Hi Rene:

Here’s my dilemma: a while ago, my brother married a woman who has a yen-year-old girl from a previous marriage. My brother, James, has full custody of the two children from his previous marriage. They are nine and 10 as well. The new wife, Michelle, seemed fine at first. Then my mother and I started to see what we thought might be signs of Michelle favoring her child over my brother’s kids. When we mention this to my brother he brushed it off, saying we were being overly protective.

This is tough for us, Rene as my mother and I have helped James raise those kids from the time they were three and four years old. Now it is five years later, they are still married and there is no contact between us. We just keep trying to talk to him about why he doesn’t come around anymore and he just says they are working on things. We miss seeing him and the kids and can’t get it in his head that we are the only family he has.

I just want by brother and friend back in my life and to be able to see the kids growing up. How can I get back into all of their lives without putting drama into it also?

Signed: Heartbroken in Houston

Dear HiH:

I know you’re looking to me for advice; you might even be hoping I’m going to come down on your side of this issue but as I have warned people before, you emailed a straight shooter and you might not like what you hear. In this case, I’m almost positive you will not. Here’s how I see it.

RESOLVE YOUR ISSUES WITH THE WIFE: Remember that saying about when you point the finger at someone there are three others pointing back at you? Yeah, that’s what’s going down here. I’ve never been part of a blended family but I have heard learning to make it work is not easy (the same could be said of non-blended families too). I’m not saying Michelle isn’t playing favorites but I do think, based on the fact that you and your mother helped raise your brother’s kids, there is at least a possibility you are hypersensitive to the matter. You might be taking a minor slight and reading into it. Michelle could also be playing favorites but guess whose job that is to work out? Michelle and James’, not yours.

JAMES DOES HAVE FAMILY:  There are a lot of things in your letter that jump out to me (like the fact that you seem surprised that five years later they’re still married. What’s THAT about?) but one that’s very telling is this: “We miss seeing him and the kids and can’t get it in his head that we are the only family he has.” Um, no, you are not the only family James has. In fact, hard as this may be for you to accept, while you are still family, you have been moved to the periphery of his day-to-day life. And that’s exactly where I think the problem comes in. See, for a long time, you and your mom collectively played the role of mother to your brother’s kids. Now someone else has come in and taken the job that you had for so many years. And you are bitter, about it and about her. But if your goal is to get James back in your life, telling him that you are the only family he has is not the way to go about it. The reason James is staying away is because he doesn’t want to be pulled in different directions by the women he loves. Yes he loves you and his mother; no one will replace you. But he SLEEPS with his wife! And together they are a family; he is building a future with her and their kids.

BACK OFF! You say you want him and the kids back in your life without drama. I think what you mean to say is without MORE drama. I suspect there’s already a good bit of that in the relationship, what with you and your mother telling your brother how unfairly the woman he loves is treating his (your) kids. I’m sure you’re a nice lady but honestly, I don’t get this thing with families not understanding boundaries!  Here’s my advice to you. Stop telling James that you are the only family he has. The next time you get together, bite your tongue where Michelle is concerned. Don’t offer unsolicited advice and even when he asks for it, give it in small and loving doses.

I do think ultimately he will find his way back to your family, once he understands (and sees it demonstrated) that he won’t have to shiver while you, your mother and Michelle give each other the cold shoulder or alternately worry about getting burned in a conflagration. Try these tips and keep at it until you get it right. You will be able to see the kids grow up, from your perch on the periphery.

Good luck!

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