Dear Margo: Family Favoritism

What to do when Dad picks a favorite. Margo Howard’s advice

Family Favoritism

Dear Margo: I am the middle sister of three daughters. We’re all grown and have gone our separate ways, but our family keeps in touch via Facebook and a yearly family reunion. Year after year, something has been troubling me, and I don’t know how to address it. The youngest of us is outgoing and dominates all conversations. Though she can be the life of the party, her comments are most often ill-informed and, frankly, a lot of hot air. My older sister, however, is precisely the opposite. She is shy and contributes little to the conversation, preferring to listen, but when she does speak, it is always to offer correct and useful information.

I love both my lively sister and the shy one, but I’ve noticed that our father shows a preference for my younger sister while belittling my older one — telling her (no matter what she says) that she’s wrong, which is seldom the case. My sister takes this personally and then says nothing for the rest of the conversation, but later she will look up the information she mentioned and show it to Dad to prove she was right. He never apologizes and instead spends all his time praising the outgoing one.

He might favor my little sister because he, too, was the youngest child in his family. But it seems childish of him to act like that, and it hurts to see my older sister diminished. Recently, she has stopped participating in the online connections, and I’m afraid she may become estranged as the years go on. I try to make peace, but I’m not sure how to broach the subject. — Dealing with a Cordelia, in Connecticut

Dear Deal: Wow, wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age, does it? I actually think you need to have a talk with everyone involved. I would tell the lively sister that you think it would be in her interest to tone down her entertainer quotient and raise her accuracy level. (That can only be a plus in the outside world, as well.) You might mention that her hot air, I mean “opinions,” restrain the eldest sister and you fear the family will be splintered. I would tell your father his obvious favoritism is painful and punitive, in addition to not being fact-based. You might tell him, too, that you fear an estrangement if changes are not made. And I would tell your older, smart sister that you share her discomfort and hope she will not disconnect, if only for your sake. — Margo, interventionally

Too Cute by Half

Dear Margo: Several months ago, I hired a painter who convinced me to pay in full and then never finished the job. Initially, he gave all kinds of excuses (weather, injury, etc.), but now he doesn’t even return my calls. Yesterday I posted an item for sale on Craigslist and heard from a guy who will send me a cashier’s check. Would it be wrong to give him my painter’s name and address? It would cause trouble for the painter if he were dishonest enough to deposit the check. — Sometimes Karma Needs a Little Help

Dear Some: My, that’s an elaborate get-even plan. I had to read it twice to figure out what you had in mind. I would suggest you call the Better Business Bureau instead. Should you go through with what I consider a harebrained scheme, you could well be guilty of entrapment, not to mention using the U.S. mail system to commit a fraudulent act (a felony). If you want to cause the painter a little indigestion, leave a message that unless he finishes your job or returns your money, he can expect to see you in small-claims court. Sometimes angry people need a little time out. — Margo, rationally

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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66 Responses so far.

  1. avatar prncssmelissa says:

    LW1: Margo’s advice is spot on – but I don’t know that it will do you much good. My grandmother outwardly favors my uncle (the youngest) and this has been pointed out to her several times. She simply denies the favoritsm and goes on about The Prince. It’s become a running joke in our family – “Prince C. can do no wrong….He’s always right…etc”. I won’t defend my Uncle, he eggs her behavior on. He’s always been the favorite – my mom had to take his physical punishment as a child b/c her stepfather refused to punish him. My mom took her tail busting and his too, even when she didn’t have any coming. So it happens, do what you can, but make sure your older sister knows that you love her and value her opinion. Make sure she doesn’t cut off contact with you by reminding her about your love towards her.

    LW2: I would be careful about accepting a cashier’s check from anyone on Craigslist – that’s a well known scam that Craigslist warns people about. I do agree with Margo – leave him a message about Small Claims Court for not doing the job he was paid to do. I do hope that in the future you take this experience and learn from it – don’t ever pay someone the full amount up front before services are rendered. If they need money for supplies, you can do one of two things – give them a deposit for them to use for supplies or ask what supplies they need and go purchase them yourself. This way you protect yourself. Good luck!

    • avatar greenmusic23f says:

      Actually, in regard to LW2, that is the point — she knows not to go for the cashier’s check scam, but wants her delinquent painter to fall for it.

