Dear Margo: No Need to be Strangled by Family Ties

My brother has rejected a relationship with me, but wants one with my children: Margo Howard’s advice

No Need To Be Strangled by Family Ties

Dear Margo: My younger brother, “George,” and I have had a difficult relationship for years. He is highly educated, but he’s unhappy and maladjusted, still single in his late 40s, and unable to get along with colleagues, girlfriends or family members for any length of time. George is bright and arrogant with a biting, explosive temper. My husband, my sister, my mother and I have walked on eggshells around George for decades. (My mother was browbeaten for decades by my highly educated, arrogant late father and now will not stand up to my brother, either.)

Two years ago, at a holiday dinner at my mother’s house, after what I thought was gentle banter with him, George snapped at me to “shut up” in front of the whole table. That was the last straw. My husband and I left the house, leaving our preteen twins to be driven home by my sister so they would not be caught up in the fracas. We have not seen or spoken to my brother since. I refuse to invite him to my house, and he has avoided all family gatherings. He refused delivery of a birthday present I sent to him, sending me an e-mail saying, “Please leave me alone.” Despite all this, my brother wants to maintain a relationship with my kids, and I need to know what to do about it.

The problem is coming to a head because my children are having a joint confirmation party at home this summer — a very small gathering of family and friends. Do I invite my brother? –Beleaguered Sister

Dear Be: I think the answer to whether or not to invite your brother to this special occasion can be found in his e-mail to you, refusing the gift: “Please leave me alone.” His personality is his personality, and I must say your description of your late father answered a few questions. I would let your children decide whether they want a relationship with Uncle George. Given what they’ve witnessed, they will not be surprised that it cannot take place in your house. –Margo, logically

The Dilemma of Silence

Dear Margo: I have a 19-year-old cousin who’s in college. Her boyfriend is someone she met while attending school. She recently confided in me that she is pregnant. Even before she found out, she told me they were looking for an apartment to rent because she didn’t want to go home for the summer. She says her mom and stepdad are too controlling to live with.

I know they only want the best for her, and I tried telling her that. Not only has she not told her mom she is pregnant, but she requested that I not mention it to her or anyone else. Her mom and I are also close, and when she finds out, she is going to call me and ask if I knew about it. I don’t want to be dishonest and say no, but I don’t want to betray my cousin’s trust, either. –Put in the Middle

Dear Put: Not to go all fortune cookie on you, but life is choices. If your cousin confided in you with the stipulation that you not mention it to anyone, then I suggest you keep your word. Should your aunt at some point ask you if you knew, the thing to do is ‘fess up. But make it plain that you were sworn to secrecy, and you honored your cousin’s trust. Looking at the big picture, there’s nothing your aunt could do about the family “news,” so I would let things play out. This way, you are neither lying to anyone nor breaking your word. –Margo, confidentially

* * *

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.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

Click here to follow Margo on Twitter

61 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    What is missing from LW1 letter (maybe due to editing) is what the brother is doing to show he wants to maintain a relationship with the kids.  From the time frame and the confirmation ceremony, it appears the twins are now about 12 or 13.  Is he calling them, texting them, emailing them?  Or is he (or his spouse) simply sending them birthday or Christmas greetings?  Given his request to *leave him alone*, I would think the former is intruding on the family in a divisive way but the latter is just showing that he acknowledges them and wishes them well (or his spouse does). It doesn’t mean he necessarily wants them to be his best buddies or in his life in any meaningful way at all.   I don’t think either approach calls for an invitation to your home or to the confimation party.  You are the parent and for now (but not much longer I’m afraid) can call the shots.  If he is trying to be divisive by pitting your kids against you, I suspect it will backfire.   If he is just keeping up the formalities, then make sure your kids send him thank you notes for gifts etc.   Its probably all he expects or wants from you. 

  2. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW2: your cousin has put you in a no-win situation.  I agree with Margo, keep your silence but be prepared to experience your aunt’s wrath.  Understand that any anger towards you from your aunt is just deflecting the anger and heartbreak she feels at her daughter’s conduct.  She may get over her anger at you or she may not.  But, you gave you word and you should keep it. 

    • avatar A R says:

      Agreed. If Auntie bugs out, it’s misplaced anger at her daughter. It would be easy for her to say to you, “How could you not tell me!?”, but ultimately what she WANTS to say is, “How could my daughter make such a mistake?”

      I agree that you should keep your silence. It’s your aunt, not your mom, which makes it not even immediate household. That’s their family’s business to sort out.

  3. avatar blue tooth says:

    to lw1, I disagree with Margo. As parents of your adolescent kids, it’s your job to protect them from abusive or harmful people. You sound like you’re still trying to be the dutiful child, and putting up with a lot for the sake of family peace. But now you have a real responsibility to look after the well-being of your children, regardless of what your mother, brother, or sisters think. Your children have no one else but you and your husband, to protect them, and based on what they see you deal with, they’ll form their opinions of what’s normal and not normal, what’s ok and what’s not ok, what’s hurtful and not hurtful.

