DEAR AMY: Several years ago, I terminated all forms of relationship with a couple of my siblings (there are seven of us), due to lifelong bullying, verbal abuse, blatant disrespect and the need to protect my children. There are some family members who choose to “update” me on the lives of these siblings I’m estranged from. I listen to these updates, but try to provide as minimal and as respectful a response as possible. I wish no ill toward these family members; I just choose not to allow them into my life. It is important and necessary that these toxic family members not be permitted back into my and my family’s good graces. How do I remain respectful in acknowledging — or not acknowledging — life events without being cold? I also don’t want to react or respond in a way that allows these people to think/believe they have an “in.” How can I handle this and still maintain what I feel are necessary boundaries? Recently, a family member notified me that each of these estranged siblings had a parent-in-law pass away on the same day. Should I directly acknowledge these losses, or just have heartfelt prayers for them?
Want to do Right
DEAR WANT TO DO RIGHT: If you don’t want to have any direct contact with these siblings (which you say you don’t), then you should respond honestly to the family member who delivered this news: “Oh, that sounds terrible. I can’t imagine.” Then you send heartfelt prayers their way (if you are the praying type).
If these updates inspire you toward more direct compassion regarding your siblings, then you should risk contacting them personally in order to pass along your humane reaction to a sad event. A short note: “ ‘Sara’ told me about the recent death in your spouse’s family. My condolences to all of you.”
If you do choose to contact them, you need to understand something important: your siblings may not have changed.
But expressing a generous and sincere emotion — with no expectation — might be your liberation.
DEAR AMY: I am a part of a circle of friends that tend to do things together (girls’ nights, weekend getaways, etc.). Obviously, some of us are closer than others, and that ebbs and flows, but this seems largely accepted. One of the women, however, has an issue when she is not included. I don’t mean that all of us make plans and exclude “Mary” — I’m talking about if two of the group mention that they had dinner together last week, or met for a drink, Mary will literally pout and fret about being “ditched.” Mind you, this is someone in her 60s. Now, two of us, along with other friends who are not part of this group, are planning a vacation together and have rented a house in a sunny place for a week in the winter. Mary’s extreme neediness and tendency to drink too much has convinced us that inviting her would be a bad decision. There is no way we can hide the fact that we are vacationing without her. How do I phrase the explanation as to why we aren’t including her? I don’t know if she’ll be satisfied with the basic truth — that it just happened.
DEAR WORRIED: Please, whatever you do, don’t say that this vacation “just happened.” Drunken weddings in Vegas might “just happen,” but vacations are planned.
You and your group-friend are going on this holiday with others not in your friendship circle. If you don’t want to confront “Mary” about her drinking (which would place the responsibility for being excluded squarely on her), you could say to her, “Mandy and I are planning this week away with other people whom you don’t know. I know from experience that it upsets you not to be included, but I don’t expect to be included in all of your events, and others in our group understand that we don’t always do everything together, and so I hope that you can understand this, too.”
Don’t let Mary’s pouting and fretting manipulate you, but understand that this is her way of coping. If you don’t act guilty or at fault, her distress should be proportional.
DEAR READERS: My own life is probably a lot like yours. I’ve experienced poverty, prosperity, marriage, divorce, remarriage, step-parenting, caretaking, loss and grief. If you’ve ever been curious about the life behind the advice column, I hope you’ll consider picking up my memoir, “Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home.” (2017, Hachette).