  2. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Letter #1:  Normally, I agree with Margo regarding family dynamics but I would discourage you from bringing your younger sister into the mix.  She is what she is and telling her to *tone it down* will probably only send her running to your dad to say (at the very least) *Am I that bad?  They say I should tone it down!* in which case your dad will be even more entrenched to favor her as he now has to *protect* her from you and your older sister.  I think you should approach your father and say something to the effect that younotice your older sister seems to clam up and withdraw when he challenges her/ridicules her/criticizes her and point out that she is not very outspoken and only offers her opinions/comments/ etc when she feels strongly about a subject and that it hurts you to see him discount her opinions and you think it might hurt her too.  I wouldn’t bring up the fact that he seems to favor your younger sister even if she is full of beans…because he will get defensive and angry toward both you and your older sister and perhaps  may blame her for your comments to him.  I think that with your older sister, commiseration is in order..*I knew you were right but Dad is just a stubborn old fool sometimes* and continuing to keep the door open to her even when she has partially shut her own will keep your relationship strong and assure her that she is loved and appreciated.    I know its wrong but its a fact…parents often favor one child over another even if they love them equally.  The wise parents make sure the favoritism is not obvious.   Your dad is not being very wise.  Talking to him about how your older sister feels without making him feel defensive about how much he seems to favor your younger sister is about as far as you can go I think.

    LW#2:  OMG!  Talk about passive aggressive!  Put on your big girl pants and go down to small claims court and file a lawsuit against your painter.  Why on earth would you want to drag a third person who has nothing to do with your drama into it?   If your plan is to bring criminal charges against the painter for cashing a  cahier’s check made out to you…then the poor person who followed your mailing instructions is  going to be dragged into the thing as a witness at least and perhaps as an accomplice at worst.   

    I am an addict to judge shows.  Your plan reminds me of the woman who believed she was not paid all she was due for a decorating job and placed an ad on the internet about a garage sale at the *offenders* home starting at 5 AM.   I think it was before Judge Judy who ordered the woman to pay the guy the stautory maximum in damages (of course on Judge Judy…the show pays the money).  You may not be so lucky to end up on Judge Judy  where the judgment is paid by the show and find yourself on the end of a civil lawsuit at best or like Margo says facing criminal charges at worst.

    Need I say you were plenty dumb to pay the guy in full before he did the work in the first place?     

    • avatar amw says:

      I completely agree with your advice to LW1. I also don’t feel there is anything to be gained by either speaking to the younger sister or accusing the father of favoritism.

    • avatar Debbie Ciaravino says:


        I am addicted to judge shows too and Judge Judy is my favorite! I love listening to her tell stupid people they are stupid. Anyway, I remember the eposide you mentioned and I agree. I think she will get herself into huge trouble by trying to set him up. Small claims court can be expensive and time consuming, so I understand her desire to exact revenge a different way.

        Besides small claims court, she should also place a negative endoresement on Angies I see TV commercials for it everyday and it is specifically for warning potential customers about good or bad contractors and businesses. Better Business Bureau is also a good place to look, but my guess is he isn’t a participant.

        My Mother in-law had a house fire almost 10 years ago and the insurance company paid the contractor in full up front. The house still has not passed inspection and the contractor refuses to complete the work or fix what he did incorrectly. She still lives there even though there is no certificate of occupancy. They tried to sue, but the contractor disolved the business and then opened a new one under a different company name.

        This should be an important lesson learned for the writer, always have a written contract. Include specific details regarding payment and length of time required to complete the job. Most importantly, NEVER pay in full up front and request references of satisfied customers.

  3. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that it’s not your place or responsibility to represent your sister in family court, as it were—unless she’s truly being abused by your father. A major part of the reason this dynamic between your older sister and your father has been perpetuated is because your sister is what’s known as a “doormat.” When she decides she’s tired of this role, then she will do something about it. You might—however, suggest to her that looking up facts to present to your father post-argument is rather childish, and deflates any power those facts may have actually had during the crucial time (in other words, during the actual argument). Therefore, maybe she should go batshit crazy over the fact that Jupiter AND Saturn have rings while the fire is still hot. That should get your dad’s attention.

    LW2: You’re kinda naive. Maybe you should spend more time making sound decisions about money up front, so you can spend less time working out revenge scenarios later. And cashier’s checks are often forgeries—especially when Craigslist is involved, but well—we did say you were kinda naive, right?

    • avatar Jennifer Riddle says:

      That is way too harsh & completely unsympathetic, almost downright mean. This is especially with your response to LW#1; almost sounds like a personal defense (but I don’t know that so I can’t just blatantly say it). The older sister, obviously, has gone through this for a long time and is basically pulling back because her father is going one step closer to mental abuse; that’s right, abuse. I’ve been in a relationship that sounded much like the way he treats his eldest and it was labeled abuse by all. She looks up facts afterwards because it takes her a while to get courage and ultimately her need to get the better attention from her dad gets a bit twisted. Depression could set in later and she might do more than withdraw from the family, for all we know she is having massive therapy sessions over it. Daddy’s Little Girl won’t ever change, and her personality is self-induced, and unfortunately she is the lost cause. Her older sis’s is reactionary. Margo’s idea to nudge Dad into toning down just to keep from all-out losing his daughter and ultimately everyone in the family is completely right. It’s the most passive approach.
      with LW#2 you are also very cruel. You could have left out the naive part at the end. Its equivalent of just saying they are stupid or disgusting and not really good form. People write to her for help, not to be belittled.

