14

I'm uncertain how to deal with a family issue.

My 15-year-old daughter is being hounded by her aunt for $8,000, for no good reason, and she's kept phoning her cellphone morning, noon and night.

She told me she's terrified and worries about how to get the money.

As it is, she's a quiet kid, not obsessed with money or status, and a pleasant person to be around, all my friends say.

The aunt harassing my daughter is my one of my five sisters-in-law, by the way, not my sister (who lives in the U.S.).

I feel angry and upset, and told my wife about this, but we're pretty clueless on how to deal with it.

How can I approach my sister-in-law to get her to stop/resolve this?

Please help me. I don't know what to do for the best.

  • 16
    Have you asked your daughter why the aunt thinks she is owed this money? Have you asked the aunt why she thinks your daughter owes her this money? – thursdaysgeek Oct 24 '18 at 16:33
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    Why is your daughter worried about how to get the money? – paparazzo Oct 24 '18 at 18:22
  • 1
    It is possible that the aunt is facing a mental health crisis or issue? – Benjamin Gruenbaum Oct 24 '18 at 19:28
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    "My 15-year-old daughter is being hounded by her aunt for $8,000, for no good reason" This really does need more clarification. Are you unaware of the reason for the $8,000, or do you know and not want to say, or do you not feel the money is justified (such as aunt helping to pay for education or something and your child not following through with completing the education), or is there really no reason? – Philbo Oct 26 '18 at 8:50
  • Can we have some cultural clarification on this too? It's not uncommon for (usually distant) family members in Eastern cultures to start harassing each other for money, and the harassment is seen by them as a normal intrafamilial political tool. – Carl Masens Nov 20 '18 at 5:23
18

TL;DR - Confront your Sister In Law, insist she deal with you directly rather than your daughter and then try reach an agreement with the help of your wife and after planning some key points for conflict resolution

Clearly something has happened to make your SIL think that your daughter should give her $8,000. What that something is will affect how you choose to act so the first thing to do is find out what happened. I suggest directly asking your SIL rather than your daughter because she is the one who has taken issue with it. Finding out exactly what it is she has taken issue with avoids any misunderstandings your daughter may have had and you can always fact check with her after.

Next you will have to confront your SIL in order to change the way she is dealing with whatever problem it is she has. Currently she is boycotting you (the parents) to text, call and generally harass your daughter for $8,000. This basically screams exploitation and even if she isn't, the fact that she could be abusing your daughters youth/nativity in order to get more money is what makes this interaction NOT OKAY and you need to tell your SIL that. If she has a genuine and reasonable problem with your daughter then tell her she must deal with you or your wife to resolve it.

Confrontation can be very tough and having the skill to resolve the conflict effectively takes even more practice. While a phone call might suffice (provided she doesn't hang up), if you can manage it I really suggest talking in person as it makes the interaction more genuine and gives more potential to convey what you are trying to say. I am quite shy and have spent a lot of time thinking about confrontation and figuring out what techniques work for me. I don't have an exactly mirrored example but will try to share some related cases and explain why the technique I used might help.

Probably the biggest thing that helps me is getting support and I think your wife should absolutely be doing this with you. It is her sister anyway and having two people helps a lot more than you would think. I once purchased faulty computer parts from my brothers friend. So in order to confront him about the faulty parts I got the support of my brother. Having a 3rd unrelated person in the midst of a confrontation can be distracting. However, any time there is a reason for them to be there it is hands down my favourite technique. My brother was my connection to his friend so it made sense that he was there. Your wife is both the mother and the sister of the two people in question. It wouldn't make sense if she wasn't there. Having her there will essentially allow you to keep each other in check. If one gets too heated the other will notice and remind them to step back, one can remember to bring up a topic that the other forgot in the heat of the moment, after all, confrontations can be stressful and emotional.

Forgetting things in the heat of the moment is also why planning key points is a good idea. This will simplify the different things you need to remember and make it a lot easier for you to stay on track, it also allows you to purposefully decide to use good conflict resolution techniques. Last xmas I had to confront my Aunt and tell her no about something she was insistent on. I was worried about how she would react and what I might say so I considered all the factors, researched good conflict resolution techniques and planned out the key points I wanted to meet in our conversation. As this is your daughter we are talking about I can imagine that this is serious for you (meaning it might get heated) and similarly I can't imagine the reasons for your SIL acting the way she has. Because of this I think adding structure to your conversation through planning is a good idea to keep things cool on track. After researching difficult conversations and conflict resolution and keeping in mind that it depends greatly on your SIL's reasoning, here is the general key points I think are important:

  • Clearly and honestly explain your objective.
  • Listen to your SIL's reasoning, figure out the source of the problem and show that you have heard her.
  • Request solutions. Try to co-operate rather than compete. Even though her no longer harassing your daughter is non-negotiable, there are going to be other ways you each can compromise.
  • Reach a resolution. Do not allow yourself to leave before it is over. If she wants to storm off ensure she understands the actions you will be taking.

