Dear Amy: My sister-in-law was working in the marijuana industry before it was legal (now it is legal here). She was earning thousands of dollars under the table, while at the same time seeking subsidies from the government.
I was very uncomfortable with this and after many months of agonizing about what to do, I called her up and told her that I thought that her behavior was unethical. She defended it by saying that the industry was in transition (which it was) and that she would write down her income, but that she didn’t have any records.
She has since stopped working there. Now, she is earning money by working under the table doing various odd jobs (which she doesn’t report as income). She also has some other income, which she does report.
I would like to address her unreported income, but am reluctant because I am her in-law.
I am also worried that I will damage our relationship (which was very good before this whole episode). I wish that her (blood) family would address it, but they don’t. They don’t see it as a big deal. I also feel like a “goody two shoes” who is being holier than thou, but at the same time I think what she is doing is unethical and inconsistent, even with her own statements.
Should I talk with her again, or should I keep my mouth shut?
Dear In-law: I notice that your in-law’s work “in the marijuana industry” seems to have bothered you more from an economic standpoint than from the fact that she was (I presume) engaged in an activity that was illegal – until your state laws changed.
At the same time, unless you are her accountant, it is really not your job to watch, police or examine her tax return. I’m assuming that she isn’t really the sharpest tool in the family shed if she chooses to share this financial information with you in the first place.
If she is working various odd jobs and taking cash under the table and just scraping by, then she may fall under the category of working poor – along with millions of other Americans. According to a recent widely quoted national study by the University of California, more than half of front-line fast food workers, 48 percent of home-care workers and 25 percent of part-time college faculty receive government assistance.
Unless she is applying for and fraudulently receiving subsidies (currently), you should butt out. If you continue to be deeply offended by her behavior, tell her. But yes, you will come off as a “goody-two-shoes” (do you care?), and no – you shouldn’t expect her to thank you for poking around in her business and then judging her for her choices.
Dear Amy: My sister-in-law insists on sharing every meal we have together when eating out. This might not be a problem in our hometown diner when we are having soup and a sandwich, but it is very annoying when I have a lovely meal in front of me at a nice restaurant.
It has become a family joke, but I am embarrassed by it. How do I handle this?
Perplexed in Michigan
Dear Perplexed: Someone else’s embarrassing behavior should not embarrass you. If you let this dynamic take hold, you'll be forever guarding your plate against your marauding in-law.
Perhaps your sister-in-law possesses one of those telescoping forks, whereby she can reach across the table and snatch your food off of your plate. If not, the most logical defense is a good offense - choose to sit as far away from her as possible.
I (personally) hate to share food. I don’t want yours and I don’t want to part with mine. If sharing seems to be on the horizon, you need to say – respectfully – “Um, no. I’m not sharing my meal. You should order what you want for yourself, because what’s on my plate is staying on my plate.”
If this “no sharing” stance causes family members to shame or embarrass you, hold your head high – and your leftovers close.
Dear Amy: “Carol” described herself as a “Luddite,” who doesn’t like to see babies and young children with screens pressed to their faces. She asked your permission to educate these parents on how harmful it is.
Thank you for discouraging her from lecturing strangers on how to raise their children.
Dear Parent: Exactly. “Carol” shouldn’t lecture strangers on the hazards of screen use and offer recommendations on how to raise their children (…that’s MY job).
Email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.