DEAR AMY: I’m a happily married woman in my late 30s with a home, career and beautiful young daughter.
My much-younger sister is 20 and still lives with our parents. She has made questionable choices, and at one point her boyfriend lived with my parents even though he was selling drugs. This led to a home invasion where my father was held at gunpoint.
The boyfriend no longer lives there, but I often question my parents and their enabling of my sister and her choices. I don’t agree with their decisions, yet I’m considered “judgmental.” My parents had the audacity to say I’d understand their decisions when I’m “older.”
I’m not sure I want my daughter around this environment and so I limit my contact with them. Am I the bad guy here?
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DEAR DAUGHTER: There is the quality of having good judgment, which is different from being judgmental. You seem to possess both characteristics.
Given how you describe your parents’ behavior and their situation regarding your sister, your good judgment is laudable; your being judgmental is perhaps inevitable.
People who “enable” tend to see their behavior as an expression of devotion. But enabling is its own form of dysfunction because the enabler is avoiding the discomfort that results from saying “no.” It is not a function of being “older” but of being afraid and insecure.
Your relationship with your parents will improve if you continue to exercise your own good judgment, while accepting their considerable flaws without passing harsh judgment. This is the life they are choosing to lead, and if they ask you for help, offer it compassionately.
DEAR AMY: My mother-in-law, 84, needs physical therapy. She lives alone. Her two daughters (both retired) live in town and check on her daily, alternating their visits. There are several adult grandchildren in town.
We live in another state. Both my husband and I work full time. This morning my husband received an email from his sisters, stating it is very tiring for them and they request he come home for a week to take her to her physical therapy and keep her company, “Or else I will do something desperate.”
These two daughters have each, this summer, had extensive vacations. My husband and I have had little vacation time due to the trips he has made to his mother’s in the past two years. We have no plans for a vacation ourselves because of that.
I think in their retirement, his sisters have forgotten what it is like to be working. I don’t know how to deal with this, or is it my place?
DEAR WORKING: It is not appropriate for you to put your husband’s sisters in their place.
My own take is that you and your husband may lack some insight and perspective on how depleting long-term elder caretaking can be. If his sisters are older than he, they might be experiencing some of their own health problems, or simply be exhausted from the daily toll of taking care of his mother.
He should offer to help any way he can; if he can’t take a family leave from work to check in on his mother, perhaps he can pay for a local caregiver to take some of the burden off of his sisters.
The Eldercare Locator is an extremely helpful resource and a good place to start the search: eldercare.gov.
DEAR AMY: “Just a Girl Doing Her Job” didn’t want to swap small talk with co-workers when she ran into them outside of work. It always amazes me that people feel “held hostage” when someone extends a conversation longer than they like. It’s not hard to cut the conversation short politely; you don’t have to be rude about it. Just say, “It was good to see you; I have to finish up here. See you later!” and walk off.
I think it would be much more of a problem if your co-workers ignored you when they met you outside work.
DEAR JUDY: The tone of “Just a Girl’s” question conferred quite a bit of snark toward her co-workers.