Dear Amy: My mother-inlaw has a gambling addiction. She gambles away her and her husband’s incomes and takes out payday loans. We are constantly barraged with calls from debt collectors looking for her; she has stolen money from people (including her own children); she has gambled away land that had been in her family for more than 100 years; she has taken out a credit card in my husband’s name and not paid it, putting a huge black mark on his previously impeccable credit.
She’s been confronted, agreed to seek help, has attempted to pay back what she’s stolen or borrowed, but it always ends with the same things happening all over again.
My husband’s sister pays their parents’ mortgage and bills, despite my motherand father-in-law both having jobs that should more than cover these expenses.
Recently, my in-laws said they needed to make a big purchase, and my sister-inlaw informed my husband and me that we needed to help them make it. My sisterin-law told us in plain language that it is our responsibility to help them when they need it and that she and her husband resent that we don’t help them financially.
I feel that giving them money is only fueling the gambling habit. My husband agrees with me but also feels guilty not helping his parents.
How do we reconcile standing firm against what we believe is wrong with not being heartless toward people we love? — Conflicted Daughter-in-Law
Dear Conflicted: Your family needs to redefine what it means to “help.” It might clarify things if you realize that enabling only drives your mother-in-law deeper into her addiction and delays her recovery.
She committed a serious crime when she took out a credit card in her son’s name. And what were the consequences for this crime? More “help.”
Interventions work only when all loved ones say — in unison — “We love you, but we won’t support your addiction.” Your sister-in-law is not helping her parents by propping them up.
I highly recommend that all of you read “Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself” by Melodie Beattie (1986, Hazelden).
Dear Amy: One of my close relatives has a little dog that I loathe. It has often been brought to family gatherings, and every single time it annoys me considerably. The dog stays close to our dinner table and constantly whines for food and attention.
The dog’s horrible manners are obviously tolerated (and even encouraged) by the owners by feeding it from the table. This has ruined my appetite.
I will hold a gathering at our house soon. I don’t know how to ask the owners not to bring it without offending them. — Pet Lover
Dear Pet Lover: You are going to have to be clear when you are issuing the invitation: “I’d love to see you, but please leave ‘Muffin’ at home this time.”
You can expect these relatives to be offended, and they may choose to stay home with their dog, but your own rights as a host should not come second to their preference to bring an uninvited canine as a “plus one.”