Annie's Mailbox for Feb. 23, 2011: Niece taking advantage of sister

Dear Annie: Our niece, "Jane," is 51 years old, an alcoholic and a divorcee. She lives in a home owned by her mother, who also pays all her bills. Jane's only job has been part-time summer work, and she was laid off last year.

Jane refuses to pay rent or get help of any kind. Her parents (my sister and her husband) have loaned her a car, and they have done all the repairs to her house. Now Jane refuses to let them come over and visit.

Jane meets a lot of guys at the local bar, and some of them move in with her for short periods of time. She and her three grown children go to our sister's home for meals on a regular basis, as well as all holiday celebrations. Yet Jane treats her mother terribly, sometimes refusing to speak to her. My sister is 76. She's tired of cooking for other people, but it keeps happening.

I know my sister and her husband have spoiled this girl, and they disregarded our advice that they are enablers who make matters worse. My sister used to complain about the way Jane lived, but she's totally given up. She has been fighting depression for years, but now has given up on that, as well, and has decided to be miserable.

It feels like we have lost the person we knew. Is there anything my siblings and I can do to help my sister?

— Missing Our Sister

Dear Missing: Your sister figures it's too late for Jane to learn how to support herself and fears that if she stops enabling, she will lose all contact with her daughter and grandchildren. She could be right. But your sister is only postponing the inevitable, making herself unhappy in the interim. All you can do is be supportive: Take your sister out to lunch a couple of times a week. Go to the movies. Invite her over often. Also encourage her to seek counseling for herself, and perhaps she will find the strength to deal with Jane.

Dear Annie: Five years ago, my son passed away unexpectedly. His wife did not have the cash on hand to pay for the funeral service, so I loaned her the funds. She promised to repay me after she received the insurance money.

As you might expect, she reneged on the deal and has not spoken to me since. She has also cut off all contact with our two grandchildren. Now she has "accepted" an offer from my brother to buy the kids new computers. My brother will buy one, and they want me to purchase the other one.

I don't feel obligated to cooperate because I already bought her a computer just before my son died, and she still owes me for the funeral. What is your take on this?

— Father-in-Law in Chino Valley, Ariz.

Dear Arizona: This is the bribe you have to pay to see your grandchildren again. If you can afford it, we think it's worth it. But make sure she understands that resuming regular contact with the grandchildren is the exchange for forgiving her debt (which she will never repay anyway), and for the new computer. And try your best to say it gently.

Dear Annie: I have a better response to "Jim in Omaha," who asked if there are rules about the arm rests in movie theaters.

When I was in elementary school back in the 1940s, I was taught that the armrest to your right is yours, leaving the one on your left to the person sitting on your left. If you happen to be sitting on the right side of an aisle, you would have both armrests. This also applies to airplane seats.

— Antique School Teacher in Oregon

Dear Oregon: We like it. We can only hope patrons will follow your teachings.

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