    At that age kids can sometimes be browbeaten or guilted into accepting the presence of an abusive family member, especially if they’re observing someone like Grandma accepting it, and possibly making excuese for it. Even more so if Grandpa was around in their earlier years and they observed the way he treated Grandma. Once your kids are more fully grown, they can have the choice to deal with your brother or not. And hopefully, after watching you and your husband model positive ways to relate to people, they’ll recognize their uncle for what he is, and they’ll stay away from him.

    Right now the choice is yours. And the responsibility.

    • avatar P S says:

      I wholeheartedly agree. When the children are minors it’s the parents’ choice whether they can have a relationship with extended family, and the parents have an obligation to say no to toxic, abusive relatives. This not only protects the kids, but it prevents them from having to be secondary targets by witnessing their parents being abused.

  4. avatar blue tooth says:

    to lw2, if your cousin told you something and then said, “Don’t tell mom, ok?” then by all means tell her mother if you believe she should be told. If she told you, “I have to ask you something, but I need it to be in strictest confidence, ok?” then I could see how you would be bound.

    Actually, come to think of it, if you genuinely believe that your cousin is in trouble, and that she needs some guidance and her mother needs to know, then I believe you should go ahead and tell her mother.
    One way to look at the issue is that, though your cousin is 19, she may not be looking at things in a fully mature way. It may be that she is sick of her parent’s interference, which is natural for 19 year olds, and that she is setting herself up to slingshot herself out of her parent’s house by getting pregnant and getting married. I saw a lot of my friends do that when they were young, and sadly none of those marriages lasted. Is your cousin going to have the baby, and if so, what does that mean for her finishing college? Is she going to marry her boyfriend? Does he know about the baby, and if so is he happy about it, supportive, being there for her?
    Does it look like her plans for her future are getting derailed, and whereas before she might’ve wanted to be a doctor (for example), now she wants to get married and have kids, and maybe work in a doctor’s office? What is your cousing giving up, and has she thought about that? If these things are giving you red flags or alarm bells, then maybe her mother should be told.
    Because your cousin is 19, she’s not fully grown. I think you have a greater responsibility to safeguard your cousin’s welfare and well-being, then the responsibility to keep her confidence.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      “I think you have a greater responsibility to safeguard your cousin’s welfare and well-being, then the responsibility to keep her confidence.”

      Aren’t these really more the responsibilities of the cousin and her parents?

      • avatar blue tooth says:

        They are, but lw2 sounds like she’s an older relative. To the extent that she has any responsibility at all, if she feels like her cousin is jeopardizing herself or making a serious mistake that will profoundly impact her life and bring her a lot of heartache later, she would be within her rights to let the cousin’s mother know regardless of her wish for privacy.

        It would be a different story if the cousin were 40, for example, instead of 19.

        A more clear-cut example would be if you knew a 16-year old girl in high-school, who confided in you that she was dating an older guy, say early 20’s, who was also an iv-drug user, and she was getting curious as to what those drugs were like. In that situation, the duty to flag the parents trumps the duty to respect her confidence.

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          I don’t get that the LW is necessarily older—in fact, she might be younger than the cousin. Either way, she can’t “fix” what has happened here. The cousin has a lot of growing up to do—and this might be the perfect opportunity to learn something about being an adult and having to make real choices with lasting consequences. We don’t know why the cousin chose to share news of the pregnancy at all—my guess would be that she’s scared and wants some help. The LW tried to give her some, and she rejected it. There’s not much else that she can do, without likely making things worse in the long run.

        • avatar Carrie A says:

          That’s not even a valid comparison. In one scenario you’ve got an underage girl whose entire life could be ruined by disease or addiction. In the other you have someone considered an adult who’s in a tough situation, but it’s hardly a life or death situation that requires the cousin to intervene. If the cousin does break her promise and tell the aunt then she will be mad her daughter didn’t tell her and chew her out. The daughter will be really angry at her cousin for breaking her trust. Then she’ll have no one to turn to for help. It’s a recipe for disaster and possible estrangements all the way around. She needs to let her cousin break the news to her mom however she wants, when she wants. It’s not like the cousin will be able to keep this a secret for very long so it’s going to come out soon anyway.

    • avatar Messy ONE says:

      LW2 – The cousin is an adult. She is 19 years old and has the right to make any and all decisions about her life, and that includes having this baby and not returning to her mother’s house. She also has the right to have her wish for privacy respected. She might be making a mistake, but it’s hers to make and anyone who tries to interfere (or tattle to mommy) is risking the end of friendly relations.

      The LW has no idea what went on in her cousin’s home. She doesn’t know what the relationship is like between the mother and stepfather. She doesn’t know how the cousin is treated. She may “know” the mother – but she doesn’t live in that house. It is not her place to say anything.

      • avatar Xander Taylor says:

        Agree. She is an adult, stay out of it.

