Dear Ann Cannon • My brother-in-law is a know-it-all. He talks all the time and thinks he is an expert on EVERYTHING, even subjects he knows nothing about —like my children’s health and my job. His domineering personality has become unbearable in recent months. He has belittled me several times for maintaining a friendship with someone he does not like. I laugh off his rude comments, but it’s getting difficult to ignore. I no longer want to go to his house for holidays and birthday parties, and I certainly don’t want to welcome him into my home.
But he is married to my sister and I love her. I don’t want to hurt her feelings or affect my children’s relationship with their cousins. What should I do — besides pray for a timely divorce?
— Ruffled by Relatives
Dear Ruffled • Gah! I’m guessing that plenty of readers can relate to your question because you know how families are. Crazy.
OK. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking I think it’s a good idea for adult siblings to stay connected. So how do you make this happen when you can’t stand someone’s spouse? I would create opportunities for the two of you, as well as your children, to get together without either spouse — hers OR yours. Go out to lunch. Take in a movie. Get together for a regular Girls Night Out and play cards. The beauty of this arrangement is that it won’t seem like you’re deliberately excluding your obnoxious brother-in-law. Winning!
Still. There are times when you’re all just gonna have to be in the same room. What then? Understanding why your brother-in-law has become even more overbearing lately may help you deal with him better, although I’m not sure how you’d acquire this information. I think I’d just opt for sitting at the opposite end of the dinner table and (mostly) biting my tongue for my sister’s sake.
Speaking of which — unless your sister is in an abusive situation (in which case you should speak up) or files for divorce, I would proceed with caution if she badmouths her husband to you. She’s probably just blowing off steam, and if you join in all the reindeer games — YOU’RE RIGHT! I’VE ALWAYS SAID HE WAS A DOPE! — your sister may feel like you’re questioning her judgment for choosing the guy in the first place, which could make her turn on you. (Not fair, I know. You were only trying to be supportive, but there it is. Families!) So listen sympathetically without saying much yourself and then keep a polite, doable distance from your brother-in-law.
Dear Ann Cannon • Getting an education is a huge value in our family. So my wife and I are flummoxed — distressed, even — by our 20-year-old son’s ongoing decision not to go to college. For the record, he’s hardworking and smart. He also has a strong entrepreneurial streak, which he’s using now to support himself. Still, I think he should get a degree. How do we convince him (short of resorting to bribery) that going to school is in his long-term best interest?
— Puzzled Parent
Dear Puzzled • So my dad was the first person in his family to go to college. That decision changed the trajectory of his life and, by extension, my life, too. Furthermore, the entire time I was growing up, he kept taking classes so he could do something else to support us if his day job didn’t work out. Meanwhile, my mom went back to school and graduated from college when she was 62. This is my way of saying that I get it. I really, really get it. Education is important in my family, too.
Still, you can’t force a young adult to do what a young adult doesn’t want to do. My advice? Your son already knows what you think about education in general and his education in particular, right? So drop the subject for now. If and when he’s ready to go back to school, he will. No doubt his decision to wait will complicate things for him in the future. But at least he won’t be wasting his time and money — or yours — until then.
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