is fine either way, she's used to her aunt who fits in.

– Jane's mother


(Nick Galifianakis / for The Washington Post)

Jane's mother: What I am seeing is not an aunt who pays to play, but a close relative who is practically a surrogate parent to play. And if it's too strong, at least it has invested itself and its love significantly over the years. After-school coverage and going to her events and traveling with her make Zia an important part of Jane's life.

I find myself mentally replacing my aunt in this role with a grandfather, or a partner you found after the divorce that essentially became a parent (I like it better than the surrogate) in the last eight years, and if I were in that person I could understand wanting to see Jane out. Hoping to see Jane, let's say, and not expecting or assuming them.

In your place and Jane's, I could even see wanting that grandfather or partner for the big launch.

Obviously this topic exists independently of your feelings, and your feelings about wanting to make this a just-you-two event are right and valid. I do not think it's right to downplay aunt's place by reducing it to a money problem. It concerns the presence and presence of the aunt has been constant.

This could be the heart of your frustration, in fact. Aunt established her presence not because you wanted her company and you invited her, but because you had various needs that you did not want and she was there to satisfy them.

In the end it is your decision, you are the mother – but please at least dig into your discomfort enough to understand it and to silence it. Aunt has not only paid, has presented herself and deserves to be treated as such.

Write to Carolyn Hax to tellme@washpost.com. Bring the column to your inbox every morning on wapo.st/haxpost.

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