I have my own family. My wife of 10 years and I have a son whom I stayed home to raise when he was young. I’m a pizza delivery driver and my wife works as a grocery checker (Rachel, on the other hand, has an MA and is a community college professor). I think my father objected to my choice of jobs and my staying home with our son (my wife had benefits with her job; I did not, so I stayed home.) I cashed out my IRA’s that I built up while I was in the Navy to pay for his birth and for living expenses on the theory that retirement wouldn’t be a problem, and I think that really bothered him. I completed a college degree two months before he died (12 years after my first class) and I’m currently taking teacher certification courses, so I wasn’t totally idle. I used my portion of the inheritance to refinance our mortgage, so we’re doing okay.
My son is six years old and has a serious developmental problem and speaks like a two year old. He may have suffered oxygen deprivation during birth and I don’t know if he’ll improve. He gets specialist help from BOCES, and my mother (she and my father divorced when I was five) and my mother-in-law help pay for a speech therapist when school is out. I have an autistic spectrum disorder (diagnosed with a specialist after I started researching my son’s problem) and my wife has a form of severe dyslexia (she was in the Special Olympics), so we both understand how hard it is for him.
My sister persists in sending coloring books and puzzles to my son even though we haven’t had any contact. I feel insulted and given his troubles and her wealth it seems more for her benefit than for his. So far, since the gifts are for my son, I’ve been giving them to him and he does enjoy them. It’s hard to explain to him who they are from or why I don’t get along with my sister. Every time a gift arrives I have to think about what happened.
All I want is to be left alone, and I don’t think my childless and unmarried sister should feel that she’s part of my family anymore. I feel that if she’d wanted to be she wouldn’t have lied to me, and I feel that she shouldn’t be in my son’s life because she’ll betray him the same way she betrayed me.
Our family valued achievement above all things, and I was a disappointment. I don’t see how my son will ever live up to the same expectations and I don’t want him going through what I went through having a poorly-understood disability. I don’t want any more of these gifts from Rachel, but I don’t want to have another fight with her either. The stress of dealing with her after my father died gave me gray hairs and my blood pressure went up 20 points. It was a fight just to get what was willed to me. I’ve been much happier since I stopped talking to her (holidays are relaxing and peaceful with my in-laws) and I want nothing more than for this to be over forever. Should I simply pass on the gifts to my son or should I tell her to stop? Am I not letting this go the way I should? Or am I an entitled, irresponsible and lazy crybaby who got what he deserved? — Disowned
Your bitterness and anger seep through this letter like red wine through a white tablecloth and while I won’t question where that bitterness comes from, I have to wonder if some of it is displaced. From what I can gather, you anger toward your sister stems from her not having warned you that your father was leaving only 5% of his fortune to you and that she promised to give you his hunting house and then didn’t. Meanwhile, the list of reasons you have to be angry at your father seems much larger: HE’s the one, after all, who slighted you in his will; he’s the one who made you feel like a failure; he’s the one who didn’t leave his hunting house to you despite all the good memories you shared there together; he’s the one who perhaps failed as a parent by never getting your autistic spectrum disorder diagnosed as a child. Maybe he never even paid enough attention to you to notice there was anything “wrong.” Maybe instead of questioning whether things were more challenging for you, he chalked up your chosen life path to a sense of entitlement or even laziness. I can understand why you might have built-up frustration and anger toward your father. And I can understand why it would be tempting to take that anger out on your sister since your father’s no longer around to express that anger toward.
But your sister isn’t your father. His faults, as numerous as they might be, are not hers. Her responsibilities to you are and always have been much different than those of a parent’s. It wasn’t her job to warn you about your father’s will. He may have expressly asked her not to. And it wasn’t her job to give you things from his estate that he didn’t will to you. As to her promising you things and not delivering, well, shame on her for lying. But I still don’t see how that warrants keeping her from having a relationship with you or her nephew.
But it’s your choice to decide whether or not to have a relationship with her. I won’t argue you on that point. What I will defend, though, is your nephew’s chance to know his aunt — especially when your son has special needs that may make it difficult for him to have significant relationships in his life, and especially when his aunt is in a position to significantly help him financially. For both of those reasons — the financial help as well as the emotional bond your sister might provide your son — I’d argue that the benefits for letting her into his life outweigh the drawbacks.
One day you and your wife will no longer be around and your son, if his condition doesn’t improve dramatically, will need long-term care. Your wealthy sister doesn’t have children. She may never have children. And one day when she dies, her wealth will be dispersed as your father’s was. And while there’s no guarantee that any of that money would be left to your son, there’s probably a better chance that it would be — and that his long-term care would be covered for the rest of his life, regardless of what happens to you — if you let him get to know his aunt.
I wouldn’t be passive-aggressive about these relationships or about the help you’d appreciate from your sister in regards to your son. Give her a chance to be a good person. Let her know that while your son enjoys the coloring books she sends, if she really wants to make a difference in his life, she could use some of the fortune she inherited from your father to set up a trust for your son so that his care would always be paid for. Let her know what his needs and limitations are and that you’d welcome a relationship in his life with someone who could show him compassion and care. If you have good reason to believe this would never be your sister, so be it, but if there’s a chance she could be a beacon of hope in your son’s life, that chance may be worth the pain you’re afraid of causing him by introducing them.
I’m sure there’s a lot of baggage between you and Rachel. I’m sure the resentment runs deep. And I won’t pretend to understand what it feels like to be rejected by a parent the way you were by your father. But I do believe baggage can be lightened and relationships strengthened — or even fully repaired — with good therapy and a strong dose of compassion, empathy, and forgiveness. For the sake of your son who has a long road of special challenges ahead, I’d advise working on your relationship with your sister, a woman who is in a unique position to lend help that your son could greatly benefit from. And if you find that she’s unsympathetic to your son’s needs or doesn’t care to have a relationship with him past sending coloring books for his birthday, you can then cut her out of your life without reservations or regrets.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow me on Twitter.