      • avatar amw says:

        Actually, David has a point with LW1…and take a second look because he did mention “unless she’s truly being abused by your father”.

        Presuming this is a case of favoritism, not one of verbal and emotional abuse, the oldest daughter would do well to stick up for herself and not tolerate her father’s behavior rather than second guess her every opinion/action.

        I have to go with Katharine on this one. I would only add when/if Daddy feels the need to belittle his eldest again, his other daughters could do their part to make sure sis gets the recognition she needs instead of sitting and saying nothing, essentially enabling him to continue this way without being called out on his BS.

        • avatar MKE says:

          yes that is a good point. since the middle sister is presumably more willing to speak up about it, why doesn’t she defend the sister in the midst of the argument/discussion? maybe thats a way to build up older sister’s self esteem and confidence…

          • avatar JCF4612 says:

            Agreed … in the bright light of the moment on whatevery the issue, middle sister should back up the older sister when she’s correct. And when little sister is blowing smoke, she should be challenged on it.  Most people tone it down automatically when they realize they’re being laughed at or made to look like the fools they are.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        Jennifer, it must be nice to be a fly on the wall.

        Did you even bother to read “King Lear” in school? In that play, the father was a self-serving, vain jerk who tossed aside the daughter who really was sweet inside because she didn’t say what she wanted to hear—she stated the truth. Here, we have what appears to be petty, late-to-the-table fact-finding to either try to please the family asshat, or passive-aggressively say: “See, I told you so.” My point is that the father has a definite lack of respect for the older sister—but she’s not doing herself any favors either by allowing him to walk all over her. And LW1, no matter how much she would like to, is going to be able to 1) change the older sister, or 2) change the father. Those changes and that mutual respect have to come from within. The father and older sister are not blind—they know what’s going on and they don’t need LW1 to tell them.

        Regarding LW2, s/he IS naive, with enough of a touch of “recklessly stupid,” to potentially endanger him/herself. One—you don’t pay people for jobs before they’re done. Two—if you broke rule #1 and find yourself screwed, you call the cops instead of plotting out stupid, potentially illegal revenge tactics. Three—if you go ahead and plot those potentially illegal revenge tactics, you absolutely DO NOT WRITE TO AN INTERNET ADVICE COLUMN THAT THOUSANDS, IF NOT MILLIONS OF PEOPLE READ THAT WILL BE THERE FOREVER, to describe what you’ve done and to see if Margo approves of it, so that it might be used against you later in court. Yes… yes, I do believe that would officially fall under the category of “naive.”

        And Jennifer, not everyone who writes to Margo gets the Magic Key to the Hall of Sympathy—not from me, or many of the other people who post regularly on this board. Sometimes people ARE victims or idiots—and the best thing they can hear isn’t “oh, coo coo my dearest, my poor darling sweet angel,” but instead is: “wow, that was really stupid. Do you not have a brain?” That statement might in fact be what makes them reevaluate that next important decision involving a cashier’s check.

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          And by the way—painters are usually local. It’s amazing how a little negative press on Facebook, Craigslist or YouTube can turn the tide in one’s favor.

        • avatar MKE says:

          haha wow. you aren’t one for sugarcoating things are you?

          Don’t get me wrong, I pretty much agree with you, but theres a difference between “that was really stupid. do you not have a brain?” and “that was really stupid. heres some advice so you wont be stupid next time.” people, even stupid ones, write to margo for advice, not to be bumbarded with a bunch of unhelpful insults. yes, she will state when someone isn’t using their brain, but atleast she tries to help….

          and there is a differnce between not having sympathy and just plain being a jerk. yes, many people are idiots. It may make you feel better to call them one, but its a rather useless contribution. People would be more likely to take good advice if it was delivered respectfully.

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            From you: “…people, even stupid ones, write to margo for advice, not to be bumbarded with a bunch of unhelpful insults.”

            From you: “You are silly, and so is your plan.”

          • avatar MKE says:

            haha omg! i guessed right! i knew you’d try to use that.

            sigh. again, what i said was, theres a difference between saying “that was dumb/stupid/silly. the end.” and “that was dumb/stupid/silly. heres how you fix it and not make it worse.”

            don’t grasp at straws.

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            You’re such a fuc*ing hypocrite.

          • avatar MKE says:

            not really. like I said, all you did was insult, you didn’t give any practical advice. I may have stated the obvious, “that was stupid” but atleast I followed up with something potentially helpful. I never said you shouldn’t tell people when they are being dumb, I said that you should try to help them out rather than just being a complete prick and telling them the obvious.

            so how exactly am I a hypocrite? please tell me where I have contradicted myself.

            note: just showing me a line where I have called someone out on being dumb doesnt make me a hypocrite. if I had posted something that was unhelpful and only full of insults, THEN I would be a hypocrite. I dont think you understand the word maybe….

