Crowded house

Joey Garcia

My sister-in-law and her 2-year-old have lived with my husband and me and one of our children for more than a year. She is a user and abuser: She pays no rent, no utilities, nothing. She doesn’t even take care of her son. We do. I guess she thinks we shit money. She’s undocumented, so she doesn’t get anything for herself, but she gets welfare for her son. She does work, but we don’t ask her for anything. I’m afraid to bring this up with my husband. It might cause a big argument (which wouldn’t be the first time) and even cause my in-laws (who live in Mexico) to hate me. It’s taken me awhile to get the courage to write to you. Now I am so confused, helpless and frustrated that I need advice.

Is this really about money? Or, are you exhausted from working your day job and then returning home to face fully capable adults who expect you to manage household operations? Have you burdened yourself with so much financial and emotional debt that you can’t imagine a way out? Reduce your stress, and your resentment will shrink, too. I think the solution is a wee holiday—perhaps a long weekend, alone, in a house facing the ocean where you can empty your mind like an Etch A Sketch. When your mind is free, only admit thoughts of gratitude for what you have and those you know. Sharing your abundance, even with relatives who overstay their welcome, will be much easier after an act of self-care.

This process also might help you to remember whatever it was that you said or did that led to co-habitation with your sister-in-law. Perhaps when she or your husband suggested the move-in, you neglected to say to him, “It would be wonderful to have her stay with us for one month. After that, will you help her find her own apartment or would you like me to do that?” If necessary, you could add: “I enjoy company, but I feel overwhelmed if I have to live with too many people for too long. How can we make this work for your sister and for me?” With any request, it’s important to require structure and specificity or you risk unhappiness. Thus, if you now need her help, ask.

Of course, if money is your object, create and fastidiously maintain a budget that will accommodate your clan. As preparation, you and your husband should talk about teaching your son the financial and operational points of running a household (i.e. chores). If your sister-in-law is unaware of such information, it would be helpful for her to participate, too. Otherwise she’ll be unable to care for herself if something should happen (God forbid) to your husband. And, for goodness’ sake, help her get documented immediately or turn yourself in for breaking the law.

I tried to intercede on behalf of a woman in an abusive relationship and was told, “Hey, butt out! This is my relationship!” I did butt out, but I wonder whether this has happened to other women who have tried to intercede.

Translation: Is your experience normal or is there something about you that slams the doors of communication shut? I don’t know, so dance with me. Step one: If you were in an abusive relationship (which means you’re addicted to abuse, addicted to relationships or addicted to both), how would you want someone to chat with you about it? Step two: Enroll yourself in a course that trains volunteers for domestic-violence hotlines and shelters and learn to talk the talk from the experts.

Meditation of the week
A San Francisco writer called the activities surrounding September 11 opportunities for “emotional gluttony.” He said that people who really wanted to honor that day should spend the day at home with loved ones, pray for peace and sell their gas-guzzling SUVs. Good news: It’s not too late to participate.

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