If you can, don't romanticize father's side of the family
Q: I grew up without much contact with my father's extended family. When I moved near them for law school (about an hour away), I started visiting and kindling new relationships. It felt AMAZING to have extended family nearby for the first time, and I really opened up to them.
Soon I started hearing different versions of personal information I had told them. Apparently, they engage in almost a competition with my grandmother to see who talks to me more, and, whether purposeful or not, they twist what I say to make it sound more sensational.
They also constantly guilt-trip me for not calling or coming to see them more often. These issues make me less inclined to see them, and now the pressure gets higher every time I call. (It's usually why I don't.) They are my only family within 500 miles. How can I deal with them enough to be cordial and familial, but without the extra drama?
Stuck in the Middle
A: If I take your assessment of this situation and loosen it a half-turn, I get a family that's excited to know you and doesn't always get its facts straight. (As if there's a group that always does.)
Because you seem to want capital-F Family as urgently as they seem to want someone new to talk about, and since you aren't even sure whether their tendency to embellish is "purposeful or not," maybe it wouldn't be the worst thing if you loosened your assessment a half-turn, too. They wouldn't be the first family that was best taken with a firm visiting schedule and a mighty grain of salt.
And, obviously, an eye to discretion. Most families end up being closed systems anyway, where gossip can bounce around in harmless isolation an hour away from the rest of your life. But still, loosening your expectations while tightening the information flow would be the easiest remedy here.
Not only that — a little caution can serve as a natural barrier to venturing too far out onto this branch of the family. Get to know them better first, and get a better feel for their emotional intent.
While such skepticism may seem anathema to your vision of family, you're not opening up to a vision. You're opening up to people you barely know.
Besides, they aren't your nuclear family — they aren't the people who shaped you, shared with you, and carry your history in their hearts. This is optional family. Don't discount their ties to your dad, and thus to you, but don't romanticize them, either.
Try this response to get your brothers to help with folks
Q: Our parents are ill. Burden of helping is falling entirely on my sister and me (and our spouses). Brother, who lives closest, doesn't even call, unless he needs something from them.
We've given up expecting anything from him. But when we give him updates, he invariably says something like, "I know you guys think I'm terrible for not helping." I think he wants us to tell him it's okay. And it's not.
Complicating factor: Parents get upset if we've said something that makes brother feel bad. Yes. Really.
A: "It's not about us, it's about being able to live with ourselves." Part rebuke, part gift.