Sage Advice: A Harsh Gift Take-Back

By Amy Dickinson | July 30th, 2019

A kind gesture turns ugly


Happy man playing violin outside Image

Dear Amy: My best friend, “Betsy,” recently gave a used violin to my adult son. Betsy had the bow restrung and other repairs made before giving it to him.

The violin was used by her children when they were young (they, too, are now adults).

My friend recognizes my son’s musical ability, and she wanted to encourage that. He is self-taught and plays the piano, guitar and drums. He also suffers with rather severe health problems. He is in constant pain, and music is one way for him to forget about that.

It was such a kind, loving and generous thing for Betsy to do!

Here’s the problem: When her son and daughter found out, they were very upset that she had given the violin away without asking them first.

They want her to get it back. She asked me to approach my son.

I told him, and he was very hurt that she would ask for it back. I’m leaving it at that.

Betsy now plans to ask my son directly for its return. I don’t know who is right or wrong.

To complicate things, our sons are friends. We have known each other for 20 years!

I’m stuck in the middle.

– Stuck in the Middle

Dear Stuck: Unless dealing with a priceless family heirloom, when adult children leave their childhood home and leave their musical instruments (sports equipment, etc.) behind, their folks have the right to do what they want with these possessions, unless there has been a specific arrangement for the parents to store them.

Counting on your mom to hold onto your broken violin indefinitely, just in case you want to reclaim it, is not an assumption that adults living outside the home get to make.

This is my (unsolicited) advice for “Betsy”: When your adult children complained about your choice to repair and give away this violin, you could/should have said, “Kids, you never led me to believe that you wanted this instrument, and so I’ve recycled it by giving it to someone I care about who will use it. You snooze, you lose. (The same thing goes for that box of lacrosse sticks in the garage, by the way).”

Betsy seems to think that taking this violin back will fix this – but it won’t. If she believes she has made a mistake giving this away, she needs to own it – and apologize to her kids (but not give in to them). She should not ask your son to give this gift back.

If she is determined to reclaim it, she will have to face the awkwardness toward your son, as well as the embarrassment toward you.

You aren’t actually stuck in the middle, and I suggest that you keep it that way.


In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2019 by Amy Dickinson

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