Everything calmed down for a bit, but the situation was still difficult because a permanent custody hearing was looming in the future. The whole ordeal was unimaginably hard, and the family grew very close over it (or so I thought). My dad and I handled most of the financial and logistical aspects of the legal work (finding a lawyer, filling out custody documents, paying legal fees) as well as childcare responsibilities because my brother worked a lot. My heart broke every day for my niece (especially when she was living in the crack house and being jerked around from home to home). I didn’t sleep well for months.
Then, right before mediation for the permanent custody case (while the then-ex-girlfriend was engaged to her drug-dealer), my brother took her back. A couple weeks later they got married in a church wedding which none of our family was invited to or even told about (I found out on Facebook). My brother quit his job and they live in a camp trailer. The wife does not talk to anyone in our family, and my brother is barely even allowed to call or come over. Despite having been the primary caregiver, my dad rarely sees my niece now.
My brother and his wife’s relationship has been tumultuous for the entire three years they’ve been together, and, after they got married, I decided I was washing my hands of all the drama and staying detached, even if that meant getting to see my niece a little less (not that they allow it much anyway). Fast forward about 1.5 months to today and they’ve announced they are having another child. My heart breaks for my niece who lives in a trailer, surrounded by the wife’s family (who have never had jobs, are alcoholics and drug addicts, and do not even have high school educations), and will never be encouraged to read books or get help with homework, or be exposed to anything outside of their backward lifestyle.
Is it wrong that a big part of me doesn’t want to pursue a relationship with this new niece or nephew because it’s already so hard to watch my niece, whom I was so close to, grow up in that environment? I’m not even sure how much I’ll be able to see the new child even if I do try, given the wife’s unwillingness to let even my brother visit family. — Hicktown Escapee
You ask whether it’s wrong to feel hesitant about pursuing a relationship with the new niece or nephew, but what I’m really hearing is you asking whether you’re normal for having mixed emotions regarding this extended family. And, yes, it’s absolutely normal to wish your brother hadn’t married and impregnated a crackhead. It’s normal to wish your niece’s mother wasn’t a drug addict. And it’s normal to think that a new baby in the family is more bitter than sweet. You’ve already been through a lot supporting your brother and, by extension, your niece. It must feel like a betrayal after your investment of time, emotion, and money, to have, in a sense, lost your brother — to to mention your sweet niece — to this drug-addicted woman. And I can’t imagine what it’s like to see your father’s heart break after his granddaughter, whom he primarily cared for, was given back to her crackhead mother to live in a trailer with a bunch of other derelicts.
So if you want to protect your own heart from more aching, you would not be a bad person to avoid a relationship with the new niece or nephew. But in doing so, you will almost definitely cut your niece, whom you’ve already grown attached to, out of your life, as well as your brother (whom you may be hurt by now but may want to know later down the line). Also, if you avoid meeting the new baby and don’t try to keep the lines of communication open, you will essentially be slamming the door on these people, your family — at least two or three of whom you’d love to have in your life if the circumstances were better. That may not sound like the worst thing now when you envision the kind of drama you’d be keeping yourself open to by staying in touch with them, but consider how quickly things change, and how much you may yearn for a relationship with your brother and his kids some time in the future. Think about what your support might mean to him — not to mention his kids — one day (a day that may come sooner than you think) if he decides to leave his wife again. If nothing else, think what effect having access to a healthy, happy, sane person like you might have on your brother’s kids. You could very well be the only shining light in an otherwise pretty bleak life.
Of course, it’s understandable if that’s a responsibility and a can of worms you don’t want to open further. But you already know your niece. You’ve already started loving her. I can’t imagine you’re going to stop thinking about her now. And I doubt that not ever seeing her is going to keep your heart from breaking when you do think about her. More likely, you’re going to wish there was something — anything — you could do to make things a little brighter for her (and her sibling). And there’s a better chance of that happening if you try to remain cordial and on as good of terms as possible with your brother.
You may not be able to save your brother, and you may not have much power or influence to save his kids or expose them to things like books and art and education and whatever else you might wish for them. But you’ll almost surely give up what tiny influence you might have if you cut this family out of your life completely. If there’s any hope that you might say the rights words or be the right person at the right time and place to plant a seed of something good in the lives of these children, you have to remain present — even if remaining present simply means a phone call here and there, some birthday gifts, a few cards, and maybe, if you’re lucky, some visits together when you can express your love for them and let them know you care.
And if you decide that’s too much for you and your heart can’t handle it, that’s OK too. It’s not your job to try to save these people. But it would be nice if your presence in their lives could at least be something they might look forward to and hold as a fond memory as they grow up.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.