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Be considerate of all family members

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Consideration for kin extends beyond the nuclear family

Q: Am I being selfish in insisting that my parents can only stay with us for two weeks after the birth of our first child? My brother thinks so, and isn't speaking to me. At the moment our parents (hard to get along with is an understatement) are staying with him and his wife for a grand total of six months due to an unforeseen financial circumstance.

My brother feels it is only fair for them to stay at our house for a month so that he, his pregnant wife and child can get a break from the madness and have a minivacation while the parents are gone.

I say no way they are staying here, our baby will just be a few weeks old.

He says, no way, suck it up, they need a break too.

What to do? Please help. Tickets have been booked for two weeks.

Selfish siblings?

A: Hm. If your brother is the only reason your difficult parents aren't camping out in your house for six months, then he has a right to be ticked. That would mean you were the direct beneficiary of his sacrifice, and you owe him a sacrifice in kind.

If instead you believed your brother was making a mistake in having your parents move in, if you tried to talk him out of it and if you offered other, viable ideas for bailing them out, then he has no right to hold you responsible for his inability to say "no" to your folks.

It's still a tough one all-around, though, even if the lines are that clear, which they rarely are.

For what it's worth: The way you pose your question is suspicious. You open by framing it as a matter of visiting after a new baby — which makes your position sympathetic and the answer a slam-dunk: "It's your baby, you get to decide how long someone visits, and two weeks is generous."

Ah, but it's a lot more complicated than that, which you get to in Sentence 3. The more accurate phrasing would seem to be: "My hard-to-live-with parents are in financial trouble, and staying with my brother and his wife for six months. Do I owe it to my brother to bring my parents to my house for part of that? I'm expecting my first child soon; does that change your answer?"

So, here's my answer: Figure out not what you'd prefer to have happen, but instead what you owe your brother. No ducking or clever phrasing. If he's sacrificing for you, then you sacrifice for him.

That doesn't mean you have to extend their two-week stay; it could just mean you have them come stay again after you adjust to life with your newborn.

And if he's not sacrificing for you — if your brother unilaterally rejected that viable alternative you offered for housing your parents — then please appreciate that you are still the beneficiary of his discomfort. Accordingly, consider offering your brother some help anyway, be it to throw some money at the problem, or to offer to host your parents when his baby comes, or to otherwise apply yourself to getting your whole family out of this jam, not just your expanding nuclear one.

Be considerate of all family members 10/19/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 8:50pm]

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