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            And to be honest—I don’t even get how the cashier’s check scam thingy plan is supposed to work in LW2’s favor. If LW2 tells Craigslist person to put the painter’s name on the check, doesn’t the check legally become the painter’s? Why would the painter get into trouble? Wouldn’t this be the same thing as “well, I owe this painter some money, so just make the check out to them instead of me?” Even if the painter didn’t know LW2’s hidden intent and went to the bank and cashed the check—the only issue it seems would be if the check were for a fake bank, in which case the painter’s bank would want the money back. But then—if this were the case, LW2 would want to know that the person he or she is dealing with on Craigslist is a scam artist.

            Which leads me to the question: “why would LW2 try to get back at a painter who apparently stole money, by paying out MORE money (via the item that is being sold on Craigslist)?” And I’m being criticized for calling this person “naive?”

          • avatar TRF06 says:

            David – your comments are spot on and made me laugh – I am in complete agreement and somewhat suprised you’re getting negative responses.  Is Pluto still a planet?  Does it have rings too?

            Heidi, batshit crazy

          • avatar TheTexasMom says:

            David, I totally agree with you.  LW2 is stupid to think entrapment is the best route to go and then write online about it.  Plus she will be out addiotnal money by way of sending the unspecting buyer on Craigslist the item for sale.  Or was she going to gip him also?  It’s not as if the ad could not be traced back to her.

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            “Oh LW2… you’re silly. You’re stupid, and you do dumb things. But here’s some flowery potentially helpful advice that I got on sale at the Frenemy store—all under the banner of Christ’s love!”

            Yes, you’re a hypocrite. End of story.

          • avatar MKE says:

            impressive! you found a way to repeat a false insult, give no helpful advice of your own, flowery or otherwise, be a complete tool AND make fun of christianity all at once!

            I bow to you oh god of all that is snide, unhelpful, and nasty. maybe one day i can grow up to be a (and hell, im just guessing) sad, middle-aged, know-it-all, athiest, bastard one day too?!?!?!? you think?!?!?!

      • avatar A R says:

        Jennifer, I would suggest that you are confusing “blunt” with “mean” which are two different realities. David’s reply is blunt for sure, but it is nowhere near mean or hurtful. (It’s a shame more folks in this world aren’t straightforward.) Give me that any day over sugar-coated hints.

        Even in the second letter, you’ve mixed up “naive” and “stupid”. Naive indicates that a person just hasn’t had enough life experience to know better. Stupid implies that one either chooses not to understand or cannot understand.

  4. avatar amw says:

    LW2: So, let me get this straight. You got scammed by a subcontrator. It happens…lesson learned, do not pay all the money up front.

    Now, and this is assuming the cashier’s check isn’t a scam as well, you’re going to have money sent to the subcontractor that doesn’t belong to them to try and trap them?

    Unbelievable. As the other posters have already mentioned, take your case to small claims court. Make sure you have pictures, a copy of the check and any other paperwork from the “painter.” Unless there is more to this story than you’re telling us, you should have no problem getting your money back and likely court costs paid for.

    Don’t stoop to the level of a scam artist. It makes you no better than them, not to mention can open you up to a list of your own criminal charges.

  5. avatar K Coldiron says:

    For the first time I can remember, I disagree with the substance of Margo’s advice. LW1, I don’t think it’s your place to make peace here – you’re the middle child and it seems like it’s your job, I get that, but your older sister and your father have their own relationship that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with you. Maybe it would be better for the older sister’s mental health to disconnect a little from a family where she’s The Shy One, and where she is always getting belittled by her father and outshone by her little sister. That’s not really your choice to make. The best thing you can do is be your sister’s sister, and not try to be her advocate.

  6. avatar Barbara says:

    LW#1 – Rather than all this drama, why don’t you say something at the time it happens? Challenge little sis’s facts. Support big sis’s statements? Doesn’t have to be confrontational but it might change the dynamics. Seems like a family that stays together only on facebook isn’t really much together anyway.
    LW#2 – File a claim in small claims court, file an incident with the Better Business Bureau, place a comment on Angie’s list. Make it public that this guy took your money and didn’t finish the job. Your plan is just weird.

    • avatar amw says:

      Angie’s List is another great suggestion. I know many search engines allow you to comment on experiences you’ve had and/or have a star rating system. Even if you are unable to recoup your loss, at least you can have peace of mind that you’ve done your best to prevent other consumers from experiencing the same loss and frustration.

      • avatar BeanCounter says:

        Until you get sued by the contractor. If you’re going to post something negative on Angie’s list that will affect someone’s business you best have full backup so when it goes to court, you’re prepared to defend yourself. The scammers like the painter in LW#2 know enough to scam people, make sure there’s little to no documentation and then sue people who “damage their reputation”. Unfortunately for us…..not many of us document things enough.