        • avatar Grace Malat says:

          Agree, she can’t tell the Aunt as that would violate and betray the trust that her cousin gave her.
          At this point all she can do is support her cousin and gently try to find out what’s going on and that she needs to tell her mother about the pregnancy.
          Over this past summer my then 16 yo daughter found out one of her BF had become sexually active, the friend was 15 at the time. My daughter came to me and the friend had used condoms but we all know how reliable they are especially in the hands of inexperienced teens. I advised my daughter to talk to her friend and try to get her to tell her mother, but she wouldn’t.
          So the friend came to spend the night and all 3 of us started casually talking about sex and boys and such. My daughter’s used to it we talk about these things all the time. By the end of the night the friend realized that she did need her mother’s support and she needed to tell her. She was scared, but on the way home in the car she bravely told her mother what was happening. Mom surprised her, was calm, they talked and the friend was put on the pill. Mom told her she wasn’t condoning it, she wasn’t thrilled about it, but she’d rather have her be protected.

          So the moral is that parents can surprise us, and the Aunt may not react like the cousin is expecting her to. And it’s important for her to have her mother’s support at a time like this. So cousin should keep gently encourage her cousin to tell her mom, and the sooner the better. But she herself can’t tell, she’d hurt her cousin and make her feel like she can’t turn to anyone, especially her.

      • avatar Lym BO says:

        Agree. Trust of teh cousin is more important than worrying about what her mother will say when she finds out she knew. If it were adultery, a different story.

  5. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: The short answer is “no.” The long answer is “no, and that includes [your children] as well.” It sounds like you’re pretty much already there—you just need someone to tell you it’s okay to stand up for yourself and protect your children from someone who is toxic. It is. If your kids are old enough to understand—tell them that you just don’t get along with your brother, and unfortunately it’s not a situation that will likely ever be fixed.

    LW2: This is where you get to actually BE an adult and not just play one on TV. It’s not your job to tell your aunt anything about your cousin (who is technically an adult) or her behavior, UNLESS IT PUTS HER IN DANGER. That is the ONLY reason. I’m afraid getting pregnant usually falls into the less dramatic not-very-responsible category. This flip side of this is that it’s not your job to help your cousin in any manner whatsoever to deal with her problem, if she’s going to choose to keep it a secret.

    You gave your cousin advice and she chose to ignore it. So there’s nothing else that you can do, other than to remain as distant as possible from the situation—especially if it has the slightest chance of blowing up in your face. This includes fact-finding for the aunt, or covering for the cousin. It also includes any prep work for the upcoming blessed event (showers, shopping, etc.). Just don’t do it. And while Katherine above pretty much has it pegged—she’s left out the fact that it’s not a no-win situation if you refuse to play the game. Keep that in mind.

  6. avatar callie123 says:

    LW2: You say that your cousin says her parents are controlling but that you are close, but people can act differently with certain people. All throughout my life my father was and is very controlling of my older brother and I, but in front of other people he is the sweetest, kindest man you could ever meet, if you are not his children, you would never know his true nature. Since your cousin does not want her parents to know, and she is an adult you have no obligation to tell and you should not.

    • avatar Grace Malat says:

      My father was the same way! All my friends thought he was the best thing since sliced bread. Funny, witty, interesting, etc. What very, very few knew was that once the door closed he turned into a monster, abusive in every way imaginable. And friends couldn’t understand why I didn’t like my dad.
      The good news is that after I left home and cut them, both parents out of my life for several years, went through therapy, got healthy, I was able finally in my 40’s to have a relationship with my parents. With my mom it’s still very awkward but my dad and I have become very close. It’s strange, but good, he’s a different person and so am I.

  7. avatar Jennifer juniper says:

    I’m suspicious about LW1. While she includes her mother and sibling in the list of people that have had to put up with the brother, no where does she indicate that they are supporting or joining her brother boycott. And frankly, having a brother tell me to ‘shut up’ doesn’t really factor on my ‘reasonable boycott reasons’ list. I get the sense that she’s as hypersensitive to it all as he is annoying or rude and she’s taken it upon herself to be the aggrieved one for everyone else in the family.

    • avatar Lindsey M says:

      Jennifer — I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that. Lots of times there are families were there are more than one unhealthy individual. Sometimes only one person gets away from the toxic dynamic and the rest of them are still repeating the same destructive patterns. It’s very difficult to tell who is right based on X of people agree with me whereas Y people agree with him. It only works if those people in question on healthy and mentally stable. Mom has been abused by Dad for years, so not surprising that she raised a son that has similar traits that she tolerates, enables or encourages.

      And it’s also possible that a person just has a toxic dynamic with one person in the family (the LW) and so only she and her brother don’t speak. Considering the husband left the celebration as well, I’d be more inclined to think the “shut up” is just the final straw that broke the camel’s back rather than her being over sensitive. And he sent back a gift from her with a note that said “please leave me alone”. If she’s oversensitive, she’s definitely not the only one.

