Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: Please help me with a relationship issue. I adopted my grandson when he was 2 years old. Legally I realize that this makes him my son and my two daughters are now his sisters. Please tell me what is the relationship of his biological father's family to the child? When my daughters fill out forms that call for their siblings, should they put him down as their brother?

LJB in Denver

DEAR LJB: I'm assuming that your daughter (the child's biological mother) is not in the picture. Your (other) daughters should refer to the adoptee as their brother, because once you adopted him he became their brother.

In terms of his other biological relatives, you should explain to him exactly who they are: "This is your biological father. These are your father's parents, and so they are your grandparents." This is very complicated, but starting in the boy's early childhood you should be very frank and open with him about his personal story. There are instances of grandparents raising grandchildren as their "children" but not disclosing it. This can be a very confusing and painful revelation when it is discovered later in life.

I give you so much credit for taking on this vital role. According to recent census figures, an estimated 7.7 American children are being raised by grandparents. These grandparents often take on this role without credit, compensation or in many cases legal rights or custody. Every single one of you is a hero in my eyes.

DEAR AMY: I am recently widowed (18 months) and am not sure what I should do about my husband's debt. My mother-in-law assisted us with down payment money when we purchased our home in 2007. We signed a note for this very generous sum and agreed upon monthly payments. Every payment was made on time, and no payment was ever missed. After my husband passed away, once I received his life insurance money I repaid the loan in full. At the time of my repayment of this loan, my mother-in-law brought to my attention several other "loans" made to my husband (her son), which total over $17,000. She sent this information as a "QuickBooks" attachment detailing the loans. These "loans" were made three to four years earlier while my husband and I were briefly separated. I did not know about these loans and there is no agreement or paperwork about repayment of them between my mother-in-law and my husband. My husband seems to have made efforts to pay his mother, but on a very sporadic basis. I am very upset about all of this and do not know what to tell my mother-in-law. I think it is so rude of her to ask me for this money -- it should be considered a gift and I should not be expected to pay something that I did not know about, benefit from or agree upon. I'd appreciate your take on this.

Widow

DEAR WIDOW: The down payment loan was documented well and paid in full. Presumably you were a co-signer on this loan; at the very least you were informed of it and agreed to it. The other loans were not documented. Nor were you aware of them.

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You should double-check with a lawyer, but I don't think you are legally liable to repay these debts. It may depend on the community property laws in your state.

Nor do you have an ethical responsibility to repay this money. These loans were made without your knowledge or consent.

Tell your mother-in-law that you are very upset to learn of these debts. Explain to her that these loans were made without your knowledge and that you don't feel obligated to repay them. Ask her to describe the circumstances behind these loans, make your decision and move on.

DEAR AMY: "Always a Bridesmaid" described pressuring her boyfriend to marry her. The boyfriend has told her how he feels about marriage. If a woman's "no" means "no" and men and women are equal, than a man's "no" should mean "no" too. He clearly has no intention of getting married.

Faithful Reader

DEAR FAITHFUL: Great point.