  7. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Have a talk an upfront and honest talk with your father. He is the source of these troubles.

    L #2: I would not do that. You got cheated by the painter; so did we once (we are not wealthy and it stung in more ways than one). We did sue in small claims court; never got any $$$ back from that weasle. Oh — and a few years ago he was stabbed to death by someone he’d wronged and angered. Considering the way he lived his life (consistently doing people wrong who’d done him no wrong, picking fights, etc)…guess karma finally caught up to him. It eventually does!

  8. avatar MKE says:

    LW1: Your father sounds like kind of a jerk. I would talk to your older, smarter sister, mostly because she would be reasonable, and tell her how much she means to you and that you appreciate having her in your life. But, I don’t know if I would encourage her to keep the younger sister and your father so much in her life. Just because someone is family doesn’t mean they are healthy for you…and considering this has to have gone on for atleast a couple decades, I don’t see either of the two gas bags changing much. All you can do is be there for her, be a good sister, and keep making efforts to have her in YOUR life. As for the other two, maybe estrangement would be best, maybe not. That would probably be for your older sister to decide.

    LW2: You are silly, and so is your plan. I’m sorry this happened to you, but take margo’s advice and go the legal route. Don’t stoop to his level, or do something illegal, just take him to court like everyone else does 😉 reporting him will also keep others from being taken advantage of by him as well. ….Or egg his house. that might be satisfying. Halloween IS just around the corner… (just kidding!)

    • avatar amw says:

      I agree that estrangement may be best for the older sister. To continue enduring such a toxic relationship will only add to her stress and disappointment. I have made that decision with a few family members, and while it isn’t always easy, it can certainly be for the best.

    • avatar TheTexasMom says:

      After reading your response to LW2, I agree with David.  You are a hypocrite.  Saying something mean and then offering advice is no different from insulting someone and then saying, “just joking”.  You are silly, and so is your plan. Really?

      • avatar MKE says:

        haha, who asked you?

        and the just joking was for egging his house, not for telling her she and her plan were ridiculous. you should read it more thoroughly.

        people do dumb things all the time. I’m sure she knows she was being dumb. My objection to david’s comment wasnt that he was rightfully calling her out, but that he has to be a total jackass and tell her something she already knows, and leave it at that. this column is for ADVICE, not being an ass.

        • avatar MKE says:

          “The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense”

          That is the definition of hypocricy. You can think I am wrong, stupid, ignorant, whatever you wish. But if you are going to accuse me of something or insult me, atleast be intelligent about it. While you may not like what I had to say, it all conforms 😉

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          “I’m sure she knows she was being dumb.”

          Really. That’s why she took the time to think up some convoluted plan (after putting herself in this situation to begin with) that will apparently leave her worse off than before, and then to write an advice column about it to seek approval. Yeah, it sounds like she’s really on top of things.

          • avatar MKE says:

            she was hesitant enough to write to margo about it. and i mean about the painter and her loss of money. hence her need for revenge. people often get mad when they know they’ve been bamboozled.

        • avatar TheTexasMom says:

          Actually MKE my just joking reference wasn’t about anyting posted today.  I was trying to make a point that people say mean and rude comments and the follow it up with , just joking as if that makes a difference. 

          I really should refrain from posting comments because my thoughts hardly ever come across as clear and concise as I would like.

          • avatar MKE says:

            join the club.

          • avatar MKE says:

            sigh, all i wanted out of this was to say,

            “Hey, someone needs to tell this girl she isn’t being smart and stop her before she does something even WORSE. I see david has posted a response! hmmm well thats pretty mean. hes right, but its rather rude and unnecessary…his comments are funny, but would be much better if he could cut the snide stuff and use that brain of his to try and give some actual advice. he sometimes does that. this is going to go badly for me, but im going to call him out on it.”

            and then the perverbial shit hits the fan.


          • avatar David Bolton says:

            Let’s see: in my original post, I called her “naive.” I implied that she needed to make a concerted effort to avoid being swindled in the future rather than worry about revenge tactics—particularly since she was about to put herself in yet ANOTHER situation notorious for scamming (Craigslist). Not only has my original post been labeled as “snide,” (despite the other posts from other people calling her an idiot), but the word “naive” was somehow changed to “stupid” and “disgusting.”

            I do use my brain. I know what a hypocrite is. Sometimes I even apologize for things I’ve posted. Not today.

          • avatar MKE says:

            er, it wasn’t me who put words in your mouth. (stupid and disgusting?)

            “and the best thing they can hear isn’t “oh, coo coo my dearest, my poor darling sweet angel,” but instead is: “wow, that was really stupid. Do you not have a brain?”—thats what i was refering to about the stupid thing if thats what you meant.

            and i would NEVER want you to apologize for anything you post. I find all of it waaaaaay too entertaining. there are plenty of times I don’t agree with you, but its always a good read, regardless.

