Feuding parents hurting kids
DEAR CAROLYN: My brother and sister-in-law have two little girls, 5 and 2, and I love the four of them very much.
My brother is a doctor and works many irregular and overnight shifts; my sister-inlaw must necessarily manage the girls by herself a lot.
My brother and sister-inlaw fight frequently. Typically at very low volumes, and never ever physically, but I tend to witness at least one fight per day when I visit.
During the last visit, I was coloring with my nieces in one room while their parents fought in the other. The 5-yearold looked at me and said, “We’ll just be quiet, Auntie. I see this a lot.” That broke my heart.
My husband and I were in couple’s therapy recently, and it helped us so much — something I’ve shared with my brother and sister-in-law. I desperately want to suggest they begin seeing a therapist because their small children are very clearly being affected by their fights — but I don’t know how to do this, or if I should bring up what my niece said to me. Any advice?
— L. DEAR READER: Ugh. You have to tell your brother what your niece said.
Only a parent who is openly pro-denial wouldn’t want to know. Though he might still respond to you with something short of gratitude for telling him; the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Anyway, as you approach this difficult task, stay focused on these three essential elements: truth, compassion and discretion. Tell your brother exactly what you witnessed, tell him privately, and tell him you don’t judge — reminding him of your recent go-round with couple’s counseling.
Then say you’ve shared your one reportable fact and are officially butting back out, unless and until he requests otherwise.
I hope your message gets through.
DEAR CAROLYN: I met a woman through a friend, and we soon began a fun and interesting relationship. After we went out a few times, she told me she had a serious, chronic illness that makes her extremely fatigued.
Now, that illness has gotten worse, and she sleeps basically all day and is awake only in the evenings. Fortunately she has enough money to support herself — but as her condition has worsened, her personality has soured, and the person I enjoyed at the beginning is rarely seen.
I want to help, but I also didn’t sign up for this. The life I had envisioned for myself — and us — isn’t possible, and there’s no end in sight. She’s told me that if I leave her, it would wreck her.
I have dreams and aspirations too, and she won’t be able to have children or to lead a normal life. I believe in supporting a married partner, but this is a relationship of less than a year where I’d like to think I still have some choice.
Do I stay with someone out of duty when we are not married and doing so takes my own dreams away? I’m torn between what is selfish and what is sensible.
— B. DEAR READER: I’m sorry. Sometimes there is no good answer.
There is only a bad answer, and a worse one.
The bad answer is that you break up with your seriously ill girlfriend.
The worse answer is that you stay with someone you don’t love and have not committed to, just out of guilt.
You do have some choice, still and always. You always have the prerogative to choose a path that’s right for you and sits right with you. Just know the consequences beforehand, to the extent you can, and accept them.
The consequence of breaking up will be to inflict pain on someone already in pain. You will also be, to some, always, the person who dumped a sick girlfriend.
The consequence of staying will be that, as long as you stay, neither of you will experience the joys of being in love, or the pervasive warmth of knowing your partner could be anywhere else but wants to be with you.
These matter, too. This isn’t to say either of you will go on to experience this kind of love if you break up, or those feelings won’t develop if you stay together; life has its own ideas. But your only appropriate course is to see where things are going and decide accordingly.
Sharp pain now, or — at best — dull ache always.
She has choices too, by the way. It takes real strength, admittedly, but I’ve seen it myself: She can recognize you didn’t sign up for this before and aren’t invested enough to sign up now — and lovingly set you free. That she hasn’t done this, and in fact chose instead to apply heavy stay-with-me pressure, would matter to me if I were in your place. Illness doesn’t justify threats.