Dear Amy: What are my obligations to my sister, who left the country and moved to Israel?
My wife and I returned to our hometown after college, specifically because we wanted to be close to our families/parents. We wanted our kids to have grandparents and cousins nearby and to gather with extended family (and my sister) when they come to visit.
Whenever my expat sister and her kids visit each year, we spend a lot of time with them. I really love my sister and her children.
Recently she has been giving me the biggest guilt trip about not attending my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, in Israel, almost 6,000 miles away. She feels hurt that she is “low priority” on my list.
Honestly, I was planning on going, but my pregnant wife is so sick, and I feel guilty leaving her alone to care for our other young child.
Is the person who moved away allowed to make the left-behind feel guilty for not spending thousands of dollars and several days on a plane? I have been to visit Israel several times, but I feel that she is out of line with the guilt. She is the one who chose to live abroad. I’ve never made her feel guilty. But I don’t think it’s fair to say I’m not choosing family, when I specifically live where I do because I chose family.
Is it fair for my sister to make me feel guilty for not coming to a religious ceremony thousands of miles away? (I’m not religious.)
What is my obligation?
How do I navigate this without making her feel bad, but so that I don’t feel bad, either?
Dear Anonymous: You don’t get to ask if someone “is allowed” to make you feel guilty. Guilt is a two-way transaction.
Do not diminish the importance of a Bar Mitzvah in a family’s story. Whether or not you are religious, they are, and this is huge.
You seem unwilling to feel “bad” for having to miss this. But aren’t you sorry that you won’t be able to witness this important passage in your nephew’s life? Dude, go ahead and feel bad!
It might help the dynamic with your sister if you basically cop to being very sorry about this, but – given your own family’s situation, you’ve decided it isn’t wise for you to go. This will be your final answer, so any reaction she has is just the “guilt balloon,” caroming around the room as it runs out of air.
Write a very warm and avuncular letter to your nephew, offer him a special experience the next time he is able to come to the States, send a generous gift and express genuine interest in seeing photographs from the celebration.
Dear Amy: My boyfriend and I have been in a relationship for three years. His wife died six years ago, and I’ve been divorced for a long time.
We feel very lucky to have love back in our lives after suffering through very painful losses.
His adult children will not allow me to come to any of their kids’ birthdays, school events or family activities. They feel that if I am there, they are being disloyal to their late mother.
This has caused us much pain and stress. We’ve respected their wishes, but we feel that by now things need to change. We feel so guilty that our happiness is causing pain for them.
What should we do?
Dear Left Out: It’s time to start showing up. You should accompany your guy to school events, concerts and games – or other essentially public events. Greet everyone warmly but otherwise keep a discreet and calm distance.
Basically, you will need to demonstrate your presence, and the fact that you are not going away. You cannot force these people to invite you to their home, but your guy should gently encourage them to accept you.
Dear Amy: After 30 years of ministry and caring for couples, my response would have been much shorter than yours to “Over It”. My response: Get out.
The response to abusive relationships ought to be simple. The abused needs to leave.
There are plenty of loving women in the world for Over It. He doesn’t need to change her because he can’t. The logic of counseling this early into a relationship before marriage is a huge indicator that this match was made in h--l, not heaven.
Dear Fr. K: Thank you for your insight.
Email Amy at email@example.com.