Published On: Thu, Nov 16th, 2023

New neighbor fired my son as his dad was dying. Carolyn Hax readers advise.

New neighbor fired my son as his dad was dying. Carolyn Hax readers advise.
New neighbor fired my son as his dad was dying. Carolyn Hax readers advise.

We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: I’m just not sure how to handle this or whether I even handle it. Several years ago, my son began his first job out of college working for the director of a small nonprofit. Admittedly, it wasn’t a good fit all around. I know what I know secondhand and through my mama bear lens. Suffice to say he didn’t steal, malign or malinger.

What’s indisputable and unforgivable is that she let him go the week his father died — knowing full well that his father was in hospice and on his deathbed. From my point of view, she could have waited a week or two and had a compassionate conversation that would have left both feeling heard.

That’s not what she chose. As I understand it, the approach was, this isn’t working and you probably need time right now, so don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out.

This kind of thing happens to all of us, one way or another, but here’s my dilemma: She just moved to my very small, close-knit street. Avoiding her is not an option. Neither is strangling her on sight.

She’ll make the connection (unless she’s super clueless) because my last name is unusual. I plan to be a respectful neighbor no matter what, but how do I address the pachyderm in the street? I don’t feel comfortable just ignoring it. Help!

New Neighbor, Old Enemy

New Neighbor, Old Enemy: Is there ever a “good” time though? Would it actually have been better, as you say, to have waited a couple of weeks and fired him after a recent death in the family? Being fired is rejection and it stinks no matter when it happens. This was a bad fit, as you yourself already understand. It was best for everyone involved that the situation ended so each party could find a new arrangement.

As to how to deal with your new neighbor, you don’t have to show up with a fruitcake, but you do not get to make her a villain in her new community either. Assume there are things you do not know and might not see through your mama bear lens.

Your new neighbor made a professional decision that is never fun, comfortable or easy. The timing was unfortunate but not an act of malice. Be civil and gracious and try putting yourself in her shoes, if you can. Your son will ultimately be better-served in a job that is a good fit. I’m so sorry for your loss.

New Neighbor, Old Enemy: I’m very sorry for your loss, but do not, under any circumstances, say anything to your new neighbor about your son’s situation. He is an adult and his professional life is his to manage.

You will damage his reputation if it gets around that his mother approached his former boss. You said yourself the information you have about the situation is secondhand; you just don’t know what actually happened.

Could she have shown a bit more compassion during that time? Sure. But this is business and it’s not personal. If she connects the dots that you are related, just treat her cordially and move on.

New Neighbor, Old Enemy: I’ve learned never to assume what someone else thinks or what motivates them; those assumptions are often wrong. It sounds like this was just a business decision for her, and she may have thought she was actually doing your son a favor by releasing him to spend his father’s last days with him. Would it have been better to fire him after he had missed that opportunity?

I would treat her as I would any new neighbor. You don’t have to be her friend, but be pleasant and tell yourself you’re teaching her a lesson in class. Being nasty or telling her off won’t improve the neighborhood and would probably just confirm to her that she made the right decision about your son.

New Neighbor, Old Enemy: Just because everyone on your street was close-knit in the past doesn’t mean it must stay that way forever. Be polite, but keep her at arm’s length. Don’t shun her from the group and don’t rally your other neighbors to dislike her, but also don’t feel like you have to be friends.

If she brings up the history or asks why the distance, you can be honest but kind. Tell her she hurt your family during an extremely difficult time. Tell her you don’t blame her, but she brings all those feelings back and you aren’t interested in becoming closer.

Or you can try to let go of your past feelings and move forward with a blank slate. This is probably the healthier option, but also harder. It’s okay if you’re just not up to trying.

New Neighbor, Old Enemy: There is someone glaringly absent from your letter of grievance: your son. There is no mention of his thoughts and feelings about this matter now several years past. It was your son’s experience at this job during which all parties involved seemed to agree it wasn’t working out for whatever reasons.

As to the manner and timing of his firing, to which you have taken personal affront, I ask again, how did your son feel about this? Did he feel he was the victim of a callous act? Or did he accept and understand (perhaps unhappily) the reasons for his termination at that time?

Your secondhand perceptions reduce your new neighbor to the caricature of an old enemy, viewed through a lens of resentment for a harm that didn’t happen to you.

Now, several years later, you suggest options limited to avoiding or strangling this person on sight; someone, it seems, you’ve never met or spoken to in person. So where is this life-or-death drama playing out? Only in your head, mother of a son who fumbled his first out-of-college work experience during a very difficult and painful time in his life. So drop it.

Take responsibility for carrying this resentment around and blaming your new neighbor for the hurt you have created for yourself on behalf of your son. If you can do the work to let go of this resentment and leave it in the past where it rightfully belongs, you might just be able to welcome a new neighbor to your close-knit street with an open mind and open heart.

Wouldn’t that feel better?

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Thursdays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.

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