    • avatar ebbs says:

      A brother boycott extending several years is a sad mistake. And it’s too bad that Sister stomped out of a holiday dinner. The “gentle banter” may have been as rough around the edges as the “shut up”, or even more so.  Now the family is coming up to a religious occasion, when one might want to model forgiveness for the children, and Sister contemplates prolonging the feud into the indefinite future.  Time to give it up! LW will feel better in the long run if she behaves with kindness and generosity.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        Eh. I think the kindest, most generous thing the sister can do for all parties concerned is to break the cycle of overbearing, abusive behavior by standing up to her brother, who sounds like a bully.

  8. avatar Lindsey M says:

    LW 1 — My only concern in your decision is whether you think your brother can have a healthy relationship with your children and not use them as a tool to further injure you or inadvertently hurt them. If you think it’s possible, then go for it and monitor it closely. However, if you ever have any doubt about it, stay as far away as possible.

    My sister and I have some similar dynamics as of that of you and your brother. At least in regards to me and my sisters-in-law, she is very toxic — I think it’s some sort of competition or sibling rivalry thing for her or female rivalry generally. She has literally tried to use my boyfriends against me, so they would choose her in disputes rather than me (I have no idea why she ever thought this would work). She has also used my nieces and nephews against our sister-in-law to get her way. People like that can be very toxic and manipulative, always pitting people against one another. Be wary.

    If your kids want a relationship with their uncle, consider it if you don’t think he’ll badmouth you or your husband to them or try and pit them against you, but be very, very wary. Sadly, sometimes family is just common genetic material.

    • avatar amw says:

      Its an interesting point you bring up.

      I endured a toxic, manipulative relationship with my oldest sister for years. After multiple attempts at a relationship with her, I finally gave up. Unfortunately, blood is not always thicker than water.

      Sadly, the ultimate sacrifice in making this decision was giving up a relationship with my nephews and niece whom I love dearly. I was left with two things to consider however. Attempt to maintain a relationship with them at the risk of my sister giving them an opinion about me before they were old enough to figure it out for themselves OR back off, love them from a distance and see where the road takes us.

      The former seemed to be the less appealing route knowing my sister’s history. I’m not so sure I could “stick it out” knowing they hated me.

  9. avatar Pdr de says:

    Unless your cousin is planning on getting an abortion, her pregnancy is going to become very evident in a short time and her mother will figure it out by herself. Your going to her mother and telling her will probably destroy your relationship with your cousin who will accuse you of breaking your word. If she had a dangerous health condition, you would, in spite of promising your cousin otherwise, need to go to her mother. That’s not the case here. Allow this scenario to play out without your interference!

    As for the sister who’s brother has a hair trigger temper; he’s got a scary personality. Your children have undoubtedly noted the tension in the family when he was present at family gatherings in the past. They know that everyone is leery of him and they were undoubtedly present when he told you to “shut up” at the last family gathering he attended. He hasn’t earned the privilege of being a part of their lives and his anger issues don’t make him a candidate as “Uncle of the Year”. Talking with the children about their uncle’s “problems” – i.e. his short fuse and asking them how they would feel about seeing him without the rest of the family around wouldn’t be a bad idea. Still, you should be concerned that he might get mad at one of them and say something hurtful that could remain with them for a long time to come.

    As for inviting him to the confirmation party – he has refused a birthday gift and e-mailed you to leave him alone. Sounds like a good idea to me. Everyone will have a much better time without him. He behaved badly and told you to “shut up” in front of other family members at a holiday gathering and has since behaved as though he was the wounded party and has continued to “punish” you for his bad manners. Do you really want him to come to the confirmation party?

  10. avatar Janice Haines says:

    I suspect that the brother isn’t pushing the relationship with the children, but the grandmother is pushing it.      I wouldn’t let someone as toxic as the brother, or as enabling as the other relatives near my children for a second.     I can’t see a good outcome for this, and can certainly foresee a big blow up ruining the children’s upcoming conformation party.     It would be a shame to have the children’s memory of an important event to be the estranged brother putting on a big show of anger or in some way disrupting the event.     I suspect that the brother’s motives (if he really does want a relationship with the kids, which I doubt) are underhanded, and that it will be seen that the other relatives involved are the ones trying to fool the LW into going along with the sick family dynamic that has existed for two generations of toxic behavior.    It’s time to stop the charade, and step up for the children involved.    

  11. avatar crystalclear says:

    Letter One:  The brother was clearly out of line telling anyone to “Shut Up.”   What a poor role model he is for children of that age!    I would’ve done the same thing except I would have taken my two children with me not leave them at the table to endure more of this bad behavior.   On the way home I would have explained to my children that their uncle’s behavior was bad and that no one has the right to speak to another person like that.   Further, I would’ve explained that our best weapon when that happens is to “walk away.”   Entering into an argument would’ve been to subject the rest of the family members to his rudeness.   The mother should’ve taken her children with her.   

