Ask Aunt Chelsea


Dear Aunt Chelsea:
My parents will be celebrating their 50th Anniversary in a few weeks. I’ve been told (several times) that they don’t want any surprises: parties, presents, vacation cruises…nothing. As an only child, isn’t it my obligation to do something? They’re the only couple in my entire family who is still together (and alive!), and I think that deserves some recognition.
Party Planner Wannabe

Dear Party P:
Some time back, I advised a dutiful husband — whose modest wife insisted that she didn’t want a party for her 40th birthday — to throw a festive shindig anyway, so she could see how many people cared about her. It was a huge hit. But in this case, my prescription for a happy family involves the polar opposite approach.

As we age, milestones become millstones — and the grand gestures that accompany them become less and less appealing. Now I know it’s a cliché, but those of us lucky enough to get to a certain stage in life take tremendous pleasure in two things: being left alone, and doing as we please.

“Have it your way, at Burger King,” the old jingle used to go. That might as well be the motto for anyone with an AARP card. Believe me, Party P, anyone whose marriage has made it to the half century mark isn’t being coy when they tell you to not to make a fuss. Honestly, I suspect that this need to do something — when they’ve explicitly given you the all clear — has more to do with your need for validation than your wish to recognize their achievement. In this case, dear, I do believe that Ten Commandments handily trump Only Child Syndrome. So honor thy mother and father, by doing precisely as they wish: leave them alone on their big day.

Having said that, there’s not law that says you can’t take the time and effort you would have spent on an anniversary tribute and parcel it out in the form of small, stealthy acts of occasional kindness. Why not make this the Year of Mom and Dad? Call and visit more often, take them to dinner with their friends, and be the one who’s there to meet a need (or a wish or a whim).You’ll be paying tribute to their marriage with each one of these gestures — and in the process, they’ll rack up more pleasant memories than all the ones that would have come from one mere party.

Eventually, we all need advice from a caring but uninvolved source. When your time comes, send an email to [email protected]

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