Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Sister’s Eloping and I’m Worried About Her Kids”

Yesterday, my sister told me that she and her boyfriend are getting married later this month. She swore me to secrecy with the exception of telling my husband. She has dated this guy two times in the past (the last time being a few years ago) and it never worked out. After running into him at a bar just over a month ago, they are planning to “elope” — a quick courthouse wedding that no one except me and his sister know about. She has kids she has introduced to six different boyfriends in the last two years, the with most recent relationship ending in January, so I’m really concerned about them now. I have asked her why she’s secretly eloping — and so quickly — and she said it’s because they are “adventurous.” I haven’t pressured her or even told her that I think this is a really bad idea, especially with kids involved, but I’m wondering if I should tell her how I feel. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t help but I almost feel like I’m being unsupportive by being supportive. — Concerned Sister and Aunt


I definitely understand the temptation to say something to your sister — to try to stop her from making what seems like a really stupid, juvenile mistake — but is there any part of you that thinks she’d actually listen to you? If so, then go for it. But keep in mind that by doing so, you run the risk of alienating yourself from her and her children, which is a pretty big risk when you consider that you may be one of few stable adults in their lives. If, for your own sanity, you feel you have to speak up before your sister elopes, perhaps a simple, “Are you sure you’ve thought this through? Do you think it’s the best decision for the kids?” might suffice. The key is not to engage her if she retaliates with an argument or gets defensive. Say just enough to let her know you don’t 100% approve and just enough to give her a little food for thought and leave it at that. Saying any more isn’t going to accomplish anything but drive a wedge between you, and that’s not something you want.

As for your sister’s kids, you can support them by being as present in their lives as you’re able to and by modeling what appropriate, responsible behavior looks like. Kids from much worse backgrounds who have had no role models growing up have gone on to have happy, well-adjusted adult lives, so there’s no reason your sister’s kids aren’t capable of the same. They’ll be better positioned for a successful transition into adulthood if they have at least one mentor in their lives who loves them and provides a model of stability. So, be that for them if you can. You may not be able to stop their mother from being crazy, but you can be the sane one in their lives. And that’s better than a lot of children have.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

15 comments… add one
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    Christy April 4, 2011, 9:50 am

    My mother is a serial monogamist, which is actually an improvement for her. It was tough to deal with growing up–from 8th grade to freshman year of college, she had 5 different boyfriends live in our house, two of which she married and divorced. She’s back to boyfriend #1 again, who doesn’t *actually* live with her, which is an improvement. My extended family has always been very supportive of us kids (I’m 22, my brother is 18 and my sister is 17) throughout all of this mess. Basically, they always let the three of us know that we could stay with them if we ever needed to get away from my mom’s house. They made their disapproval clear to my mother, which she didn’t appreciate or let influence her decisions. My father also proved to be much more stable, dating only three women after my parents divorced and marrying my stepmother after about 8 years of living together.

    I guess just let the kids know that you’ll be there for them, but you won’t be able to change your sisters’ actions, no matter how much you want to. Spend more time with the kids–it really does help.

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    PFG-SCR April 4, 2011, 10:04 am

    A lot of how much the LW can say depends on how close she is to her sister – if they are very close, I think she can speak her mind a bit more openly, as long as she is sensitive and uses tact. The explanation that they are getting married because they are “adventurous” is either a joke or shows a complete lack of seriousness about the marriage or is a sign that the sister is desperate for someone to love her “forever”. Depending on which the LW believes it to be, she should plan to talk to her sister from this angle.

    However, her sister is an adult, and all the LW can do is talk to her. If the sister still chooses to get married, I hope the LW supports her decision (even though she doesn’t agree with it) and like Wendy suggested, is there for the kids.

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    RoyalEagle0408 April 4, 2011, 11:12 am

    I agree with Wendy. Make it clear that you don’t approve, but that she is an adult and therefore has to make her own mistakes. I think approaching it from the point of view of the kids would definitely help because marriage is theoretically not supposed to be taken lightly. You could ask if she’s sure this guy is step-father material or something along those lines.

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    cmarie April 4, 2011, 11:14 am

    I would recommend just saying something to the sister along the lines of “Have you thought about how this will affect the kids? Have you talked to them about the adjustment they’re going to have to make?” Make the concern about the kids, and not the marriage specifically and she might be more inclined to talk reasonably. At the same time be cautious not to question her parenting, just be the supportive and loving AUNT, not mother. Don’t infringe on her duties, just gently remind her that she has them. I grew up with a single mom what didn’t date once after my father left us. She was happy with just us and always said she didn’t need a man when she already had my two brothers and that was enough dirty socks on the floor for her. She’s always been my reminder that there are more important things than a boyfriend/girlfriend.

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      WatersEdge April 4, 2011, 11:51 am

      I totally agree!

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      randi April 4, 2011, 12:00 pm

      if watersedge agrees then it must be good advice.

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        WatersEdge April 4, 2011, 1:22 pm

        That sounds like sarcasm

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        randi April 4, 2011, 5:07 pm

        ’twas

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        WatersEdge April 5, 2011, 9:01 am

        Well then… good one!

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    Jessica April 4, 2011, 11:58 am

    I say hope that before the end of the month she snaps out of whatever phase she’s going through to think it’s a good idea to get married to him after only a couple months of having him in her life again. But I agree, talk to her about it, but only as a concerned aunt and not like you are judging her decisions for whatever reason she’s making them.

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    callmehobo April 4, 2011, 1:07 pm

    I just want to reiterate, it is not your job to stop your sister from making poor decisions. It’s noble that you want to protect her children and her from a potentially awful choice- but ultimately- there’s not much that you can do.

    I suggest bringing up your concern once in a totally non accusatory manner, and then dropping it. After that, all you can do is be there for your nieces and nephews, and your sister.

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    anna728 April 4, 2011, 1:59 pm

    …because when I think adventure, I think marriage!

    Anyway, Wendy is right. I think it’s worth a shot, but that you probably won’t be able to dissuade your sister from doing this and pushing too hard will just cause a rift.

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    missarissa April 4, 2011, 6:31 pm

    I am a slighly headstrong younger sister, with a slightly been-there-done-that-so-I-know-how-it-will-pan-out-before-you-even-try older sister. I tell her “guess what??? I’m going to do X!!!” which I am really excited about; she tells me, “Yay!… BUT… did I think about this? did i consider that? Don’t I realize that there are downsides? etc…” and I hate it and revert to being a petulant 14 year old, tell her she sucks and is a buzzkill and sometimes hang up/leave, but more likely, tell her all the reason she’s totally and 100% wrong. And then, someone else will ask me about X, saying, aren’t you excited??? and then i’ll be like, YES… BUT… there are all these other things… and sometimes, after truly considering the options, I don’t do it. So even though I got mad at her, was possibly rude to her, and thinks she kind of sucks at that point, and feel that it wasn’t her place to say anything in the first place, it doesn’t mean i didn’t HEAR her and process it and value it. No one likes hearing stuff they don’t like, but if you’re sisters, with a solid sisterly bond, the fact that you said something that they didn’t like gets forgiven and forgotten, but the point they made remains.

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    missarissa April 4, 2011, 6:35 pm

    [sadly, we’re 27 and 29 professionals with graduate degrees and good jobs, and it still doesn’t stop us from acting like a 13 year old and a 15 year old (or 6 and 8 year old) when certain situations arise. but like 6 year old being told what to do by their bossypants 8 year old sister, they usually do listen]

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      Eagle Eye April 4, 2011, 6:42 pm

      Heh, well, as an older sister (24) with a similar sounding younger sister (21), its heartening to know that you guys actually do listen sometimes!

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