    There seems to be a family member in most families where others feel as though they must walk on eggs so as not to get them riled.    Trust me… NO ONE is that important that they must be handled in that manner.   Those who walk on the eggs are enablers.   Not good.

  12. avatar KDot says:

    LW1: Your brother is mentally ill, and one could argue from the circumstances that you paint (that he’s in his late 40’s and has never been able to get along with coworkers, g/f’s, family, has a solid history of violent outbursts and an explosive temper) that he is severely ill. I dated a man with an adult son and a brother in his 60’s who share those same traits. One thing I have noticed is that with both the son and the brother, there are those that surround them and act as enablers. It’s like watching a sick dance. The behavior, on both sides, is so ingrained that I doubt either even recognizes it. The aggressor with the hair-trigger temper lashes out, the rest of the family meekly tries to just get along… by doing that, it emboldens the aggressors. Let me guess… your brother is also very manipulative, highly narcissistic, not able to feel any compassion or empathy for others, and actively looks for weakness to exploit with his anger. Try looking up Sociopath online.

    You should not have left your children there, not even for your mother’s sake on a holiday. One thing you do not want is for them to model that sort of behavior in any way, and you should not leave them to fend for themselves with the role models they have for doing so–their models for dealing with it show them they should just keep taking it. Don’t get me wrong, you shouldn’t engage him in war, either. Stand your ground, yes, but your best tactic is to walk away, as you did, but take your children with you!

    You are their parents and you are charged with protecting them. Your brother says to leave him alone. Do so, and don’t let him manipulate you into having a relationship with your children. If he wants children to relate to, let him maintain a relationship with a girlfriend long enough to get married and father his own (he won’t be able to). You can’t force your brother to get any help, and he wouldn’t take his meds even if they were prescribed. The best thing you can do it stay away from him, and don’t feel guilty for cutting him out of your and your children’s lives.

    • avatar D C says:

      He could also be autistic – Asperger’s, as opposed to mentally ill.  Some people with that syndrome are very high functioning, and just cannot grasp appropriate social interaction.  I have a 15 year old son who is Asperger’s, and I believe my younger brother (45, socially inept, explosive temper, manipulative — I could go on and on) is also Asperger’s. 

      • avatar wendykh says:

        I am so tired of asperger’s being touted as an excuse for being a jerk. Such a myth. They may not have natural empathy but they are not stupid and most certainly have been told through life what is and is not appropriate. They may not understand why, but they can learn to shut up their own stupid comments anyway. I have three family members with asperger’s and the two who were expected to have decent social manners damned well do. They don’t get WHY it’s wrong to say so and so is fat or tell people shut up, but they also realize the WHY is not the point.

    • avatar Messy ONE says:

      Why so eager to label the brother “mentally ill”? It sounds as if he’s doing nothing but model his father’s behavior – which is actually pretty normal. He acts like a jerk, talks like a jerk and it’s quite possible that he’s nothing more than a truly unpleasant person.

      That’s not a mental illness, that’s a character flaw.

      In any case, I don’t get why it is that the LW is even considering permitting him to be around her children when she’s not there to referee. Unless she sees something positive in the way her father acted and the way her brother is almost a character clone?

  13. avatar crystalclear says:

    Letter Two:   I would have told my niece “I’m sorry but I must share this information with your mother.    I want you to be with me when I tell her because your mother loves you and can better guide you through this pregnancy.    Now is not the time to turn away from your parents.   Now is the time to embrace them.   No one is perfect.   Not even your parents.    It will take a family to insure that you are in a safe and loving place during your pregnancy.”

    Sorry, folks, but I don’t believe in keeping secrets.   At 19, she is still immature and not wise to what is involved in bringing a child into the world.    No secrets period!   Having a baby is serious business and she should not deny her parents the experience of going through it with her.

    • avatar Jessica J says:

      First of all, it’s a cousin, not a niece. Being 19 doesn’t mean she isn’t wise, either. She is an adult, and sounds like she and her boyfriend are starting to take the necessary steps to deal with THEIR issue. Her parents have a “right” to know when she decides to share that information with them. In addition, it is HER baby to raise, and it is no guarantee that her parents can give her a “safe and loving place”. If she felt her parents were controlling, they were controlling. Notice the cousin doesn’t deny the overbearing control, she simply tries to convince their daughter that they have a right to control her because they “care”. That’s abuse, not love, especially if they’re still trying to “parent” a 19-year-old.

      You should reconsider your blanket stance on secrets, or you may find yourself friendless when it is realized that you interfere by sharing any information you might know about anyone to anyone else you believe should know. Sometimes that isn’t your call to make.

      • avatar krista griffin says:

        I’m 28 years old and my parents are still my parents. The parenting changes as your child grows, but you should never stop “parenting”. While I agree that it isn’t the cousins place to spill the beans, she should encourage her to tell the parents. I love my son and I wouldn’t give him up for the world, but I’ll tell you right now, there’s no way I was ready for him at 19. Especially without loving family to support me (emotionally). Sometimes I’m still not ready for him lol. For example, to day he fell down and bit a hole in his tongue, I called my husband, and then my parents, for support and (since he was ok and my sister did the same thing when she was little) a laugh.

