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My sister (18, she/her) and I (23, he/him) recently joined in on a vacation with our younger cousins, who are 10 and 8. My sister is allergic to fish. It’s not life-threatening, but it leaves her feeling very sick. Our aunt and uncle are wonderfully understanding of this and made sure to check with waiters, food labels, etc., despite my sister already doing so. On the other hand, our cousins don’t believe in allergies. They found it hilarious and amazing that my sister was “so good at faking sick,” because how could she tell there was fish hidden in there? It was all mashed up! The only thing gained from that incident was my sister missing out on most of dinner and our cousins getting a long, hard scolding.
Obviously, this disbelief and negligence is dangerous—not only to my sister but to anyone they meet who might have a life-threatening allergy. In fact, soon after the fish-hiding incident, they tried to hide my sister’s allergy medicine but it didn’t last long before I found out. How should I approach this? Should I let it go because they’re young, or should I wait for their parents to explain the reality of allergies yet again? Should I even get involved at all?
Dear Concerned Cousin,
These kids sound… jerks. I think this merits a talk with your aunt and uncle and your cousins. But shouldn’t your sister be the one having it? I realize she’s younger, but she’s 18, which is plenty old enough to stand up for herself. This is her allergy to manage, and it’s her feelings around your cousins’ behavior that matter most, so she’d be the best advocate to explain just what is at stake here. And if nothing changes, perhaps a break from the younger cousins until they are old enough to understand how to be more considerate is in order.
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I’m 43, married, have no kids, and live about three hours from my mom, who is 73 and in decent if not amazing health. I wouldn’t say we’re super close, but we text a few times a week, call once a month or so, and I usually see her one to three times a year. She tends to guilt trip me a bit and puts a lot of pressure around holidays. Some years we’ve made more of an effort to see her around Thanksgiving or Christmas, and some years it’s worked out to see her. But she doesn’t have a lot of extra space for us to stay, I’m just not close to most of my extended family, don’t have any niblings on that side, my grandparents are gone, and my dad lives even further away. (She does have friends and family in the area she can spend holidays with, I’m not a monster here.) Meanwhile, my husband’s family is tighter-knit, they have plenty of extra room, and he has two siblings and two niblings who we don’t get to see a lot. Is it OK for me to mostly skip holidays with my mom? And how often is often enough for us to see each other?
—Under Christmas Pressure
Dear Christmas Pressure,
The first part of this is easy: You should do what you want on the holidays. You are an adult, you can make your own decisions about how to spend them. It looks different for everyone. For some people, holidays mean being with extended family. For others, they are about friends. And even others, about having some quiet, contemplative time alone. (My German husband spent Christmas alone in Denmark for many years before we were together, and he loved it.)
As for the second part of your question: I don’t have a simple answer but as you and your parents are both getting older, I would suggest thinking about what kind of relationship you want to have with your mom while there is still time to sort that out. Maybe your current cadence is fine. But maybe you want to up the visits to four times a year, or the phone calls to twice a month. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but you clearly have some anxiety around your current relationship, so think about what might help to quiet that down.
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I’m currently housing my (much younger) sister. She graduated from a very nice college three months ago, and had a great internship last summer, but can’t find a job and is getting increasingly stressed. She’s quiet, helps cook and clean, and watches our baby occasionally, so she’s not an unpleasant house guest. It’s that we’re all stressed because she needs to get a job and get her life started, but her methods haven’t worked (she’s only gotten two interviews) and she won’t let me or my husband help.
We’re successful mid-career people who are both hiring managers. We’ve recommended that instead of cold dropping resumes online where her resume may never get read, she changes her tactic and networks her way into companies via events, by reaching out on LinkedIn, or by reaching out to her alumni network or using my husband and my extensive networks. It’s unclear if she’s taken our advice because she doesn’t communicate. We’ve offered resume reviews but she’s not shared it. I’ve asked if she’s open to expanding the types of roles she’s applying to, but she doesn’t want to. She’s an introvert, hides in her room all day except for meals, and doesn’t engage when we offer our help. She is also the type to never ask for help and to run from problems, which my teenage self can relate to. I remember it took me four months to find a job post-college, and then I was off to the races. Is there anything we can do differently to get through to her? Is there anything we can do to help or should we let her be? It will get harder for her as time drags on and she stays unemployed.
—Help or Leave Her Be?
Dear Help or Leave Her Be,
You note that your sister is not an “unpleasant house guest,” and that may be true on the facts, but I fear her staying with you (rent-free, I assume) may not be helping either one of you with her transition to self-sustainability. As I see it, you have three options here. You can allow your sister to stay with you, practice lots of patience, and wait until she finds her way with her post-college life. You can allow her to stay but also set clear conditions—for example, you might say, “You can continue staying with us, but we insist you do X, Y, and Z to look for a job, and we need proof that you’re following through.” Or, you could tell her she has to be out in a month or two and force her to start supporting herself, whether that is in her chosen career path or not.
Honestly, I think the first one, which is how you’re currently operating, is the hardest to sustain—you already sound like you are at the end of a rope. The second may be tough at first, but could actually bring you closer together if she comes to view your involvement as support. The third is harsh but it’s the quickest path to her independence and, hopefully, career advancement.
When I graduated from college a billion years ago, I did not have the option of living with family after. It was simply not allowed. So I moved to New York and struggled mightily. I babysat all the time (until I was 30, actually). I housesat and fed pets. I took part-time gigs doing whatever I could find—including one stuffing envelopes at a magazine where I eventually got a full-time job. I lived in an apartment that felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, with a roommate who also didn’t make any money, and we never went out. This was our 20s! I know it’s hard and not ideal to see someone you love struggle—and let me tell you, I was miserable for those early years out of college. But I was also miserable on my own terms and I learned to survive. It’s something to consider.
My wife was a nationally ranked equestrian when she was growing up, and rode competitively for her college team. We first started dating in college. At that time, her dorm room was covered in horse paraphernalia—photos, old riding awards, trinkets from competitions, horse-themed calendars, you name it. I never really paid much attention to it because I’m not a decorations guy and honestly didn’t care about the aesthetics of her dorm room. However, now that we’ve moved into our first real home together, my wife is starting to turn this into a horse home!