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How Do I Get My Parents to Stop Bankrolling Their Adult Son?

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For 15 years, my parents have paid for my adult brother to live in an upscale apartment in the expensive city where he went to college. He doesn’t work. He barely graduated from college, lost touch with his friends, then flunked out of graduate school. My parents were mortified, and I encouraged him to find work. But he never did. Now my parents are resigned to supporting him indefinitely. With the pandemic ebbing, I keep trying to convince them that they should push my brother to apply for jobs and engage with the world. But when my brother refuses, my parents are cowed by him. So, they continue to support him, giving him nice hand-me-down cars and taking him to fancy dinners. This is madness! What more can I do?

BROTHER

If you’d expressed concern for your brother’s emotional well-being or the roots of his seeming paralysis as an adult, it would be easier to sympathize with you. (He may be depressed, not a grifter.) But your question reads like a jealous tale of middle-age sibling rivalry: Mommy and Daddy give him too much!

And even if you’re right — your brother is a mooch, and your parents enable his laziness — it doesn’t matter. Your family doesn’t take orders from you! You’ve expressed your opinion repeatedly, it seems, but your parents and brother are free to act as they choose. (To me, his issues seem more complex than the cost of an “upscale apartment” or the “fancy dinners” you focus on. I hope he seeks professional help.)

I also get that your frustration may be drowning out your loving concern. Still, it’s hard to see how your continued involvement helps matters here. No one is asking for your assistance. Disentangle yourself and get on with your own life. Your energy will be better spent exploring how this family dynamic affects you.

My 10-year-old daughter has two best friends. The three of them play together occasionally, but the other two aren’t really friends and only see each other through my daughter. One of the mothers of these girls told me she would like her daughter to have a best friend like the other girl. Now, that mother has organized a play date with the other girl and didn’t invite my daughter. My daughter is hurt, and I’m annoyed. Are we wrong? Is there an etiquette for this?

MOM

To my knowledge, there is no social equivalent of a “finder’s fee” that entitles your daughter to mandatory invitations every time children she’s introduced gather to play. Chill, Mom! It’s one play date.

One of the most common ways to make new friends is through our pals’ existing friendships. And that’s good! It creates community. I encourage you to stop policing your child’s social calendar and help her focus on making a variety of friends. No one gets invited to everything.

Like many Americans, my next-door neighbor adopted a cute puppy during the pandemic. While we were in lockdown, she and the dog were together all day. Now that she’s gone back to work, and the puppy is on its own for hours at a stretch, it cries and barks and whines — a lot. It’s miserable to be next door! How should I handle this with my neighbor?

JIL

Unless the puppy has a delayed reaction to being left alone (and doesn’t start crying until your neighbor is out of earshot), she is probably aware of this problem to some extent. Let her know gently that her dog’s distress continues for the length of her absence.

Say, “I’m sorry to tell you that your puppy barks and whines the whole time you’re away. It’s painful to hear! Have you started working on this yet?” Unfortunately for you and the puppy, improving its separation anxiety will be a process — one your neighbor will have to manage on her own or with the help of a good trainer (now that our dogs are accustomed to 24/7 companionship).

My brother-in-law sent us two free copies of his memoir. Our family tree is included in it. My husband (the author’s brother), one of our grandchildren and I all had our names misspelled in the book. When I pointed this out, he blamed a now-dead cousin for the mistake. No apology! May I return these unsolicited books?

HARRIET

Just curious: Did you ever congratulate your brother-in-law on the publication of his memoir or thank him for sending two copies, or did you launch right into the misspelling of your names? Often, the tenor in which we raise problems is a good barometer for the kind of response we will receive.

I’m sorry your feelings are hurt. No matter who provided the information or proofread the manuscript, it would have been thoughtful for the author to apologize. (Does anyone really need a proofreader to spell his brother’s name correctly?) Still, returning the books seems overdramatic. Your brother-in-law’s failure to apologize for minor errors probably doesn’t merit major escalation.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.



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