Annie Lane: Grieving niece won’t help herself

Published 5:30 pm Friday, November 19, 2021

Dear Annie: I need help. I’ve let my niece move in with me, my husband and my 17-year-old daughter after her husband committed suicide.

You see, she and her husband had issues for the last two years. They were both on drugs. I felt sorry for her after he passed. She has a sister and a 16-year-old son. Her son lives with his best friend and his family. My niece signed over custody to his mom, so she doesn’t have many responsibilities.

It’s been almost three months since she moved in. She doesn’t work. I pay for everything for her. She doesn’t do anything. I cook, clean and do her laundry. She will go out with her friends and come back, but I know they’ve been partying. I don’t know what to do. It’s causing problems between me and my husband.

I can’t afford to take care of her. I don’t know how to tell her she has to find a place to go. I feel like a bad aunt, but she doesn’t want to help herself or anything. What should I do ?

— Agonizing Aunt

Dear Agonizing: First off, please know you are absolutely not a “bad aunt.” You opened your heart and your home to your niece after this unthinkable tragedy in her life and have shown her such compassion and understanding.

As supportive as you sound and want to be for her, you cannot enable her to continue the behavior you’ve described. Though still grieving the loss of her husband, no doubt, your niece must start putting her life back in order for herself and for the benefit of her son.

Let her know that to continue staying in your home, she must contribute like any other adult would — that means cleaning dishes, pitching in around the house, finding a job, paying rent and more. She also cannot under any circumstances use drugs under your roof nor should she outside the home if she wants to continue staying with you.

Suggest that she speak with a therapist or grief counselor to work through the trauma of her late husband’s death and seek help to heal from her years of substance use.

• • •

Dear Annie: I appreciate your advice to “Fed Up” who was fed up with her mother-in-law’s relationship with her husband’s ex-wife. Your advice was almost dead-on.

My parents have been divorced for almost 30 years, but my paternal grandmother is still friends with my mother. My father recently asked me to tell my mother that it is no longer appropriate for her to maintain a relationship with his mother. I was very hurt.

My paternal grandmother was my rock during my parents’ divorce. She was the only one who had the balanced grace to do what was right for me, the kid in the middle of their mess. Even at the age of 38, hearing my dad ask me to destroy the last sense of family cohesion triggered deep-seated trauma for me.

You are right. The relationship between mother-in-law and her grandchildren’s mother shouldn’t concern her, but further, the relationship probably holds down some sense of balance and family cohesion for her stepchildren.

— Traumatized, Too

Dear Traumatized: Thank you for your letter and for sharing your perspective. I hope it serves to change how others may view this sort of relationship dynamic following a divorce. Ring or no ring, there are some bonds that never break.

Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com.