Dear Margo: No Need to be Strangled by Family Ties

My brother has rejected a relationship with me, but wants one with my children: Margo Howard’s advice

No Need To Be Strangled by Family Ties

Dear Margo: My younger brother, “George,” and I have had a difficult relationship for years. He is highly educated, but he’s unhappy and maladjusted, still single in his late 40s, and unable to get along with colleagues, girlfriends or family members for any length of time. George is bright and arrogant with a biting, explosive temper. My husband, my sister, my mother and I have walked on eggshells around George for decades. (My mother was browbeaten for decades by my highly educated, arrogant late father and now will not stand up to my brother, either.)

Two years ago, at a holiday dinner at my mother’s house, after what I thought was gentle banter with him, George snapped at me to “shut up” in front of the whole table. That was the last straw. My husband and I left the house, leaving our preteen twins to be driven home by my sister so they would not be caught up in the fracas. We have not seen or spoken to my brother since. I refuse to invite him to my house, and he has avoided all family gatherings. He refused delivery of a birthday present I sent to him, sending me an e-mail saying, “Please leave me alone.” Despite all this, my brother wants to maintain a relationship with my kids, and I need to know what to do about it.

The problem is coming to a head because my children are having a joint confirmation party at home this summer — a very small gathering of family and friends. Do I invite my brother? –Beleaguered Sister

Dear Be: I think the answer to whether or not to invite your brother to this special occasion can be found in his e-mail to you, refusing the gift: “Please leave me alone.” His personality is his personality, and I must say your description of your late father answered a few questions. I would let your children decide whether they want a relationship with Uncle George. Given what they’ve witnessed, they will not be surprised that it cannot take place in your house. –Margo, logically

The Dilemma of Silence

Dear Margo: I have a 19-year-old cousin who’s in college. Her boyfriend is someone she met while attending school. She recently confided in me that she is pregnant. Even before she found out, she told me they were looking for an apartment to rent because she didn’t want to go home for the summer. She says her mom and stepdad are too controlling to live with.

I know they only want the best for her, and I tried telling her that. Not only has she not told her mom she is pregnant, but she requested that I not mention it to her or anyone else. Her mom and I are also close, and when she finds out, she is going to call me and ask if I knew about it. I don’t want to be dishonest and say no, but I don’t want to betray my cousin’s trust, either. –Put in the Middle

Dear Put: Not to go all fortune cookie on you, but life is choices. If your cousin confided in you with the stipulation that you not mention it to anyone, then I suggest you keep your word. Should your aunt at some point ask you if you knew, the thing to do is ‘fess up. But make it plain that you were sworn to secrecy, and you honored your cousin’s trust. Looking at the big picture, there’s nothing your aunt could do about the family “news,” so I would let things play out. This way, you are neither lying to anyone nor breaking your word. –Margo, confidentially

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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61 comments so far.

  1. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: I’ve changed my mind (woman’s prerogative, right?) regarding my “advice.” I would invite him IF your children truly like/love Uncle George and would like him around. *However*: I would tell him in no uncertain terms who he is, how he disgusts you, that he needs to change and you do NOT want him being a negative influence on your children. Lay it on the line, do NOT let him interrupt you; let him have it. If anything this borish oaf could use a reality check — whether he agrees and/or benefits or not. The truth hurts and it’s high time Georgie Boy got a good swift kick to his ego!

    • avatar blue tooth says:

      You mean, invite an abusive person to the children’s family function, but first get him fully riled up and frustrated when you let him have it? And then expect him to behave?

  2. avatar Frau Quink says:

    Ltr.1: Since when do pre teens make decisions that should be made by parents only? I would not have left my young children with a toxic relative, no way……

  3. avatar Paula says:

    LW2 needs to insist that her cousin tell the parents ASAP. Tell this cousin that she’s put you in an impossible situation. Offer to go with her to tell her mother, be as supportive as possible, but insist that she level with her parents. Say, if you have to, “I’m not going to tell your mother; you are.”

    • avatar wendykh says:

      good lord you sound like a drama queen. Her parents will find out soon enough. She is an adult and it’s her right to decide who gets to know and when.

  4. avatar crystalclear says:

    19 years old in college under her parents healthcare coverage…an adult?   I don’t think so.   She would be emancipated at age 23 if in school.   Anyone disagree with that?    Now, if she were 19 and living on her own, paid for her own healthcare costs, she is an adult.    Am I going around in circles?

    • avatar Lym BO says:

      She is an adult by all definitions of adult except the insurance part. In fact, she is better off remaining under their coverage until the baby is born so she will be insured.
      I’m sure the gal is planning to tell them at some point. Perhaps she is waiting until she is further along. The LW doesn’t mention whether she plans to keep the baby…

  5. avatar Redhead57 says:

    I am LW1. Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments. To answer the question about what kind of relationship my brother wants with my kids: he has sent them nice birthday and holiday presents, and whenever we visit my mother’s house he makes a point to chat with them. He is always very kind to them. He is not mentally ill. He is not in any way physically threatening. He is just a verbal bully the way my father was, only without the underlying kindness that my father had. He has made the comment to me that he thought my kids were brats when they were younger, but now they’ve become very nice. A very odd thing to say, but it does indicate his high regard for the kids. (Keep in mind he has no children of his own and has no perspective on the behavior of toddlers.)
    To answer some other comments, my husband and I left the holiday celebration very quietly, to *avoid* any drama. I left the kids there because I knew my children would not want to be drawn into the tension with my brother, and because my mother said “you’re punishing *me!*” when I told her we were *all* leaving because of my brother’s behavior. I knew the kids would be fine there and would get a ride back with my trustworthy sister. And any case, being kids, they hadn’t really caught on to the nasty interaction my brother and I were having. Once I had left, my brother evidently behaved just fine, as I knew he would.
    There is no way I would try to confront my brother about his behavior and then issue him an invitation. As one commenter agreed, I would probably get my head blown off with nasty words from him if I tried to warn him in any way.
    I am about to issue the invitations and am following Margo’s advice not to invite him. My mother has already asked me to invite him (why didn’t I know that was coming?) and I sent her the full text of my letter to Margo and Margo’s reply (Margo did edit my letter for space, leaving out the examples of kindness, and also a longer description of some of the bad history between my brother and me.) Strangely, I my mother has not said a word since then to me about it, pro or con, even though we speak every day on the phone. She is one of those people who see only the good in everyone (bless her!) and can’t understand how my brother and I can be so estranged. One commenter was correct that it is she who is pushing us to have a relationship.
    I will continue to read your comments to help me get perspective on this. Thanks to all.