My wife and I are struggling with a situation involving her sister. Let's call her Suzy.

Suzy is an alcoholic/drug addict and is in a relationship with another alcoholic and physically abusive man, and has what we would classify as anger issues. She is very easily irritated, and becomes irrationally angry at whomever she perceives as the source of her anger. She is seeing a therapist to address the underlying issue but has made it clear she has no desire to stop drinking

Recently Suzy has began expressing interest in taking our 3 year old child places, such as libraries, shows, movies, and to her own house for a sleep over party. We are fine with Suzy visiting, where things are monitored, but we are not open to Suzy taking our son alone with her.

My wife loves her sister, but is struggling to find a gentle way to tell Suzy that she may not take our son due to the above reasons. She does not wish to destroy her relationship with her sister, but has found herself avoiding Suzy to avoid this subject.

I've suggested to my wife that she "blame" me -- and tell Suzy that I am the one putting my foot down on this, but she doesn't want Suzy to hate me either.

We wish to tell Suzy we are fine with visits at our home, but we are not okay with her removing our son from our home alone -- without damaging the sisters relationship.

How can we get this message across to Suzy without causing even more problems?


My wife had her chat with Suzy about our concerns using dbeer's approach (honest and up-front, but no blame), and part from Francine's answer (history of bad decisions); and to our complete and utter bewilderment, there was zero confrontation. They have agreed they will go out together with our son until such time we deem she is fit to supervise him alone. Thank you!!!


2 Answers 2


There are a lot of judgement calls here, and it's a really difficult situation. If Suzy is getting her life together, and it's possible that you'll be willing to allow her to have unsupervised time with your son in the future, you might try making excuses for why one of you has to be with her each time one of these outings is proposed. It's likely that Suzy could use the bonding time with her sister, and that she'd enjoy spending time with your son and wife at the same time; it's definitely fun to have another adult around when you're hanging out with a kid.

If this is a fairly permanent situation where she isn't going to be allowed to be alone with your son for an extended period of time, then honesty and boundaries are your friend, but it is going to be a very touchy situation. My advice would to be to carefully select language when describing the boundaries to not be specific to Suzy, but to alcohol, drugs, and the problems they present.

We are not comfortable being away from our son if he's going to be in a place where some people might be drinking or doing drugs.

People who drink might not like it, but it may be easier to swallow than "we don't trust you and your boyfriend because you drink too much / do drugs." There are obvious sticking points here. Suzy will probably say: what if I promise not to drink? She may become hostile with this line of questioning as well. You will have to explain that her boyfriend might, or friends that come over might, etc. and that it just makes you uncomfortable. Suzy may tell you that she feels judged or anything else, but you should just stress that as a parent you have to feel comfortable with where your kids are, and that even small risks can produce massive anxiety.

Honestly, it's pretty likely that Suzy will take some offense at this, but you are making the right decision based on what you've said, and if you carefully explain that it's not about her, it's the situations around her, then hopefully she will understand and respect your rights as parents to manage what situations your son is in.

I've suggested to my wife that she "blame" me -- and tell Suzy that I am the one putting my foot down on this, but she doesn't want Suzy to hate me either.

I don't think this is a good idea. People overestimate their ability to lie convincingly as a rule, and Suzy would probably see it for what it is. Setting boundaries you are both comfortable with is a better bet.


Kudos to you for trying to help your wife with her sister in such an unselfish way. But this would probably only lead Suzy encourage your wife to "defy" or "sneak around" you, and when the truth finally comes out it will be ten times worse.

You may be able to put off a confrontation for a while by telling Suzy that, as your son is so young, you aren't comfortable letting him be alone without you. Then simply don't volunteer the information if you choose to have a sitter over (she may volunteer to sit). If she is at all perceptive, this may subconsciously prepare her for hearing the truth.

But eventually you are going to have to directly discuss the situation with your sister-in-law. Even if she leaves her abusive boyfriend, odds are that the next man she chooses to have a relationship with will abuse her as well, and unless she kicks her habits you can't safely trust your son to her care.

When you finally decide that it is time to bring things out into the open, there are a couple of ways you can go with the discussion.

You could shoulder the burden for your wife and let Suzy know that you do not feel safe allowing her to be alone with your son, because of her history of making bad decisions. Your wife could be sitting there, making it clear that she supports "your" decision.

Or you could do the reverse and sit there in support of your wife while she tells Suzy of "her" decision. It depends on how strong your wife is feeling, and whether she thinks she will be able to stand firm during the confrontation.

Or you could approach it as a couple.

Either way, the important thing is to show Suzy that you care for her, and that you want to support her, but that your son's welfare needs to come first. Tell her that you don't want to take the chance that she lose her temper and either harm your son or ruin her chance for having a good relationship with him. An adult's temper is a frightening thing to a child.

Sit down with your wife and plan just what you are going to say and maybe even do a dry run rehearsal (it sounds like overkill and may feel a bit uncomfortable, but believe me, it does help you when the time comes). Don't bring it up out of the blue; plan on sitting down to have the discussion when she is asking to take your son on an outing and being pushy or insistent.

If you do it this way, it may feel less confrontational, and she hopefully won't feel ambushed or attacked. It can feel like a natural consequence of her actions, and make it clear that you had hoped you wouldn't have to bring the subject up at all.

She may react with anger and storm out, but as long as both of you can keep control of your own emotions (you may both have to play the "grown up" to her inner child) you leave the relationship intact. "We are sorry that you feel that way. Even if you are angry, we are family and we hope that you will come to understand how important that is to us".

Do not allow this confrontation to happen if the boyfriend is around, or is likely to show up. Tell whatever white lies you have to in order to not confront him. Hopefully she knows not to bring him around.

You might even consider, the day after the discussion, especially if it turned out badly, dropping a little card in the mail saying something like "I'm sorry we had a disagreement and I hope you know that you are still welcome in our family". This gives her something tangible to hold on to until after the anger and the hurt have died down.


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