My older brother (by 10 years) is married with a 2-year-old daughter. I am a senior in high school. Last week, I baby-sat for them (as I often do) from when school ended until my SIL came home from work. We always have had a fun friendship, I think she and my brother are a great couple, and I have repeatedly joked about how my brother outkicked his coverage and I hope I am so lucky some day. We joke, it’s flirty but harmless, or so I thought.
But she walked in last week, sat next to me on the couch, grabbed my hand, put it on a non-gender-neutral area and told me she had to have me right there. I freaked out and walked out. I called my brother and left a message, but his wife had already spun a whole different story, and now my whole family believes I am at fault.
Nobody believes my version. Other than waiting until fall to go to college and get away from the madness, any tips to cope?
- Kid (but not kidding) Brother
Your brother outkicked his coverage all right, right into the depravity zone. In the years I’ve done this column I’ve had every variation of family-member violation including son-in-law coming onto mother-in-law and daughter running off with stepfather. It’s grotesque when siblings-in-law voluntarily get it on, but it’s actionable when one tries to molest the other.
You are caught in a terrible trap here. Your sister-in-law, once rebuffed, put out the word that her younger brother-in-law tried to make a move. And now no one is believing your story because of sexism. It’s just easier to accept that a horny teen acted horribly than a young mother. You need to sit down with your parents and tell them exactly what happened. Say the physical violation was against you, and now she’s compounding it by spreading malicious lies to save herself. Frankly, I think you and your parents should sit down with a lawyer and discuss this. A false accusation of sexual assault is a dangerous thing.
If your parents won’t support you, go to your guidance counselor at school, explain what happened, and say you need some adults to help guide you through this morass. You should not become a pariah because you have an unbalanced new member of the family.
Recently, my partner’s lifelong best friend and his wife were killed in a car accident, leaving us with custody of both of their children. They are two wonderful girls ages 4 and 2 and we love them dearly and are happy to have them. Both of them are comfortable with us since we spent a great deal of time together before their parents passed away, but we did not have any children of our own and we are taking a crash course in parenting.
At this moment, I have two main concerns. One of them is that we are not sure how to help them understand what has happened. My partner and I are confirmed atheists, and although our friends were not seriously religious, they did have some spiritual beliefs, and we are not sure whether they would want us to teach their daughters that they’ve gone to heaven or follow our own instincts to say that even though mom and dad loved them more than anything, they’re simply not coming back.
Another concern is that before this happened, my partner and I were trying to conceive a child of our own. We’ve decided it’s best to hold off on this for a while because we believe it would be too much for the girls (and us at this moment) to handle after such a loss. How much time does it take for a child to adjust to such a thing? Should we give up on the idea at present?
- Suddenly Parents
What a crushing loss for these tiny girls to absorb. Amid this tragedy, they are lucky that you and your partner are there to provide them with love and security. Making such guardianship arrangements is a responsibility of parenthood; let this be a spur to those who haven’t done so. As your case illustrates, the best guardians might not be family members, but dear and trusted friends. You now have a large task ahead in becoming an instant family and creating a good life for two confused and frightened little girls. For advice on what you should tell them, and what you should do about expanding your family, I turned to David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. He said there are four painful but essential truths that have to be conveyed age-appropriately to children who have suffered such a loss: Death is irreversible; all life functions end completely at death; everything alive eventually dies; there are physical reasons someone dies. Schonfeld is co-author of a pamphlet that gives instruction on how to explain these difficult concepts. While acknowledging people’s belief in heaven, he says conveying that to children, especially very young ones, can cause tremendous confusion. It’s difficult to grasp the idea that your parents no longer exist here, but are in some other realm out of reach. Since you and your partner are atheists, and your late friends didn’t have a strong religious tradition, I think you should follow your own instincts about keeping things simple and factual. The girls’ parents knew of your lack of religious belief and still chose you. As the girls grow up, if they develop an interest in religion, you can decide the best way to respect and foster that.
You do not mention that you are under the immediate pressure of a biological clock, so I agree with Schonfeld when he says now is the time to focus on making yourselves a family and seeing the girls through a traumatic transition. After you feel settled into being a unit, for which there isn’t a timetable, you and your partner can explore the question of whether you want to add another child and when. Bear in mind that the loss your girls have suffered is something they will deal with for the long term. It won’t always be the primary focus as it is now for everyone, but it will echo through the years. Schonfeld says that with the help of the strong, loving, committed family you will be, the loss the girls suffered will simply be a part of their understanding of themselves, and will not keep them from forging happy lives.
I told my husband that it is unnerving for me to have conversations with people if they are wearing sunglasses and I am not. It bothers me that I can’t see their eyes but they can see mine. Their failure to remove their sunglasses so we can make eye contact strikes me as rude. My husband thinks it is my problem. I think etiquette dictates that they remove their sunglasses, provided they don’t have a real medical reason for wearing them. Who’s right?
-Can’t See Eye to Eye
There’s less than meets the eye in your proposed prescription. You’re the rude one if you give someone the evil eye simply for continuing to wear sunglasses without providing you a note from the ophthalmologist. Sure the Bible contains an injunction about an eye for an eye, but it says nothing about whether one’s eye may be covered in shades. Now that we’ve entered sunglass season, you need to get your own pair of rose-colored glasses so that that world looks better to you no matter what anyone else’s eyewear.
Please send your questions for publication to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions may be edited.