Exactly how you resolve the situation is up to you, and will depend on your SIL's reasons so I can't really give any advice here, but what I will say is follow up. Check with your daughter that she isn't still being harassed and if she is then act on that and stop it (There are dozens of ways to stop phone calls). If your SIL is communicating with you to get it resolved make sure she feels heard. Whatever you decide, try to resolve it quickly and if it does not meet your SIL's expectations give your reasons, be stern and do not tolerate it if she tries to harass your daughter any more.

6

It is important to start at the beginning. In the moment it seems as if you don't know what's going on. That means the beginning is to examine the situation and find facts.

  • Did your daughter borrow the money and you just don't know about?
  • Does your SIL have any kind of problem with your daughter and she wants to .. well what does she want?

Ask both, that is your daughter and your SIL, what has happened.
Ask your SIL why she thinks she should get this money.
Ask your daughter what she knows about this situation.

Then evaluate the situation and plan next steps. Only then.
If your daugther really got money from SIL - elaborate what for and how to pay back. Scold SIL for giving this amount of money to your child without you knowing. Make clear to your daughter that this is a good way to get into trouble - with SIL and also with you.
If no money was given, find out what problem SIL has. Talk to her husband, get things rolling to further clarify this.

Don't just cut off contact and call SIL insane.
Many misunderstandings start this way. Someone said x then the other one said y then a third person takes someone's side without knowing what has really happened. At the end noone talks to the other anymore, each has their opinion, perhaps both are right from their point of view... But only one view is correct and nothing was done to work out which one and why.
The result is people quarreling and talking bad about each other - nobody knows why.

3

This appears to be a problem of an irrational adult attacking a child.

The first part of the solution is to protect the child. Children do need to learn to deal with conflict, but this is not a conflict of an appropriate scale for a child.

So I'd start with boundaries.

  • Block the aunt so that she can’t call the child’s phone from their phone number. Your phone provider can probably tell you how to block a number.

  • If that doesn’t work—for example, if the aunt calls the child from other numbers, the next step can be to get the child another number. I can assure you from personal experience that it’s hard to call someone when you don’t have their number. :)

  • You could hang on to the old number, so that aunt doesn’t know that she’s failing in her effort to harass your child and is therefore less motivated to step up harassment by other methods. I believe this is a strategy recommended the the book The Gift of Fear.

  • If the aunt has any other way to get at the child -- email, other relatives who might take up the aunt's cause, etc. -- then block those avenues of attack, too.

The above are boundaries. Boundaries are not a last resort solution; they are an essential part of healthy relationships. Just as it's OK to have a lock on your front door to limit people's physical presence, it's OK to set limits on their phone presence.

A book-sized source of discussion of boundaries is Boundaries, by Cloud & Townsend. Here is a quick web link on the concept.

This link addresses, among other things, the fact that you may need to hang up the phone. That's just one small step away from not picking up the phone in the first place, and then from making it impossible for a person to make your phone ring.

People may be angered by boundaries. That's normal. It's expected. It doesn't mean that the boundary has gone wrong.

Boundaries in families are OK -- not a strange thing, not something to go to only after all else as failed, not something that, with a healthy person, should reasonably be expected to end a relationship:

For some bolstering of the idea that it's OK for parents to protect their children, I suggest reading Protecting the Gift. But, also, here are some links that make it clear that many people support protecting your children from toxic people:

So, you've set a boundary. You've protected your child. You've established one building block toward a healthier relationship.

Now the problem will likely spill over to you. What do you do?

  • Debts tend to be legal matters. For this reason you could speak to a lawyer about the aunt’s claim and whether you have any legal liability.

  • Harassment tends to be a legal matter. One part of boundaries can be the next step -- consequences. Without consequences, boundaries are still just a request, not a boundary. You can apply certain consequences yourself, some of which are stated or hinted at in the links above -- for example, you can cut off communication for a time. But you can also speak to a lawyer about the harassment and the best way to be ready for the consequence of legal action, if necessary.

For some bolstering of the idea that it's OK to protect yourself against other people's demands, I suggest reading The Gift of Fear about, among other things, the idea that dealing with problem people doesn’t always mean negotiating with them.

Is it possible that this might end the relationship? If Aunt might walk away, aren't you required to maintain her ability to call your daughter at all hours? Isn't the end of a relationship the worst possible thing, something unthinkable? Even if your daughter is in daily fear, isn't that a small price to pay for preserving the relationship? Doesn't she need to learn how important family is, by enduring aunt's behavior?

