DEAR AMY: My wife’s family is dysfunctional (aren’t we all?). Her brother is deeply estranged from his mother, yet continues to live in his parents’ home into his 20s. They are a wealthy family, and my brother-in-law is accustomed to a certain lifestyle. They fight often, and my wife and I are the only members of the family he speaks to (besides his father). My brother-in-law does not have a job and continues to receive money, groceries and other necessities from these parents he claims to “hate.” He has not spoken to or acknowledged his other brother in more than five years, for no real reason. We rarely see him in person, but when we do, he often says hateful, awful things about my in-laws, and will lash out/shut down/cut us off if we point out the fact that he may be part of the problem. My in-laws complain often about the situation, but my father-in-law refuses to cut him off. Is it better that we stay on friendly terms with the brother, or is it our responsibility to call him out on his behavior, even if we know it will end the relationship? Should we give his parents information about his life and habits (spending, partying, etc.), or should we completely stay out of it? I do deeply care about my brother-in-law, but the good in him is often buried under a lifetime of being a spoiled brat with little consequence.
DEAR MIDDLEMAN: It is a unique challenge to watch family members swim around in their own dysfunctional pool, but before jumping in to join them, you should remind yourself of this: Things would be different, if they wanted them to be different.
If a family member comes to you and actually mouths these words: “What should I do?” Then you can leap in with all of your wisdom. Otherwise, you must always respond to each family member with your own brand of authenticity.
Staying on friendly terms is ideal, but you should not have to compromise your own values to do so. So, for instance, if your brother-in-law is a jerk in your home — trashing family members — you should say to him, “We don’t appreciate that; if you can’t find another topic we’ll have to say goodbye and see you another time.”
If your brother-in-law is doing anything illegal or dangerous, you should let the parents know. Otherwise, stay out of it.
You and your wife should be consistent to all parties in this domestic drama: “This seems tough. It sounds like you all shouldn’t live together.”
DEAR AMY: Is it ever OK to discuss a child’s weight gain? We have a wonderful mid-20s daughter who has a small frame. She has a good job, is very responsible, pleasant, of good character and is well-liked. She has gained a significant amount of weight in the past couple years. Because she is very sensitive, we are unsure about how to talk to her about this. Should we just say nothing? What is the correct thing to do?
DEAR WORRIED: If your daughter has gained a significant amount of weight in a relatively short period of time, then she could have an underlying health issue.
The weight gain itself puts her at risk for other health problems.
Many young adults don’t see a doctor regularly. Does she have a doctor? Ask her when was the last time she saw her doctor (and dentist). Encourage her to get a checkup, and — yes — do say, “I know you’ve put on weight; most people struggle with this at some point, but I just want to make sure you pay close attention to your health to make sure there isn’t an underlying problem.”
Maintain a neutral tone, don’t bug her about it, don’t tell her she “has a beautiful face,” and if she responds by being overly sensitive, it is because you have touched upon a very sensitive issue that is tough and tender for most people.
DEAR AMY: “Worried MIL” had a tense visit with her son and daughter-in-law. Now she has been invited back for a week-long visit and is worried about how to handle the visit. You had really good advice for her; however, maybe you could have pointed out that a week is too long to visit even someone who wants you, let alone someone who sees you as an obligation. Remember the old, but excellent, rule about “fish and relatives starting to smell after three days!” Three days is the maximum for almost all visits.
DEAR ELIZABETH: I completely agree.