Ask Someone Else's Mom by Susan Writer

Who Owes Who an Apology?

DEAR SOMEONE ELSE’S MOM: Every year, my sister organizes a family reunion, which is held at a local botanical garden the weekend after Labor Day. She reserves the location and co-ordinates the food, and the adults are assigned to crews.

Last year, I requested to be part of “set-up” (as I normally do). I contacted her several times in the days before the event to see if there was anything else she needed me to bring and to confirm the time. The reunion was starting at 3:00, so she said to be there around 2:30.

The morning of the party, I texted her asking what time she would be arriving, and she said 2:00. I had some extra time, so I decided to come early to help. I was ahead of schedule and arrived around 1:00. The grounds crew was there, and I asked them to be sure the sprinklers were all shut off, as we had had an incident a couple years earlier when several attendees got an unexpected shower. They assured me they were off and left.

When my sister arrived a few minutes later, she seemed less than happy to see me. When I told her about the sprinklers, she snapped that that was “her job” and one of the reasons she had arrived early. I said she obviously didn’t need my help and left.

I did not hear from her for several weeks, so I wrote her a letter. I told her I was crushed by her yelling at me and that she owed me an apology. Shortly before Christmas I got a brief note from her saying she was sorry for “speaking harshly” and hurting my feelings. It wasn’t much of an apology, but at least it was something.

I did not see her over the holidays but tried to call her several times. She never returned my calls. Then, the pandemic hit. I reached out to her again by phone and text. I finally got a text from her that asked, “Did your apology get lost in the mail?” I replied that I didn’t have anything to apologize for.

After several more texts back and forth she said that I was the cause of our disagreement – that if I, “Hadn’t shown up an hour early, none of this would have happened,” and that, “It’s kind of hard to yell at someone if they aren’t there.” She said that until I was willing to acknowledge my role in our disagreement and apologize to her, she had nothing to say to me.

Seriously?!? I was there to help, and she yelled at me! Do I really owe her an apology? --- I MISS MY SIS

DEAR I MISS MY SIS: The short answer is that if you’re willing to be the peacemaker, your apologizing for inadvertently stepping on her toes might help. My guess is that since the reunion is her baby, she may have gotten the impression you were horning in on her big day, questioning her ability to pull it off, or both — even though you were just looking to help.

Continuing to debate who’s got the right to the bigger apology, or to an apology at all, is only going to allow the rift to widen. Someone’s got to be the real grown-up here.

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