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          “haha, who asked you?”

          Apparently the same person who asked you to comment on the thread that Jennifer started on my original post. Are you capable of saying ANYTHING that isn’t hypocritical?

          • avatar MKE says:

            what are you even talking about? that was the first time I responded to texasmom…

            did you think it was directed to you?? it wasn’t. so…no…no hypocricy…?

          • avatar BeanCounter says:

            MKE – David is more rational and well-spoken than you. You just sound petty and silly. I believe most of us are on his side. You, on the other hand, are just a silly little b!tch.

  9. avatar martina says:

    LW2 – My husband installs heating/cooling systems and, unless he has dealt with you in the past, asks for all money up front.  He has done one job too many where he asked for a deposit and then never received the balance.  Ask for and check references if you are asked to pay in full up front. He did receive a check from one woman who hadn’t paid in full about three years after he had installed her heating system.  Getting burned goes both ways but there are honest people out there.

  10. avatar Brooke Schubert says:

    LW#1-Your little online conversations sound positively awful, and I don’t blame the oldest sister for dropping out.  Why on earth do YOU still participate?  I don’t think confronting the group will change a thing, and your best bet is to maintain separate relationships with your family members if you still want to speak to your father and younger sister.  I’ve had to cut off certain toxic members of my family and while I still see some of the others, I do so away from the toxic ones.  It works out well.

    LW#2-What you are suggesting is illegal.  Take the painter to small claims court and handle things the right way.

  11. avatar Lila says:

    On hiring services for your house: our county puts out a little publication called “Best Pick Reports” which is compiled by Ebsco Research based on randomly selected customers (they are one of those annoying callers who ask to conduct a survey, but the results are handy). There are other advertising-driven handouts on licensed / bonded / insured providers as well, but Best Pick is based only on customer reviews.

    The report contains descriptions and contact info for the top customer-rated companies in the area. This is how I chose several companies to bid on the paint job for our house, and it turned out well.

    If you are in a large metro area, check the Best Pick Reports website, they may have data for your area; otherwise, there may be other local sources of info.

  12. avatar mmht says:

    LW#1: I disagree with Margo on this advice. Family dynamics are a long established relationship that until the party’s included decide to change them, they will never be changed. I am interested in knowing where you stand in these dynamics. Do you generally just sit by and say nothing as your older sister is being picked on and your younger sister spouting inaccurate information? Bottom line is, the only dynamics you can change is yours with your siblings and yours with your parents. You can not step up to try to change their relationships with others.

  13. avatar Frau Quink says:

    Ltr.#2: You are doing a good job creating bad karma for yourself.

  14. avatar Linda McNeal says:

    LW2 – Not to paint all painters with too broad a brush… 🙂 Painting is a job that most people can do, requiring little education or skill, so it tends to attract people who have “issues” – alcoholism, drug problems, etc. So, when hiring people to work at your house, especially painters, it is best to get several references first. I know people who have had painters drink all the alcohol in their homes, steal things, and most often, not finish the job. I’m not sure that small claims court would be worth your time, but possibly the threat of it would get him to finish the job. He probably won’t pay you back no matter what.

    You are always better off to pay a little more to hire someone with good references, no matter what work you are having done. In this economy, finding good people to do good work at a reasonable price is relatively easy. Just ask around.

  15. avatar Davina Wolf says:

    The favoritism the first letter writer describes can permanently split families. 

    My mother has always favored my younger sister over me because they were both the younger, “less attractive” sisters in their family orders and because I remind my mother of my dad’s sisters who she says mistreated her.  No matter what my sister has done with regard to me in the last fifty years–lying, cheating, stealing, screaming–my mother defends and excuses her.  After many decades of trying to at least tolerate the situation, I finally gave up and completely distanced myself from mother and sister ten years ago.  I feel zero inclination to reconcile and am 1,000 percent happier this way. 

  16. avatar Jon T says:

    I’m still not clear on what it is LW2 is trying to achieve. But in any case, small claims court is the way to go. I filed a small claims suit when a client of mine repeatedly tried to get out of paying me for a job. Just the threat of court was enough to get his attention and get a check rushed over.
    Actually, I got a call from a producer at The People’s Court inviting me to appear on their show (I figured, why not?). He got the same call and was very quickly shamed him into resolving this quickly, and off camera. 🙂

  17. avatar Carrie A says:

    After re-reading the letter I’m not so sure it’s the youngest sister who’s the problem, or that it has anything to do with her being dad’s favorite. If the only reason the oldest sister gets involved in conversations is to tell everyone else she is right and they are wrong I can see why dad might get a little annoyed. The fact that she has to find a way to prove she is right makes her sound like a little miss know-it-all. If the older sister would make conversation instead of trying to show how much smarter she is all the time it might change the dad’s attitude.
    Often times when I hear, “oh, he/she is so-and-so’s favorite” it’s an exaggeration that has more to do with the supposedly not-favorites jealousy/insecurity than anything else. I wonder if the LW is making more out of it because she’s has a complex about the whole favoritism thing. Either way, if the LW wants to pursue this the person she should talk to is her father.

