My sister’s husband was laid off and, instead of getting a job, he is writing a novel. He hasn’t produced any writing and does nothing except pick up his sons from school. He spends afternoons playing video games with them until my sister returns from work. She makes dinner and gets the kids to do homework and chores. She does everything: bills, yardwork, laundry, etc. She is unhappy, but her husband’s relationship with his sons has improved since he was laid off, and she is afraid to take a stand. I think she should kick him out. What do you think?
I think it’s her life and you should avoid taking scissors to it. But you have the right to snip away the parts of your own life that are unmanageable. It’s an act of self-respect and courage to trim your own unruly attitudes and behaviors. Start here: do you resent your brother-in-law’s new life? He’s one of the kids now, hanging out, ducking responsibilities and playing at being an artist. You may blame him for your sister’s unhappiness, but what about your own? If your shoulders slump beneath too many responsibilities, head out for recess. Find a paintball game, get lost in a novel, play Frisbee with a dog or nest in the backyard grass and count the clouds. Remember who you wanted to be and lengthen into that version of yourself. Investing in a sabbatical would help. There is nothing more responsible than becoming the person you were meant to be.
I’m not suggesting that your brother-in-law become your role model, but you can’t change who he is. You can capture whatever he has stimulated in you and admit that it signals the chasms that must be healed in your own life.
As for your sister, well, I’m not buying your letter as an example of brotherly love. While her husband has regressed to adolescence, you are parenting her. A kinder approach is to treat her like an equal, capable of deciding what is best for her life. Don’t encourage her to complain. If she does, ask gentle questions: “What would you like to do about that?” or “How do you feel?”
You can also help her to develop an honest perspective. If she fears that divorcing her husband would result in her sons being angry at her, remind her that emotions are transient. Most teens run a gamut of emotions daily. Yes, they will be angry, but it won’t last forever. If she notes that her sons are happy hanging out with their pops, agree. Then remind her that they are learning, through her example and his, how to construct a marriage. It’s a wake-up call. Eventually every Cinderella discovers her inner monarch.
My brother and sister got into an argument a year ago about our dad, who is in a nursing home. They still do not talk. I have always been closer to my sister. I agreed with her position and told my brother that. He and I have not talked since. My sister is still angry and won’t talk to our brother, but I feel awful that this thing has gone on so long. How can I make up with my brother without pissing my sister off? I know she will think I’m being disloyal to her.
If resolving conflict is what passes for disloyalty in your family, I suggest finding another family. If that doesn’t appeal, write a letter to each sibling expressing your grief at the ongoing drama. State your intention of reconnecting with each one. Offer to be a bridge leading each back to the other. And pray like a bodhisattva as you undertake and complete each of these tasks.