Pennies Envy

I haven’t read this since I was a kid but I remember loving it. If it’s bad please just don’t tell me.

How do you cope with your own resentment toward people who have more money than you do, and seemingly fewer problems, and yet who still complain to you? That’s the question for Carolyn Hax in this column:

Dear Carolyn: My parents and in-laws are all retired and reasonably well-off. They’ve filled their retirements with joining musical groups, coaching kids’ sports, visiting family, gardening, etc.

My husband and I, meanwhile, are working four jobs between us just to pay the bills. Often, one or both of us works seven days a week. Literally almost every time we talk to the parents, they start going on about how “busy” they are, how they don’t have time to read, etc.

“Any advice on how not to explode?” asks LW.

“What would you like them to do — cluck less? Suffer more?” replies Hax.

She’s semi-serious, although it’s a rare person who would acknowledge that they actually would prefer that anyone they care about suffer simply because they’re suffering. No, more likely LW wants their parents and in-laws to be more sensitive, more conscious of their own privilege, more generous with help.

Hax encourages LW to be grateful that the older generation has the good fortune it does. Better than the alternative, right? A less fortunate older generation would be complaining in a way you’d have to take more seriously, maybe moving in with you, certainly requiring material, emotional, and other kinds of support. If your parents and in-laws are independent, that’s a blessing. Even if they react to that blessing with the self-awareness of house cats: assuming it’s their due and expecting more.


Of course, that doesn’t make it easier to deal with their tone deafness day in and day out.

“It’s hard not to want what someone next to you has — but easier when you admit it,” writes Hax. She advises a gentle kind of confrontation, acknowledging that you feel the way you do and beginning a discussion. I’m all for that. I would also advise reframing how you think about their complaints, though. Often, people don’t complain because they want sympathy or — still less — solutions. They complain because that’s how we interact these days. (Are you familiar with this thing called Twitter?)

It’s not socially acceptable to kick your feet up and say, “Gosh, I feel so lucky.” You have to find something to lament, something to criticize, something to be outraged about. It’s the tenor of the times. Don’t take it personally, LW. Don’t even take it literally. When they say, “I wish I had time to read,” all they mean is, “My life is pretty great right now.” Just smile and nod. And count your own blessings — affluent, independent family members among them.

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