Having kids is a lot of things—a joy, a challenge, a pain, a miracle, a tragedy. But one thing it isn’t? A lifelong guarantee of a deep friendship that warrants regular check-ins. Even when you pay for stuff. Sorry.

But just such a conundrum comes up in a recent Dear Prudence live chat, now answered by the brilliantly funny Mallory Ortberg. In a new question under Ortberg’s watch, a mom asks:

Dear Prudie, I’m writing to ask for your guidance with my 18 yo daughter who is in her 1st year at an Ivy League university (we are paying for it). She only calls when she needs something or wants me to do something for her. I try to text her a few times a week, saying “how’s it going?” or something funny, or send an emoji. I call her about once a week to say hi for 5 to 10 minutes (max). She complains to her older sister that I call her “all the time” and I text her “when she’s in class” (obviously, I don’t know her schedule, and why is her phone on in class?). I don’t expect replies from her when I text, I don’t expect her to call me back if I call. I’m so hurt by her attitude I feel like not contacting her at all until we see her at Xmas (last time I saw her was September when I dropped her off), and certainly don’t feel moved to buy her Xmas presents. I still have her 10 yo sister at home, lots to do, a busy, full life. I’ve always tried to be a supportive parent, and give my kids what THEY need, to not use them to get what I need. I have a great relationship with her older sister, and thought I did with her too. I know I shouldn’t ‘punish’ her by giving her the cold shoulder for not wanting to talk to me, but I just don’t know how to handle it and be the parent in this situation. Thanks for your help!

This sort of question is a pretty good litmus test for something a lot of us don’t really articulate or figure out until either we are older or have kids of our own—how we think kids ought to regard their own parents, and what they “owe” them in terms of a relationship for having brought them into the world.

There’s a lot to suss out here. Let’s take it line by line.

…guidance with my 18 yo daughter who is in her 1st year at an Ivy League university (we are paying for it)…

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Got it. Your daughter is at a Fancy School and you are Funding Her Education at a Fancy School. But look, paying for college doesn’t mean your kid has to talk to you in a meaningful way. That requires having a good relationship. You can certainly not pay for college if you don’t get the relationship you want and wish to make a terrible monster point, which would be a great strategy if you decide you don’t want that relationship after all.

She only calls when she needs something or wants me to do something for her.

Freshman year at college is about breaking away and establishing autonomy, away from the pestering eye of your parents. Some people miss their parents terribly and welcome their engagement, but for many kids, intrusions from the ‘rents are totally unwanted unless they come in the form of sweet dollar bills or care packages. This is a totally normal phase, and for people with good relationships with their parents, one that typically passes.

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I try to text her a few times a week, saying “how’s it going?” or something funny, or send an emoji. I call her about once a week to say hi for 5 to 10 minutes (max).

We can assume she is downplaying this and probably makes the double the contact, but even if she isn’t, that can feel like a lot of contact to a freshman when you’re trying to live your life.

She complains to her older sister that I call her “all the time” and I text her “when she’s in class” (obviously, I don’t know her schedule, and why is her phone on in class?).

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Why do you know what she says to her older sister? Is it because her older sister is telling you? And then you’re probably telling your daughter you know what she says about you? Lady: don’t spy on your daughter by going to the other daughter. This could turn them against each other.

I don’t expect replies from her when I text, I don’t expect her to call me back if I call.

Um, yes you do!

I’m so hurt by her attitude I feel like not contacting her at all until we see her at Xmas (last time I saw her was September when I dropped her off), and certainly don’t feel moved to buy her Xmas presents.

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See above! Also, you’re being so financially manipulative by even thinking about not buying presents for kids who don’t behave exactly as you claim you don’t even want them to.

I still have her 10 yo sister at home, lots to do, a busy, full life. I’ve always tried to be a supportive parent, and give my kids what THEY need, to not use them to get what I need.

Martyr alert. You’re super busy and you’re taking time out of YOUR schedule to text her emoji (lol). Look, whenever someone trots out “I’ve always done the best I could” you know there’s more to the story, a whole plot that’s not being mentioned here. Whatever it is, it’s more complicated than “I text her and am great and she has a bad attitude!”

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And sorry, but by constantly mentioning money and gifts, you are “using’ money to get your needs met from your children, and are in fact bummed it’s not working.

I have a great relationship with her older sister, and thought I did with her too.

Relationships with other siblings are nontransferable, I’m afraid.

I know I shouldn’t ‘punish’ her by giving her the cold shoulder for not wanting to talk to me, but I just don’t know how to handle it and be the parent in this situation.

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Prudie’s response, in part, addresses the glaring issues here really well: If you want to have a relationship with her, she says, realize that the current approach isn’t working, and that pestering her is getting you nowhere. “A check-in call once every other week or so sounds more manageable for the two of you right now,” she advises. Prudie maintains that the non-gift giving is shitty, and that anything other than lovingly giving her daughter space won’t amount to a good relationship.

But I would like to expand with one other very simple point, one that often goes left unsaid in discussions of parenting: you earn a relationship with anyone, including your children. Ask any parent of a teenager; they are often heartbroken at the realization that they are suddenly irrelevant to the same child they used to snuggle with every morning.

When kids are under your roof they may have no choice but to live with you and meet your demands (or willingly participate in a wonderful, close relationship if that is the lucky case), but afterward, when they are on their own, it’s no longer something you can force. Not with money, either.

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I think we all owe our parents the gratitude and acknowledgement that they raised us as best they could, and we should all try to look compassionately and fairly upon the struggles and sacrifices parents make. But no adult kid owes their parents a relationship. They simply don’t. Especially when the parent has been pretty lacking.

I’m not saying that’s the situation here—only that we should never reflexively assume that by breeding, we have guaranteed ourselves a lifelong happy relationship with our child. That’s something you earn over a lifetime of treating a kid respectfully, and by respecting their boundaries. And coincidentally, ex-Prudie Emily Yoffe once explored the question that for some kids, not talking to their parents is, in fact, the healthy choice.

It’s natural to want a close relationship to continue with your daughter well into college, adulthood, and beyond. But if you have a Gilmore Girls situation in mind, you might need to adjust your expectations.

Image via Warner Bros./Gilmore Girls.