Empty nester wants to control family functions
Dear Annie: We are a large group of middle-aged siblings with one sister who has little engagement outside the home. She is an empty nester who does not work, volunteer or have any regular friends or social activities.
Our problem occurs when it comes time for a family function. She wants to control the event to the point that we cannot enjoy it. The importance of these events to her self-worth is truly disturbing. She once commandeered a small retirement party, and we received 60 texts and calls within 24 hours. We have regained some ground by politely initiating plans before she does, hosting events at our own homes or avoiding her during events if she’s in one of her controlling moods.
Unfortunately, this loss of total control has brought out some mean-spiritedness in her. She will “sweetly” insult or command us in front of relatives, withhold information and find ways to demonstrate that the plans of others are “wrong.”
We love our sister, and we know she needs help. We are not comfortable approaching her husband, as their dynamics may be a small part of the problem. We approached our parents, but she behaves well with the older generation, and they don’t see what we see. I have given her names of counselors and suggestions for outside activities that don’t involve family. The problem is getting worse, and she is turning Machiavellian on us. Any other ideas? – Family Exercise in Futility
Dear Family: Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, especially when they’re holding a smartphone. In this case, the “devil” is your sister’s pathological need for control, which she has allowed to totally consume her.
Give her a chore so she feels like a part of the plan – something that will satisfy her need to feel needed without making a mess of the whole event.
You’ve taken many steps to try to help, and I commend your efforts. Let’s hope she will be open to seeking help in the future. But at a certain point, you have to accept that you can’t control the control freak.
Dear Annie: I am 62, and my only sibling, a brother, died 16 years ago. My parents have been dead for years. Recently, I was told by an elderly cousin that I have a half brother. My father got an employee pregnant, and now this boy is 50. He’s an only child. His mother was married and let her husband think the son was his biological son. She and the husband are now in their 80s. No one knows the truth except the cousin, the mom and me. I don’t think my dad ever knew.
I called the mother up, and she was very belligerent – understandably. She pretty much admitted it’s true. It would be hard to deny because her son looks exactly like my dad. I told her I don’t want to cause trouble for her husband, the poor 80-year-old man who thinks this is his biological son. And I don’t want to cause trouble for my half brother, who thinks that man is his biological dad. The mom just shouted back that she doesn’t care who I tell.
I had just called to see whether the family knows, but seeing as no one else does, I don’t want to say anything. I plan on sticking to that, but there are times when I really wish I could connect with my brother. Do you think there will be a time when I wouldn’t be selfish in trying to call him? Of course, he might hate the messenger. – To Tell the Truth or Keep Quiet
Dear Truth: It would be selfish to tell your half brother this world-shattering fact only because you’re lonely. But there are other reasons for letting him know about his biological father. For one, as he gets older, he might benefit from knowing your dad’s medical history.
It sounds as if his mom is unable to think rationally about the situation. Perhaps you could enlist your cousin for help, as he or she seems to have more background on the situation. (Working with your cousin would be a good opportunity to bond with a family member, too.) Your half brother is 50 – old enough to decide for himself what to do with the information. The man who raised him will always be his dad. Knowing about his biological father wouldn’t change that, and it might give him a deeper understanding of his own identity.
Dear Annie is written by Annie Lane, a young, married mother of two. Send questions for Annie Lane to email@example.com.