No. The end of a relationship is not the end of the world. If someone's price for that relationship is a free ticket to hurt your kids, or for that matter to hurt you, then that price is too high. It's OK to cut toxic people out of your life.

2

There is clearly some backstory that you’re not telling us, but that is fine, it just means I might have to make a few assumptions. It isn’t normal behaviour for an adult to pester a minor for any amount of money, let alone a large sum like this, so I’m going to assume that:

  • The aunt has some kind of problem, either in financial trouble or maybe has some kind of habit that she is trying to support.
  • She has either tried to get the money from you or her brother or just knows that she’d have no chance if she did.

The first conversation I feel you need to have is with your daughter, not the aunt. If she is 15 she is a minor and should not really be subject to this kind of pressure from an adult. You’ve doubtless already spoken to her about it, but make sure that you have covered (i) that she must not worry about her aunt or the money, and (ii) give an age-appropriate explanation for the aunt’s behaviour.

I hate making assumptions, but for example, let’s say the aunt’s problem is some kind of addiction. There are differing schools of thought as to whether or not addiction should be considered an illness or not, and I wouldn’t want to get into that debate here. But you might consider your use of language before explaining it to your daughter. If you minimise detail too much and say that the aunt is “sick”, this might lead to your daughter worrying more. It might be better to say that giving money to the aunt will not really help her. You shouldn’t burden a child with all the details of the situation, but don’t keep secrets from her. Make sure your whole family are united in your thinking on this matter.

Any conversation with the aunt needs to be similarly thought-out. The language you use with someone who is not thinking or behaving rationally is very important. If you say “stop worrying my daughter”, this may send the message that her tactic is working, as she may reason that if your daughter is worried about her, she may find a way to get her the money.

The best approach might be to show a united stance; that is show her that, as a family, you are all resolved not to give her money. Show her that your daughter keeps no secrets from you and that you have all discussed it together. You could perhaps say:

I’m not happy that you went to [daughter] to try and get money from her. It isn’t appropriate to pressure a child for money. Do not do that again.

Where you go from here, I’m not sure because you don’t say what you want to communicate to the aunt. But whatever decision you make, make sure all your family know about it, giving your daughter age-appropriate information, so that she can respond if she has to. The best response your daughter could give her in future might be a firm “you need to speak to my parents about that”.

0

First: Talk to your daughter. Tell her that the aunt has no right to harrass her, but unfortunately nobody can stop her from phoning. Tell her that there is nothing the aunt can do to hurt her. Tell her that there is absolutely no reason to worry about the money that the aunt wants, because there is no way that the aunt will get a penny. Not from you, not from your wife, not from your daughter.

Second, in case nobody thought of it, check whether your daughter's phone can block numbers. It's quite likely that she can block her aunt's number. The aunt might try to use another phone, that can be blocked as well. If she can't block numbers, get her a better phone that can. Which will cheer her up as well, and I guess she needs that.

Third, you need to find out what is exactly going on in these phone calls. So when you're at home, she can unblock the aunt's number, and if she gets a call, come straight to you before answering, then take the call with you present, and put the phone on speakerphone. Prepare some question your daughter needs to ask: Why does the aunt want $8,000? Why does she think the daughter should give her $8,000? Why does she think the daughter has $8,000 to give her?

With that information, it will be easier to handle this. Maybe there is a rational or irrational reason why the aunt thinks she is owed money. Maybe someone told her your daughter won the lottery, and she figured out she wants a share. Maybe she needs money and your daughter seemed a good victim. Maybe she just wants to upset your daughter. Anyway, once you figure that out, you can go from there.

If you can't find out anything, then you need to assume that the aunt has gone mad. Your wife might make enquiries first in the family whether the aunt is alright. It might be the beginning of Alzheimer's and someone, years ago, owed her $8,000 and she thinks it is your daughter. Thinking of madness is extreme, but so is the whole situation.

Good luck. Once more, tell your daughter not to worry and explain to her why she doesn't have to.

  • 1
    Hey, would you mind telling us what the first paragraph is supposed to accomplish and why you think it will work? – Ælis Oct 27 '18 at 16:12
  • Isn't that obvious? Make the daughter feel better? OP says she is worried about how to find the money. So you tell her there is no reason to be worried. Daughter is the number one person to look after. – gnasher729 Oct 27 '18 at 16:28
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    Hi there. I think you added valuable information in comments explaining why OP should try what you suggest in paragraph one. Could you please edit your answer so as to add this information? Thanks in advance. – avazula Oct 29 '18 at 7:56

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