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Monday question: The Bad Sister

Posted by Robin Abrahams  February 27, 2012 06:16 AM

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Here's one that's too long to condense for the column: 

I love kids and have four (two kids, two step-kids ages 24, 22, 20 &15). I have been married for 8 years to a fantastic man. His parents and one sister ("good" sister-in-law) are the best. My other sister in law (the "bad" one) has 2 kids ages 3 and 5 who are horribly behaved. My in-laws normally have impeccable manners but ignore or laugh at everything these two kids do. My "bad" sister in law, by some unspoken family rule, is not required to adhere to the rules that the rest of us in the family do. For example, my "bad" sister in law and her husband will come to a family party at my house, sip wine and/or sit on the couch and read the paper while their children run rough shod throwing things, touching all the food, climbing, etc. The boy threw my niece's laptop last time he visited my "good" sister in law's house and for some strange reason no one ever says a word. 

 I want to have a relationship with my sister in law and with her children but I can't stand it much longer. I try to set boundaries in my own home but they are instantly null and void because I am trying to hostess and no one but my husband and I are making any attempt to corral the kids. It is embarrassing to me because my other guests must be distracted and horrified. They are about to attend our Open House where there will be 100 people and I am dreading every moment. I need a polite, low confrontation way to set boundaries in my own home when my in-laws will undoubtedly think I am the bad guy. My husband tries really hard to set boundaries but he is so frustrated by the whole dynamic that his tone is often harsher than he intends and his parents often end up scolding him and comforting the "bad" sister in law. Help!!

What practical advice do you have for the LW? It's going to be tricky to upend decades of family dynamics, but as hostess, she certainly has the right to control her own party. 

I'll give my perspective on Friday. And come back on Wednesday -- Leap Day! -- for a special Blue Moon chat. (And send your own questions in to Miss Conduct. I know you have some.)
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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