    • avatar davidesque says:

      Did you really re-read the letter? Because nowhere in the letter does it says she *only* gets involved to tell people she is right or wrong – she seems only berated no matter what she says, and then later might prove she was right AFTER being attacked. It sounds like you might have been subject to a know-it- all, but the impression the LW1 is giving is of someone being systematically shoved out of a family in favor of a noisy attention hog that the father sees as a new personification of himself.
      Besides, it’s not the picked-on sister writing here – it’s a third party to this favoritism dynamic.

  18. avatar Debbie Ciaravino says:

    LW #1, I am going to give my opinion from a different perspective. I am child #3 of 4, I have 2 older sisters and a younger brother. So, I am the Baby girl. I can tell you from personal experience, it was always 2 sisters ganging up on the third; we could never all be friends at the same time. Like many other commenters, I disagree with Margo too.

    There are more family dynamics going on here than we are being told. Perhaps the younger sister is more vocal and outgoing because she felt overshadowed and belittled by her older sisters growing up. It was here way of separating herself as an individual. While it’s not right to show favoritism, your fahter is only human. I do not think it’s your place to say anything to anyone. Instead, when topics of interest rise, include your sister in the discussion if she has withdrawn. When she makes a point that your father doesn’t agree with, back her up by asking your Dad to explain why he feels the way he does. You can act like a kind of moderator (peacekeeper) in the coversation without taking sides or creating an argument.

    However, I suspect the true problem in your letter isn’t that you are worried about your older sister. Rather, you don’t know how to tell your Dad you don’t like that he plays favorites to your younger sister and you feel left out (and maybe a little jealous?). You have means of keeping in touch with your older sister that don’t involve family reunions or facebook. You can have private conversations with her and keep her as an active part of your life. Make a list of 5 things about each relative that you like and try to remember those instead of dwelling on the negative. I realize this is easier said then done. As child 3 of 4, I speak to my siblings maybe twice a year. When we do see each other, I can only stand to be in the same room with them by trying to remember my list of good things. It might help you too. 

    • avatar davidesque says:

      Why do you think the LW is jealous? She isn’t the one being attacked, and no where does she say she feels that way. She’s afraid of losing a sister at the expense of her Dad’s misguided attempts to justify his own stupidity (personified in the “youngest child”).

      I agree with your idea, and others’ opinions that it might be better just to keep in touch with your older sister yourself and otherwise let her grow estranged from her father. She’s smart in running from this mess; sometimes it’s just better not to get involved in what isn’t worth changing.

  19. avatar Jody says:

    In regards to LW#1: You can’t fix stupid. There are those of us who walk around the planet, spouting off on a whim for the attention, with not a care as to whether it’s accurate or not. All we know is… we are getting what we want when we want it… in the moment. Then, there are those of us (I prefer to believe I am in this category) who have a better understanding of things in the world. We sit back and let people take enough rope to hang themselves. Meanwhile, we don’t have to say much. I believe the oldest sister fits into this category. I doubt she’s “afraid” of anyone. My bets are on the fact that she just doesn’t have time for it all. People ask me sometimes why I am so quiet in conversation. It’s usually just because I see no point in wasting oxygen in conversations that are pointless because the person talking has no clue what they are talking about. Many times I have simply excused myself from it all, which also appears to be what the oldest sister is doing. I agree! If she doesn’t like how she’s being treated, even if it’s family, she has every right to pull away from the toxicity. Just because you’re family doesn’t mean you should get together, especially if you are not getting anything positive out of it. People like this are never open to the idea that they could be wrong, or should sit down and shut up. The unawareness level is incredible with these types, and unless they are in a place where they WANT to change, and are in an environment that encourages and promotes it, their narcissism will continue. Can’t fix stupid!

    • avatar Jody says:

      Also, many people get stuck in the idea that it is their job to be ____________ in their family. So, we all take on a role. Let me say as loud as I can here that this is unhealthy and not necessary!

      It is NOT the middle sister’s job to be a peacemaker. That places her in an enabling relationship with all involved. STOP! What I would suggest instead is to allow whatever is going to unfold. You can’t control other people’s behavior, only yours. If things become too toxic… get out.