    • avatar Mishy Smith says:

      You sound exactly like the type of parent a child would hide a pregnancy from. At 19, she is an ADULT. Period. There is no reason for anyone to interfere, nor do her parents NEED to share in her experience. That is a privileged, not a right a mother holds. As long as she is getting regular prenatal care and preparing for the child, it is no ones business but her own. When she is ready, she will include them. That should be her choice and no one elses. Especially not her cousin.

    • avatar blue tooth says:

      I agree with you Crystal. People who don’t have kids don’t really understand the responsibility that parents feel towards keeping them safe and making sure they don’t do things they’ll profoundly regret later. Also, as a parent, we sometimes are in a position to see that our kids are grown, or almost all grown, but there are areas where they aren’t prepared to make a decision they could live with.

      If the cousin were 22, say, I would say respect her privacy. If she were 16, I believe there would be a lot more people saying, “tell the parents.” By the same token, if the issue were different, there might be more agreement. For example, if the cousin were dyeing her hair or getting a tattoo, we might all say, “stay out of it”. If she were contemplating suicide, we would probably all say, “tell the parents.”

    • avatar Pdr de says:

      I was 19 when I brought my son into the world and I’d had a lifetime of experience taking care of children (we had a nursery school when I was growing up). I was mature enough to handle being a parent, but my husband, a decade and a half older wasn’t. He was the youngest child in the family and knew nothing about raising children. However, that didn’t stop him from dictating to me as to what I should be doing. So being 19 doesn’t mean you’re not mature enough to raise a child.

      As for telling the parents – the only one who should tell her parent anything is the pregnant cousin. She knows her mother and step-father better than anyone and if she’s refusing to tell them, she has her reasons! If the writer wants to end the relationship with her cousin, running to her cousin’s mother to tell her about the pregnancy will certainly do it. As I said previously, it’s not a life threatening situation – it’s a pregnancy. If the mother makes surprise visit to her daughter this summer, the evidence will be there before her. However she learns the truth, it should not be through her niece.

      • avatar Pdr de says:


        “So being 19 doesn’t mean you’re not mature enough to raise a child.” I should have said “So being 19 doesn’t mean you’re not mature enough to raise a child; it depends on the circumstances and the previous experience the parent has had working with children.”

  14. avatar crystalclear says:

    KDot, we posted at the same time and called it right…they are “enablers.”

    • avatar KDot says:

      You are right, It is a very sick dynamic cycle that the writer has a chance to break. I left a wonderful man because I finally recognized that I’d have to become an enabler in order to have a relationship with him–even if it only meant that I’d have to clam up and watch him enable. She needs to give her children the best chance possible to develop normal relationships, and this is not the model for that. She sounds like the normal one of the bunch, and she and her husband need to model healthy self-esteem for their children.

  15. avatar Poppy says:

    Beleaguered Sister-

    Your brother enjoys inflicting pain on people he perceives as “weaker” than him – his mother, you, other family members, and apparently even work colleagues. Why would you consider even for a second subjecting your children to this bully? He doesn’t seem to have anything positive to add to their lives – you described him as “unhappy, maladjusted and with a biting, explosive temper”. If what you say about him is accurate, your kids shouldn’t be forced to be exposed to this. Show them what it means to stand up for yourself and choose how you will be treated by others.

  16. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Definitely take Margo’s advice. I *would* personally leave him alone (I know he’s your brother, but he’s also an ugly ogre), and if he’s good/okay to your kids then let them decide if they want a relationship with him. And if they ask why you don’t have a relationship with him, tell them *HE* doesn’t want that. Don’t wind up making yourself look questionable or bad to your own children over him!

    L #2: Agree 100% with Margo.

  17. avatar Susan JH says:

    LW1, I totally agree with the people who say keep your kids away from your brother.  When they reach their majority, they can then determine whether or not they wish to have a relationship with him, but in the meantime, as many here have already said, it is YOUR responsibility to protect your children, and that includes protecting them from any relative you deem dangerous OR protecting them from being put in the middle between you and your brother.  I totally get not having anything to do with him or anyone else you feel is toxic, and he sounds manipulative enough to try to use them as a weapon against you (as someone else suggested).  Do not put them or allow him to put them in that position, because they will end up as his victims as well as you may be, if not more so.  You need not badmouth your brother to them or enlist their aid in helping you be mad at him; just let them know that for reasons that they do not need to know at this time, you do not want them in touch with him and instruct them to tell you when he has contacted them.  It should not take such drastic action has having to file a restraining order against him, but tell him you will if necessary.  Children have no place being put in the middle of what is essentially an adult (age-wise, anyway) disagreement.

