Dear Annie: Five years ago, my then-single husband decided to take in his nine-year-old sister, “Taylor,” because his mother was using drugs. It was intended to be a temporary arrangement until his mother could clean up her act. After one year, Mom got sober and found a job, but Taylor continued to live with her brother. My husband and I married and had two children, and his sister grew into a teenager.
When we were expecting our second child, there was talk about Taylor returning home, but I think my husband was waiting for his mother to turn into this perfect parent. And Taylor was comfortable here. My feelings were totally ignored.
My husband thinks sending Taylor home is the equivalent of throwing her to the wolves and says I’m not being supportive of his decision to let her remain. My relationship with Taylor is strained because I blame her for allowing the situation to continue.
I’ve spoken to my mother-in-law, and she and I agreed that Taylor would return home before school starts. But my husband refused to “kick her out” if she didn’t want to go, and she didn’t. I believe Taylor needs to work on her own relationship with her mother and stop using my husband as a father substitute.
Meanwhile, my husband throws it in his mother’s face that he has spent years raising her daughter. Everyone is short-tempered, and I blame them all for the way things are in my marriage. My husband is the one who makes the decisions in this family. His mother is quite passive. What should be done? — A Home Divided
Dear Divided: You married your husband knowing he was raising his sister, and it may be too late to change it now. You obviously don’t want Taylor to stay, but forcing her out could wreck your marriage. Encourage Taylor to form a closer bond with her mother by acting as facilitator and arranging some shopping excursions or dinners out, and enlist the help of Taylor’s school counselor to support a connection. Your husband is the only father figure in Taylor’s life. Consider her your stepdaughter, and try to find a way to accept her. She won’t live there forever.
Dear Annie: My parents were heavy smokers, and they both died due to complications from COPD and emphysema. My daughter watched their agony. Now she smokes herself. Having watched her grandparents die from the effects of smoking, I cannot understand why she would start a habit that kills. Worse, she now exposes my granddaughter to secondhand smoke.
I know if smokers could turn back time, they would not start such a nasty and filthy habit. What can I do? — Not Smoking but Still Suffering in N.H.
Dear N.H.: Smoking is an addiction. Your daughter may not be able to stop without assistance, but you can give her information about the hazards of secondhand smoke. Her pediatrician should also mention this. Tell her if she cannot stop smoking for her own benefit, she should at least minimize the risks to her child. We hope she listens.
Dear Annie: This is in reply to “Not Liking Mother in Connecticut.” Has her mother always been nasty and insulting? She says her 55-year-old handicapped sister lives with Mom. As the mother of a 47-year-old handicapped son who does not live with me, I can imagine that Mom might be very angry about her situation. Does she get any respite from caring for the daughter? She also may be grieving the years of her life that have gone into caring for this daughter.
It sounds like some therapy is in order, although Mom will probably reject the idea. The writer should also seek counseling to deal with the issue. It may make her more understanding and tolerant of her mother. — Mom Who Is Liked in NYC
Dear NYC: Thanks for shedding light on the flip side of the coin. There are always two sides.
Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Ste. 700, Los Angeles, CA 90045.