Dear Amy: My husband and I have raised our granddaughter, “Allie,” since she was 3 years old. We adopted her a few years ago. She is now 13. Her biological mother (our daughter) got into drugs, alcohol, and stealing to support her habit. She has stolen and betrayed us and other family members, has been in jail many times, and is currently in prison for the second time. When she is incarcerated, she always writes letters to us saying how badly she has messed up, how terrible her life is, and asking for forgiveness — but the main point is to ask us to send money and items to make her time easier.
Each time she is released she quickly falls back into her old cycle. This has been going on for 20 years.
Her last letter also contained a letter for Allie — asking her to write and send pictures.
I did not show this to Allie, but now I’m wondering if I should. I have tried to spare her the sordid details, and say that her mom has mental problems.
Allie is well-adjusted, has friends, and does well in school.
She occasionally becomes very tearful and sad that she doesn’t have a “normal” mom (her father has never been in the picture).
I thought we would let her decide what kind of relationship she wants with her parents when she’s old enough. But how do I know when she is old enough? We’ve told her mom that she cannot visit with Allie until she is clean and sober for at least six months.
— Wondering Gramma
Dear Wondering: I think it’s time to level with “Allie.” Keeping all of this a secret might create more problems than it would solve. However, I think it’s vital that you also find a qualified counselor who can meet with all of you in order to guide family conversations and also serve as a supportive neutral party for Allie to communicate with, as she tries to navigate this challenging family issue.
You should be honest with Allie about the depth of her mother’s problems. Do not paint her as a bad person, but as someone who has an addiction disorder and makes terrible and destructive choices, over and over again.
Give Allie the letter from her mother. Tell her that you will help if she wants to contact her mother. I think it’s also important that you continue to read and monitor any letters sent to Allie, in order to make sure that she is not being manipulated or asked to send money to her mother in prison.
Allie’s attitude regarding this will cycle as she grows older. You want to be the steady, unflappable people in her corner — always available, honest, and protective.
Dear Amy: We are three sisters. I am the oldest, my sister “C” is a year younger, and our third sister, “A,” is 10 years younger than us.
“C” and “A” are both artists.
A, is currently living overseas. Recently she sent me a small arty gift from an art supply outlet.
There was no special occasion; we had been enjoying our email communications, and maybe she sent it to help me get through the pandemic isolation.
I mentioned the gift to my middle sister, C, who then said that A had sent her the same thing, but minus the paint and the roller.
I said, “A probably didn’t send you the paint and the roller because she figured you already had some.”
I thought this since both are artists, this explanation made sense.
C was offended and felt slighted. Now I’m sorry I mentioned it.
What is the best way to handle this?
Dear M: This matter is almost delightfully trivial. During these dark days … well, what can I say? It’s a relief to see that sisters are still doing the sister-thing.
And as one of three sisters myself, I get it.
Please – you have done nothing wrong. Let these two artists paint themselves out of this corner.
Dear Amy: In response to “Tired Ears,” I had a similar situation with my niece. She would call and talk nonstop. Mostly she wanted to rant about her mother (my sister), and how her mother always hated her, etc. So not true!
Finally, I’d had it. I said to her, “Do not talk about my sister anymore.”
She was shocked, but it worked.
We have been in a loving relationship ever since.
— Worked for Me
Dear Worked: Boundaries: they work!
(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)
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