  18. avatar D C says:

    LW#1 – I say don’t invite the brother, and “leave him alone.”  Your kids don’t need to be exposed on a regular basis to his personality, nor do they need to witness their parents practicing hypocracy by inviting someone to the party that they can’t stand just because you happened to have the same parents. 

    I grew up in a fairly toxic family environment and really have no relationship with my 3 brothers, especially since my mother died in 2002 (Dad died in ’78).  I “protect” my children from the oldest and youngest brothers, as I do not want my kids exposed to their kind of behavior if I can help it.  The middle brother moved out of state years ago, and although he has not been so much toxic as the enabler of the other two, we really just don’t have anything in common.  I keep in touch with his wife from time to time and we exchange holiday cards, but that’s about all.  It’s the kind of situation where my husband wonders how I ever came out of a family like that as normal as I did.  My kids have a great relationship with my husbands’ extended family, so they haven’t missed out on cousins and aunts and uncles.  And as they got older they asked questions and got age appropriate information about my side of the family and there is understanding on their part why we have no relationship there. 

    I imagine everyone who is invited to the event will be relieved the brother isn’t there. 

  19. avatar krista griffin says:

    LW#2- Keep your confidence. Don’t tell your aunt. When she asks if you knew, simply tell her that, you did know, but you wanted your cousin to have the responsibility of telling her mother herself. If more time goes by than you think should, and your cousin still hasn’t told her mom, tell her she has until such and such time before you mention it. My s-i-l told me about her 2nd pregnancy before anyone else. She had a very difficult first pregnancy and was told she shouldn’t have more children, because they may not survive. Her mom (my m-i-l) is by nature an extreme worrier. She needed someone who would be able to calm her fears not someone who would freak out as she went through all of her tests. I was with her when she told her mom. My m-i-l doesn’t resent me for this (as far as I know lol) because she knew it helped her daughter. I now have a happy healthy 5 year old nephew whom I adore.

  20. avatar Barbara says:

    LW#1 – you got so upset at a dinner you and your husband left….and left your preteen children behind? I certainly don’t understand that one. Maybe they will want a relationship with their uncle because he seemed to be more interested in them than you were. Just asking here since to me it seems weird that you would leave your children in what you felt was a toxic situation.
    LW#2 – did you encourage your cousin to get good prenatal medical care? (I’ll bet if she’s in school she is still covered under her parent’s medical coverage. They may find out her situation from insurance claim info.) I might have said I really feel your mom ought to know about this just to make sure you are OK.

    • avatar D C says:

      LW1 may have left the kids so they could interact with cousins they don’t see often.  Maybe they were at the “kids table” and didn’t see/hear the verbal altercation at the (and I use the term loosely) grown-ups table.  If there wasn’t a big scene, and LW1 and hubby left to avoid such, the kids may not have known anything other than their parents were upset.  

  21. avatar impska says:

    LW2: Practice saying the following: “It was not my place to tell.”

    When the mother calls you, it is the mature thing to tell her. Everyone in this situation is grown up. It truly isn’t your place to tell.

  22. avatar crystalclear says:

    Jessica, please, do not be so hard on me!  I have a daughter and I am speaking from a point of experience.   It is natural for the daughter to be embarrassed and make decisions based on that instead of what is in the best interest for her during the pregnancy and beyond.   Parents will be there to help not hinder!   Some 19 year olds are still quite immature having not met any of life’s struggles and, I agree, some at 19 are very mature due to early experiences.   As a mother, I would want to be there in any capacity to let my daughter know that she has a safe place to fall if the road gets bumpy.   After all, she is carrying the mother’s grandchild.  

    I have kept more secrets than I can ever remember at my age.   I am a true and loyal friend.   However, this situation is very different.   Putting off the inevitable by not telling the mother seems childish as the parents will soon know that there is a baby on the way.  

    When faced with “keeping a secret” or doing what is right for the best physical and mental healthcare for my daughter and future grandchild it’s a no brainer!

  23. avatar staili says:

    I also wonder whether there is more to the situation than LW1 lets on. Leaving a function abruptly without your kids is kind of weird and makes me wonder whether LW1 is all about the drama. And she refuses to let her brother in her house but still sends him a gift? That’s weird.

    I can imagine the brother’s letter to Dear Margo:
    “Dear Margo,
    My sister has always been disapproving of me and is constantly harassing me about not being married, constantly telling me about all of my personality flaws that have led me to be “unhappy and maladjusted,” as she puts it. She knows how upset she make me, but she just says it’s “gentle banter” and she keeps doing it. At a family function two years ago, she wouldn’t stop, and I said, “I wish you would shut up about all of my horrible flaws.” She was very angry and left so quickly that she forgot to bring her children with her! Ever since, she’s refused to let me into her house. On my birthday, she sent me a present in the mail with a note that said that she was sending it to me because she refuses to let me in her house or see me in person. I wrote her back saying that her mailing me a gift because she refuses to speak to me in person was very upsetting, and if she really feels that way, it is probably best if she would leave me alone.