      I would take this opportunity to encourage everyone to stop playing whatever your role is in your family; the good kid, the favorite, the step-child, the black sheep, the rebellious one, the smart one, the ugly one, etc. It’s difficult to do, but it IS possible to change it. People treat you the way you teach them to treat you. Change what you accept, change what people do, change the labels… all through your actions (not words). Sometimes you have people in your family that will never get it. That’s okay… as you can still be who you want to be. Just let them know you don’t need their consent and if they are toxic, cut them out of your life… family or not. I realize this sounds harsh, but none of us were put on this Earth to live up to someone else’s ideals or dreams. Live your truth and you may light the path for others to do so as well.

    • avatar davidesque says:

      I totally like this summary – she just “doesn’t have time for it all.” If that is the truth, it is a fresh and cool way to deal with the problem.
      I hope the middle sister doesn’t end up the hurt one here. I don’t know the dynamics – indeed all we have to go by is what she wrote in the letter. But if it’s for real, then she seems to be honestly concerned about family unity, and would hurt if the family was dragged apart on a point that she feels somehow compelled to fix.

  20. avatar Jody says:

    In regards to LW#2: I hate to sound somewhat harsh, but when the LW speaks of Karma, it makes me wonder… “What did YOU do?”. Let me put it this way…
    1. The fact that one would pay a contractor the entire amount for a job upfront is not only stupid, but ridiculous.
    2. The idea that this is the contractor’s fault completely, and not the LW’s at all, shows a lack of responsibility for what was done (even what we were not told or know about, as this story is told from one side of the fence). LW takes zero responsibility, therefore there is nothing learned here by the experience.
    3. The idea of entrapment would never have crossed my mind. So, this tells me a lot about the LW’s character. There is a “revenge” factor here, which is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Aside from the fact that this LW even thought about this possibility as a way to get the contractor back because Karma is a bitch, this LW seems misguided.

    My interpretation on this letter is this: The LW lacks in character when it comes to handling life’s lessons. There is a huge amount of blame and revenge going on here. What we DON’T know as readers is… What’s the painter’s side? Did he not return for a good reason? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning taking the full payment, or leaving without finishing without returning some of the payment. But, like attracts like. Maybe that will give the LW something to think about. Although, I doubt it.

  21. avatar Diane Shaw says:

    Ltr. #1 – Are you standing on the sidelines and watching while this goes on?  Speak up yourself and maybe your older sister will learn to speak up for herself, too, if she knows someone else has got her back.  As for the younger sister, if she starts droning on just walk away.  It’s like Pavlov’s dog.  If she’s got an audience, she’ll continue to yammer on; if not she won’t.
    Ltr. #2 – I’m sorry, what?  Sounds not only fraudulent but cruel to the person who might have sent you that check in good faith. 

  22. avatar Annie H says:

    LW #1- I have dealt with favoritism all of my life (I am the oldest and there is 7 and 8 years between myself and my younger siblings).  Child #2 was the favorite.  My Dad would defend her no matter what and I do mean no matter what.  The only thing you can do is talk privately with your shy, older sister and let her know you are on her side.  Here is the important part: Then DO IT!  Be on her side. Be there for her during and after the conflicts. Until the heavens open and something drops on his head, talking to him is a waste of time.  He will defend his favorite.  The only way you are going to enact change in your family is to change how you react/act to the situation.  Good luck.

    LW #2- I work for an environmental firm and new clients we do ask for payment up front.  AND I know contractos who, at the very least, ask for half up front.  This could be due to supplies/equipment or getting ripped off.  There are countless people who think that if they do not like the analytical results it means that they do not have to pay for it or just do not pay their bills.  I have dealt with people who make a habit of not paying bills and then going to court.  They work the system and win.  

    That being said, you should always check references, have a written contract, check their bonds, insurance,  licenses, and take pictures of the work.   What you want to do is illegal and could get you and the person from Craigslist in trouble (that if he’s even on the up and up).    What is the point?  You probably won’t see your money right away but taking him to court would get you a judgement (if you win) that is collectable via a collection agency if he does not fork it over.     

  23. avatar S Hughes says:

    LW1 – She doesn’t mention whether or not she has talked to her oldest sister about the pattern she has noticed. I am betting that if she does, then whenever her father does it in the future, the older sister would be able to look at her with a look that says “See, he’s doing it again”. And she can reply with a shrug or something that say “There Dad goes again”. It’s amazing how much better validation makes a person feel.

  24. avatar Count Snarkula says:

    Unlike Margo, when faced with the chance to conduct or participate in “a harebrained scheme”, the Count tends towards yes.

  25. avatar Francisco Valls says:

    Talking with the younger sister or dad is probaly a waste of time. Here is some advice to your older sister: Decide how much this bothers you. Then decide if the relationship is worth the bother or not. Whether you become estranged or not is your choice and privilige (God will love you the same either way). But I’ll tell you this: I am not interested in having a relationship with someone who belittles me whether it is a parent, sibling, friend or stranger. I rather stay at home with my dog….