Toronto Star

Once close friend has stuck me in ‘in-law’ zone

- Ellie Ellie Tesher is an advice columnist for the Star and based in Toronto. Send your relationsh­ip questions via email:

Dear Readers: Family ties can be a support system, or a cause for conflict and pain. If there’s opportunit­y to choose the better path, do so:

Q: My brother married my close friend 17 years ago. My new sister-inlaw and I had gone to summer camp together and bonded as preteens.

My brother and my friend are a loving couple with two sons.

I was naturally invited to the kids’ young birthday parties but something had changed. I was labelled “sister-inlaw” instead of “friend.”

I found I had to be careful not to ever make even a joking comment about the kids (rambunctio­us but also great fun). Every statement had to be praise.

Yet I was present when other guests our same age could tease my sister-inlaw about her children’s habits (messy but lovable).

I never spoke to my brother about being placed on the “in-law” list because I feared I’d appear supersensi­tive.

Now their kids are interestin­g teenagers and I enjoy seeing them whenever there’s a family event. But I don’t get casual phone calls to just chat as girlfriend­s.

Is there anything I can do or say now that all our children are busy with high school and there’s more time for us to occasional­ly get together for lunch as she does with her other “friends?” Stuck as Family

A: Being an in-law is a category that grows in importance over time. As the children grow up and their parents look for signs of their inherited traits, your growing up in the same environmen­t as her husband are a window into their reactions, natural skills, attitudes, moods and far more.

Your brother’s wife has a lot to gain from your knowledge. And you don’t have to wait to be asked, if you have something positive to contribute.

Also, as her husband’s (and your) parents age, you become a partner in decisionma­king as to how to respond to their health issues and needs. No friend can fill that role.

Consider your expanding role over time, and be more positive about your position. Her only request is asking for loyalty when discussing her children.

I believe there’s the makings here of a growing mutual respect, far deeper than what you knew as younger girlfriend­s.

Q: I’m a man in my senior years. Early in our marriage, my wife commented that even though I thought I had a close relationsh­ip with my younger brother, we spent little time together, and rarely went out together as two couples.

We never spent Mother’s Days, Father’s Days or birthdays as a family. When I suggested getting together, he’d reply that they’d already taken our aging mother out!

I must’ve done something to offend them in the past but have never been approached about it. Our mother had even asked me if it was my brother or his wife who caused this disconnect.

Meanwhile, my brother refused to attend our daughter’s wedding but wouldn’t tell me why!

It’s taken me years and several therapists to even be able to think of him. I still dread any large family get-togethers.

On my best days I consider him only as someone I used to know. The thought of him still causes major anxiety!

Unfortunat­ely, his family experience­d a recent terrible tragedy. But the first thing he told a close friend of both of ours was that he didn’t want to hear from me.

No Response Needed

Ellie: A response to your brother is very needed. Tragedy usurps past silences. A note of sincere condolence­s is a start.

Ellie’s tip of the day

When tragedy strikes, show kindness and caring.

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