Ask Amy

The Denver Post - - FEATURES - By Amy Dick­in­son

Dear Amy: My mother-in-law 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 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 cur­rently pays their par­ents’ mort­gage and bills, de­spite my mother and fa­therin-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-in-law told us that we needed to help them make it. We feel that it is an ex­pense that they should more than be able to af­ford.

My sis­ter-in-law thinks 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 very guilty not help­ing his par­ents.

We’re torn be­tween help­ing peo­ple we love and putting our foot down and say­ing that we have al­ready suf­fered fi­nan­cially from her dis­hon­esty and the money she’s taken from us (we’ve never pur­sued le­gal re­course against those ac­tions), and our feel­ing that we want to be help­ful to her.

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 only work 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. Her own anx­i­ety and guilt drives her to do this. She is very much a part of the dys­func­tion, and you should urge her to stop.

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 feel that I am en­ti­tled to a great time in my own home with­out that ill-man­nered beast, but, since they are very at­tached to it, I don’t know how to ask the own­ers not to bring it with­out of­fend­ing them. — Pet Lover

Dear Pet Lover: Yes, you are en­ti­tled to a great time in your own home, and if you don’t want this dog beg­ging for scraps from your ta­ble, you are go­ing to have to be very 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.”

Dear Amy: “Griev­ing” was hurt be­cause her daugh­ter didn’t at­tend a memo­rial cel­e­bra­tion for her fa­ther.

Thank you for this line: “It is vi­tal af­ter a death in the fam­ily that ev­ery­one should do their best to be gen­tle with one an­other.” I ap­pre­ci­ated the re­minder. — Also Griev­ing

Dear Also Griev­ing: Gentle­ness is in short sup­ply af­ter a fam­ily loss.

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