Annie's Mailbox for March 24, 2011: Ready to tell brother he's hurt family

Dear Annie: I am one of four adult siblings in a family that has always had difficulty communicating. I haven't spoken to my brother, "Tom," in many years.

After getting married, Tom never bothered to invite our parents over, and he and his wife missed all the holiday celebrations. His wife is distant and didn't try to establish a relationship with my parents, even though she is very close to her mother. Eventually, Tom stopped speaking to Mom and Dad altogether.

A few years ago, Dad passed away. I sent Tom an e-mail and called to let him know. He was aggressive and rude on the phone and didn't show up for the funeral. He never called our mother to console her. Needless to say, she is still devastated that her only son could behave in such a way.

My parents were never able to confront my brother and ask why he was so mean to them. I have the same problem. I want Tom to know that he has caused a lot of hurt, and that he needs to explain himself. How should I do it?

— Angry Sister

Dear Sister: These efforts don't always turn out the way you think. Telling Tom how much hurt he has caused will make him defensive. Asking him for an explanation will make him angry. Had he thought he was behaving poorly, he would have fixed it. Instead, he has found a way to justify his actions.

If all you want to do is vent, go ahead and write Tom a letter, with the understanding that you are not likely to get a useful response. If you are looking to reconcile, you will need to be patient, tolerant and forgiving, with no guarantees. Decide what you hope to achieve by contacting your brother, and then do what will cause your mother the least amount of pain.

Dear Annie: I am 14 years old and live with my aunt and uncle, who are also my legal foster parents. I absolutely hate it. My aunt is always nagging me about the littlest things, and when I try to reason with her, she says I am giving her an attitude and need to be more respectful. When I talk to her, I am calm and speak normally, but she gets angry.

My sister and another cousin also live here. My aunt is really overprotective about where we are and who we're with. She also makes us call my uncle "Dad." I think this is wrong, and it hurts my father's feelings.

How can I reason with my aunt? And how do I tell her that I don't like her parenting methods?

— Frustrated Niece

Dear Frustrated: We'd skip that last one. Most adults would find the parenting criticisms of a teenage girl to be disrespectful. We understand that you don't get along with your foster parents, but it is perfectly proper for adults to know the whereabouts and the companions of children in their charge. However, insisting that you call your uncle "Dad" is presumptuous and inappropriate. Your aunt and uncle are not going to behave according to your preferences, but it will help to assume they mean well. We also suggest you discuss this with your school counselor.

Dear Annie: You've printed a couple of letters from people who have found some long-lost friend on the Internet and are getting together for lunch or whatever.

When my husband tried that, I said, "OK, if you want to meet her for lunch, I will tag along. If it's as innocent as you say, neither of you should be averse to having me there."

Believe me, Annie, that put a quick end to those meetings. I don't know if it would work for everyone, but it sure did for us.

— The Mrs.

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