    The sad part is, I love her children, who, despite being left behind a number of times when my sister just storms out of family gatherings, are wonderful people. How can I build a relationship with them when their mother treats me so badly?”

  24. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – You can certainly leave it up to the kids regarding what kind of relationship they choose to have with their uncle as long as you don’t think he poses a real threat to their well being. However, you get to choose who is invited to your home. Explain to the kids that based on your history with your brother he won’t be there. They can take it from there if they wish.

    LW2 – Don’t tell your aunt. When she finds and asks if you knew do as Margo says and just say “Yes, I knew but she swore me to secrecy and this is something you needed to hear from her”. Then stop talking. Nothing else needs to be said. You kept your word to your cousin and this is, indeed, news that your cousin, not you needs to share with her mother.

  25. avatar crystalclear says:

    Letter 2:   Some of the comments above are ridiculous.   She is 19 and IN COLLEGE…guess Mom and Dad are footing the bills?….so, hello!  If my daughter was in college and pregnant do you think I should know about it?    Sooner or later she has to tell her parents!    Why prolong the inevitable?   Geez, ladies….and gentlemen….do you think anyone can hide a pregnancy?

  26. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: I’ve changed my mind (woman’s prerogative, right?) regarding my “advice.” I would invite him IF your children truly like/love Uncle George and would like him around. *However*: I would tell him in no uncertain terms who he is, how he disgusts you, that he needs to change and you do NOT want him being a negative influence on your children. Lay it on the line, do NOT let him interrupt you; let him have it. If anything this borish oaf could use a reality check — whether he agrees and/or benefits or not. The truth hurts and it’s high time Georgie Boy got a good swift kick to his ego!

    • avatar blue tooth says:

      You mean, invite an abusive person to the children’s family function, but first get him fully riled up and frustrated when you let him have it? And then expect him to behave?

  27. avatar Frau Quink says:

    Ltr.1: Since when do pre teens make decisions that should be made by parents only? I would not have left my young children with a toxic relative, no way……

  28. avatar Paula says:

    LW2 needs to insist that her cousin tell the parents ASAP. Tell this cousin that she’s put you in an impossible situation. Offer to go with her to tell her mother, be as supportive as possible, but insist that she level with her parents. Say, if you have to, “I’m not going to tell your mother; you are.”

    • avatar wendykh says:

      good lord you sound like a drama queen. Her parents will find out soon enough. She is an adult and it’s her right to decide who gets to know and when.

  29. avatar crystalclear says:

    19 years old in college under her parents healthcare coverage…an adult?   I don’t think so.   She would be emancipated at age 23 if in school.   Anyone disagree with that?    Now, if she were 19 and living on her own, paid for her own healthcare costs, she is an adult.    Am I going around in circles?

    • avatar Lym BO says:

      She is an adult by all definitions of adult except the insurance part. In fact, she is better off remaining under their coverage until the baby is born so she will be insured.
      I’m sure the gal is planning to tell them at some point. Perhaps she is waiting until she is further along. The LW doesn’t mention whether she plans to keep the baby…

  30. avatar Redhead57 says:

    I am LW1. Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments. To answer the question about what kind of relationship my brother wants with my kids: he has sent them nice birthday and holiday presents, and whenever we visit my mother’s house he makes a point to chat with them. He is always very kind to them. He is not mentally ill. He is not in any way physically threatening. He is just a verbal bully the way my father was, only without the underlying kindness that my father had. He has made the comment to me that he thought my kids were brats when they were younger, but now they’ve become very nice. A very odd thing to say, but it does indicate his high regard for the kids. (Keep in mind he has no children of his own and has no perspective on the behavior of toddlers.)
    To answer some other comments, my husband and I left the holiday celebration very quietly, to *avoid* any drama. I left the kids there because I knew my children would not want to be drawn into the tension with my brother, and because my mother said “you’re punishing *me!*” when I told her we were *all* leaving because of my brother’s behavior. I knew the kids would be fine there and would get a ride back with my trustworthy sister. And any case, being kids, they hadn’t really caught on to the nasty interaction my brother and I were having. Once I had left, my brother evidently behaved just fine, as I knew he would.
    There is no way I would try to confront my brother about his behavior and then issue him an invitation. As one commenter agreed, I would probably get my head blown off with nasty words from him if I tried to warn him in any way.
    I am about to issue the invitations and am following Margo’s advice not to invite him. My mother has already asked me to invite him (why didn’t I know that was coming?) and I sent her the full text of my letter to Margo and Margo’s reply (Margo did edit my letter for space, leaving out the examples of kindness, and also a longer description of some of the bad history between my brother and me.) Strangely, I my mother has not said a word since then to me about it, pro or con, even though we speak every day on the phone. She is one of those people who see only the good in everyone (bless her!) and can’t understand how my brother and I can be so estranged. One commenter was correct that it is she who is pushing us to have a relationship.
    I will continue to read your comments to help me get perspective on this. Thanks to all.