Saturday, November 26, 2011

Family Tied

Question 1.
My husband has just informed me that my sister-in-law is coming to stay with us. She just got divorced and will be bringing her infant son. She had expressed how nice it would be to not have to send him to day-care, because I will be home to watch him, along with my young children. I can barely speak, I’m so angry. She’s not the easiest person to live with (we tried this before when she started having problems with her marriage), but now she will be staying with us indefinitely?! I tried expressing my disapproval of watching her son and she blew me off with some comment about “looking for someone else to watch him.” I’ve heard that line before and I don’t buy it.
Nor should you. She would have to be exceedingly stupid or overwhelmingly considerate to pass up free childcare when the going rate in my area is 70 pieces of silver a day, not including before- or after-care.
I’m going to go on the record as the radical that I am and declare that I am completely opposed to family charity. I’m not against generosity or favors, both of which imply willingness on the part of the giver, gratitude from the receiver and, most importantly, finite sums of resources. However, the whole popular notion that “charity should begin at home” is a sham perpetrated on working class people by rich, white men who never had to share a bathroom with four adults.  I’ll go even further and add that it is working women (and I include child-rearing moms) who are bearing the brunt of this renewed adulation for family support.
Providing assistance for discount childcare, food, housing—this is the government’s job.  I’ll allow non-profit organizations to pick up some slack, right up to the point when I’m being shamed into buying frozen “dessert pizzas” and working at a concession stand. Society needs an objective system to dispense assistance, free from familial conflicts and psychological burdens. I don’t want to hear complaints about a welfare state from anyone who isn’t actively supporting a family member, because it’s really easy to rail against the unworthy poor and their negligent kin when grandma isn’t knocking at your door with her hobo pack. I understand that it is a tough economy and people are going to need help, but why are we requiring families to both fund and manage it?
The person determining whether a loved one’s rent gets paid should not be the same person determining who gets the drumsticks at Thanksgiving. It’s just a conflict of interest. Emotions run high; someone always feels coerced by guilt and eventually it’s the giver that gets—the shaft.
Back to the issue at hand, your sister-in-law is in a difficult situation. You can empathize with that. You cannot, however, let her move in. You will never be able to set any sort of boundaries with her, because she seems impervious to both your discomforts and polite expectations.  Whether she plans to or not (and I’m pretty sure she does) she will play your husband against you. It will put immeasurable stress on your family and she will take advantage of the melee. Explain to your husband that you want to help her, but that this is too much. He will probably get defensive. That’s fine. Reiterate that you want to help her and list the many reasonable ways that are appropriate to the situation. Maybe you could offer to watch her son a couple days a week for a reasonable fee. Maybe you could lend (read: give, because you shouldn’t expect to see it again) her money towards a new apartment. Do not co-sign for her lease. Do not make any long-term financial obligations. 
I expect this will make your husband unhappy. He is welcome to let me know how unfair and heartless I am and how much I “don’t understand” where he’s coming from…because unlike the rest of humanity, I was raised by a pack of extremely socially liberal wolves who favor big government.
The difficult truth is that unless your sister-in-law and her son are currently living in an Oldsmobile, which you didn’t mention, they have a place, at least for a little while. Maybe that place is uncomfortable. Maybe they are being forced to leave in 30 days. There are a lot of “maybe’s.” The only thing that is certain is that neither you nor your husband nor the government can solve your sister-in-law’s problems for her. She needs to craft a workable plan that is acceptable to everyone involved and that has to involve someone besides you.
Freeloading is not acceptable. See how much easier it is when a neutral third-party says it?
That last question went on a bit so let’s have a nice, easy follow-up…
Question 2.
What do you say when someone compliments you on your appearance but you know they are just being nice because you actually look awful?
“Thank you.”

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