My sister-in-law, “Mary,” has always been a mess. She has two kids with two different men who never see them, don’t pay child support, and she doesn’t work. Mary and her children lived with my mother-in-law, “Kate,” until Kate moved into a 55-plus community and told Mary she was on her own. Mary has been living with her boyfriend since then.A few weeks ago – not for the first time – Mary unexpectedly dumped the kids (5 and 3) on my husband, “Dan,” and me, saying she was going on a trip. This week she texted us that she’s staying where she is and we should send the kids to live with her mom. Kate, of course, can’t take them.Now Dan is talking about assuming permanent custody. They are sweet but energetic, and love it here since they have a yard and stability. Mary will jump at the chance to get rid of them.I know these little ones need us but this is not how I saw us building our family, and will delay our having our own children. While I am trying to do the right thing I am crying inside. If I turn these children away I’ll feel like a monster, but if I take them in I’ll feel like a martyr. What to do?Crying InsideI feel for you, and know exactly how hard it is when something you’ve counted on, even lived for, won’t happen. It’s a kind of grief.
But I disagree your only choices are monster or martyr. “Mom” is available.
And I’ve come to see “how I saw us [blank],” whether it’s “building our family” or “starting our careers” – or any future we envision – as a false promise at best. We can want and dream and plan, but life always gets its say. Always.
And so I see the path to happiness not as the milestones we strive for but as a mind open to the opportunities, even beauty, in what we receive.
This “will delay … our own children” – yes – but these can soon become your own children, too, thereby accelerating versus delaying your promotion to parent. These kids need you and are attached to you already, and their chance to grow up in a loving and safe environment isn’t just a gift for them. It’s a gift for you. It will get you outside of yourself, it will give you sharply illuminated purpose, it will produce two planets to your sun – at least until they are independent, which is also a gift to you in the form of a sense of accomplishment.
Is it Plan A? No. Will it be easy? No. These kids have been raised indifferently and can expect some emotional fallout. But everything worth doing takes a piece out of us – that’s what makes it so, the investment of an essential part of you.
Absolutely do go cry it out with friends or a therapist even – but when you’re ready, please open yourself to the possibility that life just gave you more than it took away.
Re: Kids:Please get legal advice. Protect yourselves and them in case Mary decides she wants to take them back even for a limited time. Anonymous
Of course, thanks.
I’ve pretended to go to college for almost four years when I actually dropped out my freshman year. I’ve been working as a temp since then and living “off campus.” My family doesn’t know since I fake my grades, account statements, everything. None of them went to college so it hasn’t been too hard to fool them.I’ve used the money they’ve been giving me to help me afford my room and board.I know I’m going to have come clean soon since they expect me to graduate soon with an engineering degree. I just don’t know how to do this. They are going to freak out. They’re immigrants and me going to college was their dream.I’m actually thinking of just disappearing for a while and telling them by letter. I know that’s the coward’s way out but I could come back when it’s all blown over and they’ll probably be so relieved that I’m back in touch that they won’t disown me.Is there a better way to handle this that won’t also get me disowned?Faking College
This knot is so tight and complicated and emotional, and the consequences of “disappearing for a while”(!) potentially so severe, that I urge you not to untie it alone.
Please find a good therapist to help you untangle its many threads – especially your fear of being authentic.
If you still live near the school, then there is likely counseling available in the community on a sliding scale based on income. You can call the school’s mental health service to see if non-affiliated people have access, and if not, where a good local resource might be. If it’s a university that offers degrees in counseling fields, then there might be a clinic where the students train and charge little to nothing for their services.
If you have insurance through a temp agency, then find out who provides therapy in-network.
However you manage it, please start the work of telling your truth by sharing it with people who are not invested – as you told me here, which is a start. Make the next person a trained health-care provider who can meet with you regularly. Do not wait any longer to face this, and take care.
Re: Faking:There’s nothing wrong with deciding an engineering degree wasn’t for you, but letting your parents subsidize your alternate path without their knowledge wasn’t fair. One of your top priorities should be an absolute commitment to pay your parents back.Were it my kid, I would want to hear: “Sorry I did this, please forgive me. Starting right now, I’m going to give you [dollar amount] per week until I’ve paid you back.” It’s important to take real actions to prove remorse and bear responsibility for your actions.ParentI am in a fairly new relationship (three months) with an attorney who divorced after 25 years of marriage. He loves to travel and told me that since he has a lot of airline miles, he books coach and always gets an upgrade to first class.So when he and his wife, and then one girlfriend before he met me, traveled together, she sat in coach and he took the upgrade and sat in first class. At first I thought he was kidding.I really don’t like the thought of that type of arrangement, as I find the message rather insulting. I think he should either sit in coach with me or pay extra for me to sit with him in first class. He has money and I don’t. And I also don’t know what to say to make him see that this is demeaning. Any suggestions?Anonymous“Thank you for giving me, upfront, this unobstructed view of your character.
“Now please lose my number.”
Either that, or you forfeit your right to be surprised when his self-centeredness affects you in more significant ways and after you’re much more emotionally invested. HIS WIFE SAT ALONE IN COACH: His epitaph writes itself.
Carolyn Hax is a syndicated advice columnist for The Washington Post. She started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. Email her at [email protected]